The Biology of Beautiful Buildings
The beautiful visuals in our physical spaces are therapeutic. Natural elements in design and architecture influence our well-being more than we realize.
We may have noticed this already when we experience a lack of energy in drab spaces, but new studies are demonstrating the positive psychology of biophilic design. We can proactively nudge our sense of well-being, by tweaking our surroundings.
Our thinking is shaped by the physical spaces we inhabit.
What are the cognitive consequences of architecture?
Psychologist Joan Meyers-Levy, examined the relationship between ceiling height and thinking style. The results? People "are much quicker at solving anagrams involving confinement, such as “bound,” “restrained” and “restricted.” while they are in a room with a lower ceiling.
Problem-solving requiring accuracy and focus happens better in short spaces.
People using rooms with high ceilings - especially when there's a view of the sky - were primed to feel “liberated” and “unlimited” while processing challenges. Tall, open rooms generate more creative solutions, inspiring thinkers to zoom out, in order to abstract or identify commonalities.
Studies from around the world report that the use of wood
in design improves well-being in mind and body.
In Finland, Dr Marjut Wallenius hopes that designers will leave some wood exposed. In scientific studies done in convalescing environments and schools, Wellenius has found that the use of wood improves well being in the mind and body.
Research shows that wood has favourable, positive psychological influences on people: "a similar stress-reducing effect as nature.” Even when just small wooden items were in a room, the engagement in surroundings plus interaction increased.
In Japan, when wooden structures were introduced into neurological clinics, a sense of relaxation positively affected mood and recuperation. “By using natural massive wood, it has been found that the humidity of indoor air in hospitals can be kept optimal from a health perspective…”.
A study by the Norwegian Institute of Wood Technology established that a hospital room with a window on one wall, with another wall that “was completely wood panelled was the most harmonised type of room for patients. “
School children benefit, too. Another study found that classrooms with whole-wood interiors soothed stress in children…all day long.
But, it has to be real. “Physiological measurements have shown that the quality of sleep and recovery from stress are better in a room with wood than one with imitation wood.” (2)
Roundness or curves in architecture and design
reach deeply into the "primal human emotional network“.
When people are asked to choose between an object that’s linear and one that’s curved, men and women prefer curves.
A Canadian study “reported that test participants were far more likely to consider a room beautiful when it was flush with curves rather than full of straight lines. Oblong couches, oval rugs, looping floor patterns–these features got our aesthetic engines going.” This is wired into the brain.
Brain scans taken while people looked at curved design (versus linear decoration) had significantly more activity in a brain's anterior cingulate cortex. This portion of the brain is involved in processing emotion, choosing pleasure to cope with misery. “Curvature appears to affect our feelings, which in turn could drive our preference.”
A Harvard study, found that viewing objects with sharp elements activated the amygdala - part of the human brain that processes threat and fear. Curves may seem more harmless. (3) Structurally, linear compositions may still be more sensible. But rounded, curvy touches appeal to the heart.
Well-being is positively impacted by
your visual engagement with the natural environment.
Since ancient times, our development was shaped by our interactions with natural landscapes. But, we got a little side-tracked by the Industrial Revolution, and by trends in architecture that placed us in morose spaces with dead air.
Whenever the need for contact with the natural world was ignored, humans became sick. Researcher Stephan Kellert has written much about sensory deprivation in lifeless environments. Fortunately, architects and designers also saw the connection. Thus, the rennaisance of Biophilic design, a reintroduction of nature into our interiors.
In the Sixties, psychologist Eric Fromm defined the term "biophilia" as “the passionate love of life and all that is alive” Twenty years later, Biologist Edward O. Wilson further refined biophilia as “ the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”.
More recent design studies show evidence that interaction with nature improves productivity, lowers stress levels, enhances learning comprehension, and increases recovery rates from illness. Our ability to directly access nature - or even just look at it - can alleviate feelings of stress, promote recovery from mental fatigue, enable better focus, mental stamina, and productivity, elevate mood, plus balance sleep hormones.
Well-being depends on engagement with the natural environment. Biophilic design improves well-being, and relationships with others. Biophilic design is not just another passing architectural trend.
It is pure necessity.
Bring Beautiful Biophilic Elements into your Home
Add real wood accents or accessories to your decor, particularly in the areas of your home you wish to relax in. Balance linear furnishings with round curves: pillows, rugs, ottomans. Soften linear walls with round picture frames, curvy lamp-shades.
Lower ceilings in areas in which you need to focus on accuracy, by draping lovely fabrics below the overhead ceiling height. Do your creative brainstorming on pillows on the floor to give the illusion of higher head space above. Daydream while gazing out the window to blue sky.
If houseplants don't work for you, ensure your wall art is filled with green goodness, and notice how your mind becomes more alive!
This article draws heavily from the following references. Major kudos to the authors & researchers! Photo credit: Thomas Born. All else © Låna Brown 2017