“We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us,” mused Winston Churchill in 1943 while considering the repair of the bomb-ravaged House of Commons.
More than 70 years on, he would doubtless be pleased to learn that neuroscientists and psychologists have found plenty of evidence to back him up.
We live in relationship with the spaces we create. All relationships are by definition two-sided and provide a forum within which we come to know and direct ourselves.
The spaces we inhabit and each thing within them hold our extended sense of self. But we not only shape our spaces, our spaces shape us and influence our sense of who we are.
Buildings and cities can affect our mood and well-being, and that specialised cells in the hippocampal region of our brains are attuned to the geometry and arrangement of the spaces we inhabit.
Yet urban architects have often paid scant attention to the potential cognitive effects of their creations on a city’s inhabitants, with no considerations of how it might shape the behaviours of those who will live with it.
Today, thanks to psychological studies, we have a much better idea of the kind of environments that people like or find stimulating.
Some of these studies have attempted to measure subjects’ physiological responses in situ, using wearable devices such as bracelets that monitor skin conductance (a marker of physiological arousal), smartphone apps that ask subjects about their emotional state, and electroencephalogram (EEG) headsets that measure brain activity relating to mental states and mood.
Recognising this impact, the AIA has compiled six key areas for architects to pay particular attention to when designing a space, explains AIA spokesman Scott Frank. Among these are safety, promoting social connectedness, ease of movement, and sensory stimulation.
Natural light, for example, has a physiological impact on people,” says Dr Alan Lewis, a lecturer in architecture at Manchester university. “Research has shown that visible light helps the human body to regulate the production of the hormone melatonin, which in turn helps to regulate our body clock, affecting sleep patterns and digestion. “Visible light also helps to stimulate the body’s production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which can reduce the symptoms of depression.”
But a well-designed space, particularly a modern library, must also be versatile yet appropriate for its main use. “Good designs are where it is not dictated to the individual how they should perceive, operate or feel in the building, but have the flexibility to explore and experience it for themselves,” says Dr Marialena Nikolopoulou, from the school of architecture at the university of Kent .
Dr Birgitta Gatersleben, senior lecturer in environmental psychology at Surrey university, agrees. “People perform a range of different tasks and have different needs: sometimes to be alone, sometimes to be with others.
A range of spaces that offer different things works best. It all comes down to the people-environment fit.
We are in physical dialogue with our spaces in every moment. We are challenged by and limited by them and also enabled by them. When I engage with a place I learn what I can and cannot do.
A wise man once said that a person is not inherently disabled, that he only experiences himself as disabled when he interacts with a world around him that contains barriers.
It is the relationship to the physical environment that creates either the experience of empowerment or the experience of disability. When we shape our environments so that everyone can engage with them with a sense of accomplishment, we change not only access but literally change the way people know and think about themselves.
In simple terms, the psychology of space is the interplay between man and space. For this reason, it is important not to lose sight of the effect that the creative and design measures will have on your guests’ and customers’ sense of well-being.
Only when they feel safe and, therefore, also comfortable will they be able to enjoy their stay. Considering the psychology of space in our work also means that we have to make guests feel welcome, to capture their attention and to give them a sense of orientation.
Besides being hospitable, hotels and restaurants must also offer an efficient working environment for the staff. Optimum working conditions have a positive effect on staff motivation and have to be included in the planning process from the beginning.
How do we achieve this? Above all, by reflecting simple and natural conditions which people are familiar with, because whatever is natural for the body, is also good for an individual’s sense of well-being.
By following these principles, we create spaces in which your guests and customers unconsciously feel a sense of comfort. This fundamental psychological need is the basis for our approach towards design.
Every design concept that we develop to meet a client’s specific goals will result in a venue where visitors and guests can enjoy themselves in a relaxing and inspiring atmosphere.
To achieve these goals, we work across a number of disciplines and utilise a wide range of design and communication possibilities. Our work includes architecture, layout planning, the selection of materials, lighting concepts and colours, room acoustics, but also communications design, the future corporate language of our clients, product design and staff garments.