Your Brain: How Architecture is “Food for Thought”
HOW ARCHITECTURE INFLUENCES YOUR BEHAVIOR
The architecture which surrounds you influences your thought, and subsequently your behavior. Understanding this relationship between the environment and your mind is important – particularly if you are a designer of such environments. Your brain is not only hard-wired to interpret certain spatial characteristics in certain ways, but your mind also plays a role in how you make decisions based on those interpretations. All in all, architecture is a type of “food for thought” where your designed surroundings impact not only how you perceive that world, but also how you interact within it.
In Scientific American Mind’s most recent issue, an article by Emily Athens called “Building Around the Mind” highlights various architectural factors that influence the human mind. As described in the article — through the brain, architecture can impact our creativity, focus, health, attention, mood and social ability. (1) Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg … Architecture plays a major role for our brains, not just as we perceive space; but also as we engage in interactions, behaviors and thoughts.
PROCESSING ARCHITECTURE WITH YOUR BRAIN
“Building Around the Mind” describes a particular 2007 study by Joan Meyers-Levey where the ceiling of a room was determined to have an affect on how subjects process information. As was determined, a lower ceiling within a room promotes greater attention to detail by occupants. Higher ceilings promoted greater abstract and creative thinking by occupants. As Athens’ article points out, different situations call for varying ceiling heights. (1) The latter study is just one example of how architectural spatial qualities can affect how humans operate within an architectural space. Just think what might happen if architects truly considered such influences while they design.
By designing with greater insight into how the human mind processes architecture, design professionals might really be able to influence occupants to live healthier, more meaningful and happier lives as architectural qualities of an environment really do trigger a wide variety of human response.
FEEDING YOUR THOUGHTS VIA YOUR SENSES
The beauty of architectural design is that, it too, can be designed as interactive – embedded with sensors and actuators that allow it to respond as well. For example, occupants within a space that may need to have great focus and attention at one moment may later need to relax and meditate. As architecture gains greater and greater flexibility, it will get better at providing for such variations in occupant needs. In addition, architecture’s ability to coordinate with other surrounding elements, like nature, also makes architecture a wonderful way to feed your thoughts via your senses.
The main idea is that your brain interprets architecture through your mind and plays a role in influencing your thoughts and subsequent behavior. As architects, we should try to harness this understanding. Great architecture is always sensitive to making spaces humane – by truly factoring for human response.
(1) Anthes, Emily. Building Around the Mind. American Mind. April/May 2009.