Photo: William Cho (flickr)

Architecture’s Effect on Health

What Can Architecture Learn from Science?

by Haroon Bayani

 

These days in most Stockholm suburbs one can find blocks after blocks of grey buildings surrounded by a few trees and a lot of concrete. These buildings are simplistic, with their plain grey colour melting into the environment on cloudy days. The windows of these buildings are rather miniscule and permeate little light. The ceilings are also low, creating the feeling of being in a small cubic box. On the other hand, there are the grander buildings of the inner city. These are dramatically different, with large and grand windows and with an adjacent view of greeneries or other similar apartments of varying colours. Imagine the same apartment with big and spacious rooms and with an endless ceiling. Lastly, imagine the room being ornate with 19th century décor. Which of these two types of apartments are optimal for the human? That is what the comparatively new scientific field of neuro-architecture is trying to figure out.

…it is of great importance to be in an environment that we find pleasant. 

 

As most of us spend on average about 90% of our time indoors, it is of great importance to be in an environment that we find pleasant. If we, on the other hand, spend our time in a setting which we find confining, it will affect our brain. The main research group in the field, Academy of Neuroscience and Architecture (ANA), consisting of neuroscientists and architects, has shown that certain types of spaces may stimulate growth of new neurons. Therefore, those living in a dull and dreary environment may be affected by certain psychological effects, compared to those living in more stimulating environments. One of the scientists in ANA even claims that “Architects could even design environments expressly to foster research breakthroughs”.

Although there is still much more to uncover, the scientists are optimistic. In the future, they believe that by using colour, lightning and layout, scientists, along with architects, can find ideal designs for different workplaces, e.g. schools, hospitals. Some of the ideas of neuro-architecture have already been implemented. In hospitals it is possible that the construction of a well-designed environment will reduce a patient’s stay and may even play a part in the treatment of, for instance, memory loss and stimulation of brain activity. These principles of construction will most likely turn out to be group specific, where children’s needs will differ from the adults’. In general, the feeling of being lost, hesitant and having navigational difficulties causes great stress, especially for children. Hospitals can be improved with clear planning, such as simple circulation instead of long corridors, clear landmarks instead of signs consisting of strange combinations of numbers and letters, and colour references and symbols.

Furthermore, environmental enrichment of nature must not be forgotten. Those workplaces that have a planned green area have seen an increase in productivity, although it is not clear whether such changes will have long-term effects.

Although neuro-architecture may be a relatively new field of science, there are great discoveries to be made. Though on the surface, neuroscience and architecture seem like two disparate subjects, neuroscience is as revolutionary for architecture as physics and the introduction of steel buildings once was. If these discoveries yield results in educating architects on how buildings should be built, the minds and brains of millions of people can be affected. Hopefully making us all a tiny bit happier.

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