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How Environment Design Impacts Human Performance

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

Image Credit: © ar130405 | Pixabay


When designing an architectural environment, terms like function and form are often used. But what do these terms mean in a more profound sense? And how can one take these terms into deeper levels of meaning to reach truly poetic innovation?

A critical aspect of function and form is to understand what they can achieve for building occupants when fused together within a design. For example, when function and form converge and are designed to target occupant needs and goals, new innovative experiences can be born. A particularly pioneering architectural building can be designed to spark an idea that an occupant can act upon behaviorally, and this behavior, when repeated or improved upon strategically, can lead to increased mastery over time. (See the diagram above this article to better understand this flow.)


As an architectural designer, it is important for you to deeply understand the impact your environments have upon occupants that experience them. You may ask yourself: Does my architectural design exist to merely maintain status quo? Or does my architectural design exist to lift potential and performance for all who experience it over time? It is wise to make the latter a primary design goal, while being sure to always strive to expand your designs well beyond the former.

In essence, a building that is designed with intent to lift human potential and performance evokes the right idea, emotion, and/or behavioral response within occupants at just the right time. This way of designing expands what interactive design can do, and takes it into adaptive design realms. Just imagine an architectural environment that learns when and how to help occupants best to support and nurture their needs, and goals. In this light, a building designed in this way can help its occupants to achieve mastery of a particular process or skill.


Even as you formulate the initial schematics for your architectural concept design, it is wise to comprehensively research not only what your occupant thinks they need now, but also how they would like to grow: physiologically, intellectually, emotionally, behaviorally, and even spiritually. This will help you to grasp how the environmental design’s behavioral language needs to adapt.

In this way, architectural design exists as a type of “mapping system” that helps occupants get from where they are now, to where they want to be. Design your environments to uplift quality of life – not simply by making things “easier” for occupants, but by helping them breakthrough challenges. In doing this, your designed environments will be more than the sum of their parts. They become vehicles of transcendence.


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 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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