/txt/ Journal Psychology: Psychology of Architecture
This is an assignment i did back in school. It was actually for a psychology class but I was so fascinated with architecture at the time that I kept it related to my major. I did a poll of 150 subjects, 30% of which were familiar with the field of architecture, the remainder were not. I am still very proud of the resulting research and paper and I still use this today for much of my design work. Pardon the formatting of the images at the end; I found out today that WordPress, while awesome, has several character flaws *angry face*
Psychology of Architecture
An average population of the world views space and structure through the visual elements provided. Brick, tree, corridor, door, window, trim and carpet are only a few of these visual elements. All of the elements combine to allow us to experience a space. These experiences should be the designer’s goal when conceiving the space in question. Some spaces are created to encourage social interaction while others are designed to encourage silence and reflection. Think about the space that you are in now. If you are in an office, most likely it is institutionalized with a nominal amount of light and large capacity for production. Let’s say you are in a municipal park. Most likely you are relaxed and enjoying time away from the office and other stresses of life. It is the purpose of this paper to explore the relationships between these elements and how you experience a space. Specifically, we will look at color, space and extra-sensory perceptions that we have while experiencing a space.
To begin I would like to define architecture and explain why it is important to design with experience in mind. Here at Southern Polytechnique State University, it is engrained into architecture students that our definition of architecture is the following:
“Architecture is the blend of science, art and technology to provide a meaningful interaction between an audience and the space that they occupy.”
At least something to that extent! It may come to your attention that most of the buildings that you occupy are not really an experience. Unfortunately this is outside the scope of my research but I do intend to show why it is important for every space to be designed with a certain experience in the mind of its designer.
Let us suppose for one instance that the St. Louis Arch is one story tall. It would then be a completely different experience as it is today, and far from the desired experience of its designer. A space designed without an experience in mind is a space without a purpose that can leave its occupants lost and confused. Even a space as irrelevant as a high school locker room can be made relevant through the use of different colors.
Maybe one of the most powerful visual elements in a space is color. Like David Johnson states in Psychology of Color, “Like death and taxes, there is no escaping color.” Today there are so many for a designer to choose from that it can be an overwhelming decision to make. Color, as they say, can make or break a design project. While color should be thought of to make a building aesthetically pleasing (or unattractive if that may be the purpose of the design), color is much more important than mere aesthetics. Why is it that people feel more relaxed in a green room? Regardless of why, the fact is that we are and that is why television studios place guests in a “Green Room” before their appearance on live television. Color psychology is a difficult subject to tackle a paper as small as this one. Table (1) shows some of the more common colors with their respective psychological effects.
|Black||Color of power and authority. Absorbs light and dims a space usually making the space less desirable to occupy.|
|White||Reflects light and makes a space brighter and usually more pleasurable to be in.|
|Red||Most emotionally intense color. Tends to cause a faster heartbeat and breathing. However, the most romantic color, pink, is used in guest team locker rooms to cause the team to loose energy. (Morton)|
|Blue||Opposite of red, causes body to produce relaxing chemicals.|
|Green||Most popular color in decorating. Green is the most calming and refreshing color and can even improve eye health.|
|Yellow||A cheerful color, yet it is more common for people to loose their temper in yellow rooms and babies tend to cry more. Yellow tends to increase metabolism.|
|Purple||“The color of royalty, purple connotes luxury, wealth, and sophistication. It is also feminine and romantic. However, because it is rare in nature, purple can appear artificial.”|
|Brown||Brown is the color of nature. Symbolizes strength and genuineness. Men are more likely to say that brown is their favorite color.|
Table (1): Colors and their Psychological Effects
From Johnson’s Psychology of Color
Color can have a large variety of effects on the occupants of a space. As a designer conceives a space, the color should be used as a function of the space as much as the walls or ceilings. Yellow, for instance is a color that tends to grab attention more than other colors. This would make it a good color to use in corridors to show occupants where to go next. Since it also tends to increase metabolism, yellow should also be used in dining spaces such as restaurants. Along with color, spatial qualities can play a large role in how we experience a space.
You may ask, “How can you explain space, using space?” Well, let us say that the space we occupy is a general space that includes all elements. This general space is what we experience. The word ‘space’ that I use in the title refers to those individual elements that form the experience. These spatial qualities can be anything from wall texture or base molding to the size and shape of a space. Can these qualities of a space really effect how an audience experiences them? A recent study by Freemason Victor Popow looks at the possibility of humans being “physically wired” to recognize patterns and environmental cues while we occupy a space.
According to Gestalt psychologists, the mind is already programmed to recognize and classify patterns. It is thought that this programming is the result of million’s of years of learning how to react in different situations. This programming, according to the Gestalt’s, is the reason we act in awe at the tall vertical expanses of corporate buildings. Structurally complex buildings provide so much information for the mind to categorize and piece together that it creates a sense of wonder and excitement. Should you learn to behave in a massive cathedral space or should the space tell you how to behave? According to the Gestalt’s we already know how to behave in this environment because of inherited conditioning. It is this conditioning that the designer must take into consideration when planning a space.
The sensations that a space gives to the audience is just as important as the color, light or any other visible element. The third element that I wanted to introduce was the ‘extra-sensory’ element. This is not the ‘ESP’ that you normally associate with this term; it has nothing to do with telekinesis or mind-reading. To best explain this phenomenon I’d like you to try a little experiment (I’m not responsible for any injuries). After reading this sentence, close your eyes and concentrate on the following things: how big is the space you are in, what type of surfaces are around you and how high is the ceiling. You probably already know these things because you have taken that knowledge in through your eyes. Now close your eyes and this time walk to another room and think of the same elements. Notice that if you were familiar with the floor plan of the space you are in, you knew where to put your hand to feel your way into the next space, the general direction to go into as well as the general direction. Congratulations, you just had a spatial experience that required none of your five known senses, but a sense of how to put all that information together (sense of space).
Unfortunately, in the field of Architecture, it seems as though the five senses have been dimmed down to only one sense, visual. According to Rebecca Maxwell, visually impaired author and former teacher, “Architecture could delight us more by focusing on other senses indeed.” If we asked anyone to describe a building the response would most likely be of something they saw. Rebecca’s description of a building is almost always the floor plan. Once she has familiarized herself with the layout of a space (what she calls the first level of inner mapping) she moves on to the heights of the spaces. While she can not see the ceilings she can feel the openness of a room. A lower ceiling she says “has oppression… or a disproportion of the space.” This is one of those extra-sensory perceptions that must be considered when designing a space. Even for those of us that take visual information for granted every day can receive conflicting information from a space that is poorly designed to meet.
Now that I’ve laid all my beliefs and used what little research I could in order to support those beliefs, I would like to turn towards the survey that I have asked to see how relevant any of this may be. The goal behind my survey was simple: I am hoping to find what makes a person remember a building. Using this new information with the research above, I hope to shed some light on how to design a space that can be experienced, not just occupied.
As I had pointed out earlier, it appears as though a majority of the survey participants described a building that impressed them in visual terms. Even more impressive is that despite their differences, both male and female groups chose aesthetic features of a building that impressed them.
When asked to pick which space they would feel most comfortable in, the participants chose the space with the largest footprint. I am guessing that those that chose space 1 over space 3 chose it because of the apparently higher ceilings.
Blue is definitely more popular with males while green is much more popular with females. The color purple is less natural and therefore not thought of as a suitable environment color. This shows in these results. Dark colored rooms are usually synonymous with power and dominance which could be the reason more men chose this space.
Based on the survey results I gather that in general, most people expect certain things from spaces with elements arranged in a certain pattern. These expectations can help architects and other designers plan spaces that can be experienced rather than just occupied. By indulging in senses outside of the five primary senses, our spaces can be felt not only with our hands but with our sense of space. Colors can dictate different behaviors from one space to another. By knowing and understanding the pre-wired tendencies of humans, architects can design for the betterment of all humanity.
Works CitedSanders, Alan. Architecture and the Senses. 6 Nov. 2004. The Comfort Zone, Radio National. 1 Mar. 2005.
Johnson, David. Color Psychology. 2005. Infoplease.
Popow, Victor. A Report on Psychology & Architecture. Dec. 2000. (No known Affiliations).
Morton, J.L. Drunk Tank Pink. 2005. Color Matters.