Subconscious Architecture: How Psychologically Friendly is your Environment?



The correlation between our built environment and its affects on mental and emotional health have been widely researched, documented and put into practice. Architect Elizabeth Danze and psychoanalyst Stephen Sonnenberg have been collectively working together to present the impact of the built environment and its psychological effects on people. Here we present some of their findings and further studies into the effects of interior design on human psyche.

In Danze and Sonnenberg’s publication Space & Psyche they find that Architecture attempts to enrich our human condition and elevate emotional well-being through “the manipulation of space, light, material, and form” (2013). The role of psychoanalysis is to study how we treat places and spaces and configure them in our minds. Danze and Sonnenberg find that ultimately both architecture and psychoanalysis are concerned with human identity, memory and desires. We use images and our emotions to create a spatial image of a building in our minds. Their work demonstrates the importance of linking design with human emotion.

Similarly to the Danze and Sonnenberg study, a 2011 study by Dazkir and Read on “Furniture Forms and Their Influence on Our Emotional Responses Toward Interior Environments” presented some important findings. By presenting occupants with curvy, rounded structures and straightedged rectangular forms, they preferred the curved rounded options better. The study found a correlation between the round forms and regions in the brain that triggered an increase in brain activity, rewards and the appreciation of beauty.

American architect Barbara Stewart advocates a practice of the use of Feng Shui to enhance designing spaces. Rather then metric, she suggests it is time architects used a more “emotional” mindset of designing that would make people happier. She makes the following suggestion for creating an environment that links a persons “mind, body and spirit”:

– The Floor: It should represent a natural earthen pathway, and be darkest in colour.

– Eye-level: this is the middle section and should be filled with more neutral colours

– Ceiling: Reminiscent of the sky, it should be the brightest, and lightest.

Stewarts work shows how people are most comfortable in spaces that represent nature and a natural environment, hence why people react so well to spaces with unpolished stone, natural and unpainted wood surfaces and large windows with exterior views.

This takes us to the final piece of research by Kathleen Vohs and her colleagues at the University of Minnesota. Animals live and inhabit spaces that are naturally messy or cluttered. The work by Vohs and her team found that participants with messy desks and tend to present psychologically higher levels of creativity then those with tidier desks.

The work of psychologists and architects alike takes a step further into realising the importance of evaluating design and its effects on workforce productivity. Also, the research shows how clients and visitors will envisage an environment and create an emotional link through its architecture and interior design.