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Tailoring a Building Design Toward Occupant Emotions (Video)

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

Image Credit: © seier+seier | Flickr

As architects, we often try to design and think of buildings as vessels which engage with their occupants on many levels — including the emotional ones. And of course, those designs which connect with their occupants on emotional levels, are the designs that often have the most profound effect. Yet frequently, designers use their “instincts” to orchestrate novel and harmonious building design features that will serve to not only inspire, but also to connect with people in profound ways.

But what if you want to use more than your instinct? What if you could get insight into how to tap into your occupant’s emotions? …knowing not just where to do it within your designs, but also when.

As I see new technologies surface, like the Emotiv headset, I think we all must ask ourselves as designers not simply whether design can stir emotions, but more specifically which design arrangements elicit which emotional responses — and what do these emotional responses mean for those that experience them. Well, with advances like the Emotiv headset which can record emotions as they are being perceived from given stimuli, we are now able to get insight into the links between the emotions and the designed stimuli that triggers them.

From Emotional Response to Engaged Behavior

In the video (at the end of this article) you will see how a technology can “read” emotional human response to design stimuli — as you will see below, the stimuli takes the form of a movie trailer which will elicit the emotions of happiness, sadness, anger and fear from the viewer. And while some of what this new technology shows is rather obvious, as when certain sad parts of the movie trailer elicit sadness in the observer, there is no doubt that as a designer we can benefit from the nuances that such technological breakthroughs exhibit, like the ability to dissect design in terms of human response — yes, the elusive emotional ones.

Now, with this information in hand, just imagine that you are designing a building environment with a large central focus on occupant emotional response. How might you think about designing your building differently? If designing a hospital, how might you alleviate feelings of sadness and fear? If designing a school, how might you engage students to feel happiness or excitement? And is there a certain moment within your built environment where you may want to elicit the emotion of anger? And what if, unknowingly, you to elicit one of these emotions from your occupants unintentionally — of course, this could potentially ruin an effect or the entire experiential journey which you are leading your occupant upon within your building design.

Then, also take into account what results from a combination of architectural emotional cues, for instance, when happiness follows sadness or fear. (This of course, may be determined by what qualities you are trying to achieve with your architecture. Is it to be mysterious? Trustworthy? Comforting? Or joyful?)

I do not think architectural design is a “manipulation” of human emotion through built form. Instead, I believe that architectural design is an instrument which people can experience, with all of their emotions and curiosities. And when a building is designed well, it houses both a feast for the senses as well as restful places within which its occupants can reside. But be sure that your building design does not stop at meeting simple programmatic needs and requirements — be sure that you as a designer are consciously tapping into the right emotions, at the right time, to engage your occupants as you intend.

The following is the video where you can see just how this new technological headset analyzes a viewers real-time emotional reactions as they simply watch a movie trailer. As you watch, think about not only which emotions are being triggered, but begin to think about their proportions (almost like a recipe) — in terms of what might be needed to reach the movie trailers overall targeted outcome:

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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 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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