1# ARCHITECTURAL PSYCHOLOGY: The Influence of Architecture on our Psyche

1# ARCHITECTURAL PSYCHOLOGY: The Influence of Architecture on our Psyche

Or: ?How you can kill a human with an apartment just as well as with an axe.? (Heinrich Zille)

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We spend 80?90% of our lives indoors, surrounded by forms, artificial light, colors, furniture and soundscapes. Isn?t it time to ask how much these built environments affect our lives and our personality? In this series, we explore questions about how architecture affects our thinking, our cognitive abilities, our mental and physical well-being, and our emotions.

A relatively new field of research, namely ?architectural psychology?, has been intensively dealing with such questions for several years. The aim of this academic field is to explore the impacts of architecture on humans, their feelings and behavior, and to formulate recommendations for the planning and design of buildings. This research area poses questions about the effect of outdoor and indoor spaces on people in cognitive, emotional and social terms? How can homes, offices and buildings in general be designed and structured, so that they reduce stress or promote well-being?

Dr. Harald Deinsberger-Deinsweger, from the Institute for Residential and Architectural Psychology in Austria, is investigating the question of how residential, working and recreation rooms must be designed to have the most positive effects on people and their living together. How can shortcomings and deficits, but also potentials and possibilities, be identified in the planning process of architecture? And what are the concrete areas that architecture can have an impact on?


?Nobody can escape architecture and its effects.? (Gnter Hertel)

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Deinsberger-Deinsweger, is convinced that ill-conceived and inferior architecture, combined with other factors, can promote stress, encourage exhaustion, induce psychosomatic symptoms and even promote physical discomfort. As a rule, these effects are not immediately apparent, but often appear after a period of months or years. This allows for the reverse conclusion that spaces can also support healing processes and promote well-being.

Senses and the Nervous System

In order to feel comfortable in an environment, does not only require a pleasant indoor climate. Light, plants, materials, construction methods, temperature, and air conditions also play a role for well-being and health. We have to bear in mind that humans have a holistic perception: Our senses influence our thinking, feelings and actions and therefore our entire body. If our senses are positively stimulated, this can have an invigorating or calming effect. As a result, spaces can influence our thinking, action patterns and, thus for example, promote motivation, our readiness to act, and strengthen our performance or concentration. If we feel uncomfortable in spaces, this can lead to restlessness or discomfort, hypersensitivity, lethargy or even anxiety.

Security and Crime

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Spatial structures are also associated with safety and security issues. If spatial structures fail, measures such as alarm systems or surveillance cameras often come into play. Certain structures can therefore attract crime or vandalism, but can also help to improve security and provide security.

Personality and Evolvement

The living environment in which we dwell and are surrounded by, and thus also our surrounding built environment is fertile ground for our individual development and evolution. In a positive sense, spaces can contribute to strengthening our sense of self-esteem and satisfaction. Deficits in this area might cause dissatisfaction, restlessness, alienation and listlessness.

Many buildings, according to the Deinsberger-Deinsweger, have deficits of various kinds which are usually not immediately noticeable.

Housing and social policy researcher Danny Friedman also sees correlations between poor housing conditions/neighborhoods and individuals? health, well-being, likelihood of criminality, and educational attainment. In a study he shows that poor housing conditions are strongly related to educational underachievement, the rise of health issues and criminal grievances. Conversely, this means that

?[I]mproving the quality, size, and quantity of housing, and improving the quality of neighborhoods and lower income households will have a positive effect in reducing criminality and ill-health and improving educational attainment.? (Danny Friedman)

Use and Behavior

Image for postPhoto by Martin Wessely on Unsplash

?Spaces determine our behavior ? for the most part without our conscious perception? (Dr. Deinsberger-Deinsweger)

Spatial structures promote certain patterns of behavior, and designs and equipment animate us to certain ways of dealing with and using them. Phenomena such as dilapidation, improper use or vandalism often have structural causes. If architecture promotes a positive and emotional attachment to places and strengthen a sense of responsibility, such consequences can be intercepted. Thus questions about the How?, Whereby? and Why? for all residential and construction projects be carefully studied and answered. Living or working environments can also become instruments of identification for our personality. If those processes occur, our sense of responsibility for the spaces we inhabit develops.

In conclusion, the arrangement, equipment and dimensioning of spaces and their design influence the human patterns of movement, actions and usage. If spaces are created in a way that runs counter to our patterns, it can hamper our movements and actions and cause anger or frustration. Or, conversely, support the structures of everyday life and make us feel comfortable.

Children, Sick and Elderly people

Scientist Tanja Vollmer has found out that the sick, elderly people and children are much more bound to their living environment than other people and will therefore be more strongly influenced by the spatial conditions. The more insecure we are, the stronger the impact of the environment on us.

The research group under Dr. Roger Ulrich has proven that natural light optimally regulates our body rhythms (i.e. circulation and blood flow) and can even increase occupants? productivity and comfort. It is no surprise that if we stay in buildings 80 to 90% of our day our bodies are conflicting with much of the built environment, rarely providing enough access to daylight. Therefore principles for designing spaces that support circadian health should be considered, e.g. with electric tunable lights, tailored to specific circumstances, providing physiological and functional aspects.

Image for postIn an article Ed Clark and Marty Brennan outline six vital principles to follow when designing spaces that support circadian health.

Therefore, if spaces are deficient, the consequences may be dysfunctional and destructive patterns of behavior, passive-aggressive denial or distorted self-perception. In the positive case, however, well designed architecture can accelerate healing processes (e.g. in hospitals), strengthen exercise and vitality, emotional and cognitive skills, social interactive and communicative skills.

Maria Lorena Lehman is also convinced that our built environment can influence how we feel. The construction and furnishing materials, the light, and the soundscapes have a certain emotional effect on us. It is therefore essential that architects keep an eye on the functions and effects on humans. Depending on the building, specific functions are required for humans:A hospital should radiate peace, confidence and hope accordingly. A school should arouse curiosity, joy and excitement and an office should support creativity, productivity and concentration.


Image for postThe role of an architect will change. They will have to keep the effects of architecture on humans in mind.

The foremost questions that architects and designers have to answer are those: What feelings and emotions and states of mind do I want to trigger in the occupiers of the building? It must also be clear that the patterns of behavior differ according to the building. With appropriate design, the healthy patterns can be underlined.

However, since architecture has a different effect on everyone, because different patterns of perception, personalities and cultural imprints come into play, it is difficult to define clear measures or tips.

Yet there are a few recommendations for measurements that different researchers like Vollmer suggest:

  1. In order to create positive (social) spaces, it makes sense to integrate the criteria for a project before the planning process. Here, for example, the reference to the five pillars of the ?SANCT model? can be helpful: This approach ? not only valid for architectural processes but in all areas of life ? should support the following elements: Self-esteem, Autonomy, Normality, Control and moTivation. If these elements are taken into account for the planning process, buildings can merge with new forms of housing, housing with new urban structures and thus, those can be enriched with new functions.
  2. During the planning phase, the project should be accompanied and continuously optimised so that shortcomings can be resolved prophylactically and damage prevention can be carried out. Therefore, various interest groups such as health managers, architects, city planners, psychologists and physicians should be integrated in order to gather know-how. ?As the planning processes become more concrete, the voice of users should be integrated.? In the future, Vollmer predicts, their participation in the design process, and the scientific demonstration of the impact of architecture on health, will become more and more important. The need orientation will replace the demand orientation. Architectural psychology, with its comprehensive understanding of the interactions between humans and the built environment, will be an important instrument in developing sustainable solutions and innovations. The architect themself has an increasingly complex role to play ? with in-depth knowledge of human psychology.
  3. Also analysing the design, facilities and use aspects of existing buildings is worthwhile in order to improve buildings for the residents. In order to create something new out of the existing, people must sometimes discard old concepts to create room for creativity ? of course only to an extent that afterwards architecture and a concept that serves the occupiers go hand in hand.

Dr. Upali Nanda (Director of HKS?s Center for Advanced Design Research and Evaluation), who Sara Polsky refers to in her article on psychology and architecture, sees a ?tremendous innovation in the building technology industry, as well as the cognitive sciences, including neuroscience.? Maybe new technological tools in the architectural sector will soon be able to track ?the human response to changing space and place parameters so we can develop a paradigm of responsive architecture.?

We will see what the future will bring us.


If you like my article, I am happy if you give me some claps. In the next story of this series we will take a look at examples of how architecture influences our psyche. If you want to learn more about psychology and architecture, follow our publication or check out our Twitter account.


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