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3 Ways to Use "Meaningful Freedom" within Architectural Design to Nurture Creativity

By Maria Lorena Lehman — Get more articles like this sent to your email HERE.

Image Credit: © Bas352 | Pixabay


Most all architectural spaces call for the need to help occupants grow their creativity. Office buildings strive for creativity to improve worker productivity, schools strive for creativity to improve student learning, and even homes strive for creativity to optimize processes, improve relationships, and to increase fun. Without creativity as an integrated design factor, architectural space runs the risk of becoming redundant.

Creativity within architectural design dives deep to not only create an experience that fulfills, but also nurtures occupants to engage in activities that bring new ideas, new solutions, and new or improved processes. An architectural space that successfully evokes occupant creativity is one where each occupant can feel “meaningful freedom” within which to do their most authentic thinking.

STEP 1: INTEGRATING SPACE FOR DISCOVERY: The right environment can help a person to uncover new factors that lead to creative ideas. Just as when scheduling your weekly calendar where it is important to schedule unstructured free time in addition to structured work time, it is important for architectural environments to incorporate space that fosters discovery. Of course, discovery can take many forms, and what is needed for different forms of discovery within different building types will differ. Just imagine a scientific laboratory’s setup with equipment that guides scientists to see new factors versus a school’s adaptable classroom that can be reconfigured for play-like discovery of new factors. In each case, the architectural space is designed to allow for the discovery of new factors: including different ways of seeing a problem, finding new variables that affect the problem, and/or uncovering new paths through the problem. In essence, discovery within architectural design gives the occupant freedom to “see” through new lenses, which are key to the next design integration step that propels the creative process – contemplation.

STEP 2: PROVIDING CONTEMPLATION SPACE: Once factors are being discovered, it is critical to provide occupants with space to think about these variables, whether directly or indirectly. This may mean giving a person the right environment to explore a particular discovered perspective, or this may mean providing a person with an environment that fosters activities like brainstorming. Essentially, this portion of the architectural creativity narrative is about giving a person room to think, and room to capture ideas. For this, it is important to remember that contemplation is an important “function” within architectural design. It allows an occupant to process their past experience, their future vision, and their present moment interactions. From contemplation comes the next design integration step to propel the creative process – association.

STEP 3: HEIGHTENING THE POWER OF ASSOCIATION: Of course, a person may not be in one space the entire time that they are striving to generate a creative idea, solution, or process. Yet, it is important to view your building design as an anchor or hub that supports the creative process or narrative of your occupant. To do this, you may like to think about how your architecture relates to surrounding contexts. In other words, how does your designed environment relate to that which surrounds it (either physically or virtually)? Additionally, how does your architectural design use its features for this portion of the creative narrative? Are these features necessary distractions, important catalysts, or are they neutral as to not impact a creative process? The notion of “filter” is also important to consider as the environment can help or hinder your occupant’s process of association. Just imagine how a view through a window can trigger an association between what is seen through the view and what factors might be involved within a particular person’s creative endeavor.


It is important to note that the above three integrations can be used independently from each other to help foster occupant creativity. However, when used together to build upon each other within architectural environments, creativity (or the formulation of new ideas, solutions, or processes) can be sparked. The key is to integrate “meaningful freedom” into architectural space to nurture one who is striving to create a new innovative solution, or to spark one who is in the midst of trying to creatively optimize a process. This way of designing architecture calls for seeing beyond the physicality of behavior, to also integrate important human cognitive processes, like creativity. For this, a renewed kind of architectural “meaningful freedom” becomes necessary to help occupants find new paths. And to give this architectural freedom meaning, integration of discovery, contemplation, and association are key.

I invite you to think more deeply about these topics as you design your architecture. How might you nurture more “meaningful freedom” to foster occupant creativity in your designs? The above three steps are only the beginning.





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Maria: I came across your website through a reference in today's Architect Weekly ezine and am delighted I did. I'll bookmark your site and check back often. I read the first article and then the second and thirty minutes later realized how much time had passed. I've been practicing for thirty years and have always missed the stimulation of academia. I find each of your brief dissertations sort of like a day in design studio. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ron Ward
AI Group Design
I am excited to see you touch a vein of values in architecture, I have been chasing myself for years. Your depth of involvement in these very deep subjects is really beautiful and passionately dealt with and well written. Sound, color and value, shape, texture, scale, smell.... all definitive measures of the spaces we should be alert to. [...] I will savor the rest of your investigation of sensuality in architecture. I'm Glad I found you.

Dennis McLaughlin
McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is a multi award-winning visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Tech and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. CLICK HERE to learn more.

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