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Can Architecture Motivate People Toward Behavior Change?

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

So often, as one designs architecture, this question comes up — Can an architect motivate building occupants through their work? In other words, can architecture boost motivation? Or can it help its occupants to take advantage of the motivation within them at any given time? The real question, thus, surfaces — Can architecture facilitate behavior change within occupants? You see, motivation is what is needed to engage occupants to take on new or changed behaviors.

And I think the answer to this is — yes, architecture can facilitate behavior change by tapping into its occupants’ motivational levels.

Recently, I saw a video presentation by BJ Fogg who describes how, as people, we all have fluctuating motivational levels on different days. You see, he says that we don’t really “boost motivation” or “motivate behavior change”. Instead, we simply “ride the wave” of the different motivational levels that present themselves to us. Hence, we can engage in more difficult activities when our motivation happens to be high, and we can engage in more simple activities when our motivation happens to be low. (1)

To give you the best synopsis of what BJ Fogg describes as “facilitating behavior change”, please watch the following video presentation:

As you can see, BJ Fogg doesn’t believe in boosting motivation, but instead believes in riding the waves of fluctuating motivational levels. So, you may ask — What does this have to do with architecture? How can it help me to design better?

Building an Architecture Where Timing is Critical

As our built environments take on more technologies where sensors are embedded, it will increasingly become possible to observe occupant behaviors by picking up on certain cues. As such, the architecture itself can estimate occupant motivational levels and propose just-in-time design interventions to help them engage in healthier and happier behaviors.

Really, by allowing the environment to change as building occupants’ needs change, a lot can be accomplished. After all, it is within the behavioral habits of people that unwanted behaviors can be changed into wanted behaviors. And a responsive architecture can help with this by knowing when to give prompts to trigger change, improvement, and consistency.

As an architect, your building needs to find ways to engage with its occupants, and knowing when the right time is to approach them with certain interventions is critical. This means that your architecture needs to “listen” and “observe” the patterns of occupant behaviors that reveal what mood or motivational level they may be in. From there, the architecture can also carry forward the building-with-occupant dialogue, to trigger and facilitate those wanted occupant behaviors.

After all, timing is everything— and is something that you must learn to integrate into your architectural designs strategically. After all, getting your occupants attention is one thing, but engaging them toward positive change is quite another. Make your architecture reach its effectiveness potential — make certain to take into account your occupant’s changing motivational levels, for these will shed light on when and how to get your architecture to have positive impact on the people whom it serves.

(1) Fogg, BJ. Motivation Wave Presentation 2012. http://bjfogg.com.

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what members are saying...
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 an award-winning visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

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