Environmental psychology: Building with feeling

Submitted by digital on Fri, 12/14/2012 - 22:40
{"version":"0.3.0","atoms":[],"cards":[["images-card",{"images":[{"url":"http:\/\/res.cloudinary.com\/dpcbzfiye\/image\/upload\/v1458686585\/blvkrurmpwk01g8qrww4.jpg","id":"1626"}],"caption":"Meadowlark Hills, a retirement community in Manhattan, Kan., designed by The Ebert Mayo Design Group. Individual doors designate individual entries into separate households, each door providing a physical manifestation of the act of entry into the home."}]],"markups":[],"sections":[[1,"h2",[[0,[],0,"Scientific\nresearch reveals all the ways our environments affect the mind"]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"If it\u0027s the mission of Oprah and Dr. Phil to show us how other people make us feel and behave, then it\u0027s the mission of environmental psychology to show us how everything else around us\u2014our spaces, our buildings, our cities, and our landscape\u2014make us feel and behave. Dave Alan Kopec, a specialist in the field and professor at the New School of Architecture and Design in San Diego, defines it as \u201cthe study of human relations and behaviors within the context of the built and natural environments.\u201d He and his colleagues conduct research to find out how the physical environment affects emotions and behavior, and their findings carry some potentially astounding implications for architecture."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Environmental psychology overlaps with many other established design disciplines, including space planning, ergonomics, lighting, acoustics, way-finding, branding, and interior design. And while its scope is enormous, its methods and conclusions are astonishingly precise. For example, research has proven that locating a sink within the visible stretch of a hospital corridor can increase the rate of hand washing, and that installing operable windows in a school classroom can reduce sleepiness. It investigates the effects of a certain color of paint on a living room wall and also of the ideal ratio of planted to paved space in a city park."]]],[1,"blockquote",[[0,[],0,"It remains the architect\u0027s responsibility to integrate input from environmental psychologists into a compelling holistic structure."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Environmental psychology is akin to evidence-based design, which architects tend to be more familiar. Evidence-based design draws upon knowledge from all fields, culling any type of information that has been scientifically proven and can be reproduced. Sustainable design is largely evidence-based, as its practices and regulations are based on scientific research. But environmental psychology takes the same premise and focuses it more broadly on people, looking exclusively at research-based information about the complex interactions between environmental factors and people\u0027s feelings and actions."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Not all the subjects that environmental psychologists tackle are obvious and easily observable. \u201cSome environmental influences we can see or touch, such as seeing the aesthetics of a space or touching an upholstered ergonomic chair,\u201d says Irving Weiner, AIA, an environmental psychology professor at Massasoit Community College in Middleborough, Mass. \u201cSome of these environmental influences we cannot see or touch, yet they have a direct influence on our behavior or mood.\u201d"]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"For example, there are psychologists who study molecular and neurobiological responses, such as an individual\u0027s uptake of melatonin in response to natural light. And, at the other end of the spectrum, there are psychologists who study more broad-based social and cultural responses. As an example, Kopec cites the deep sense of loss felt by people in former Soviet republics after monuments from the former political regime were removed, \u201cwithout regard to the meaning and history embodied within the design.\u201d"]]],[1,"h3",[[0,[],0,"Applied social psychology"]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Needless to say, the implications for architecture are enormous. As Weiner explains, \u201cEnvironmental psychology explores the parameters and variables that might alter one\u0027s mood, behavior, productivity, effectiveness, and attitude.\u201d Knowledge from the field enables architects to shape solutions for clients and users with foreseeable, measurable results. For commercial projects, this can lead to improvements in employee productivity. For retail projects, environmental psychology might mean higher sales. In a healthcare environment, this could mean accelerating patient recovery times."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Right now, environmental psychologists are most likely to be called in to advise architects on very specific project types, typically in healthcare. \u201cIn fields where there are special needs\u2014children, hospitals, the aging, particular kinds of mental and physical illness, and forms of disability\u2014environmental psychologists have been able to provide data-based evidence for design and planning decisions,\u201d says Setha Low, a professor of environmental psychology at City University of New York. Environmental psychologists might be retained on staff at a large design firm, or serve as consultants on a per-project basis at smaller ones."]]],[10,0],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"But it\u0027s still uncertain how directly knowledge from environmental psychology can be translated into architecture. \u201cPart of the problem is that much of the work in the field is very psychological [or] behavioral, and it doesn\u2019t easily translate into specific design recommendations,\u201d says Alan Hedge, a professor at Cornell University\u2019s Department of Design and Environmental Analysis. \u201cI don\u2019t think it will become more typical to hire an environmental psychologist until the discipline becomes much more applied, and undertakes research that produces specific design recommendations.\u201d Hedge notes that environmental psychology is, to a large extent, concerned with forces that lie outside the province of design. \u201cYes, environmental psychology mainly looks at spatial layouts, crowding, nature, etc.\u2014it\u0027s applied social psychology. [But] very little work deals with actual environmental conditions.\u201d"]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"What environmental psychologists can certainly do, at early stages of the design process, is introduce ideas from relevant research. Kopec says that he and his colleagues don\u0027t proscribe design, but are accustomed to \u201ccoming in and providing a specific set of knowledge to the designer so that he or she is better prepared when developing the design.\u201d While architects accumulate deep knowledge about the effects of light, space, acoustics, proportions, and color over the decades as they complete individual projects, environmental psychologists, through focused research, can arrive at implementable results in a shorter amount of time. So, hypothetically, they\u0027re able to advise an architect about how an increased ratio of oxygen to carbon dioxide in a classroom can increase student attentiveness, or how one-way circulation in an apartment unit can help an autistic person move through the day more comfortably, without repetitive rounds of trial and error."]]],[1,"blockquote",[[0,[],0,"Environmental psychology overlaps with many other established design disciplines, including space planning, ergonomics, lighting, acoustics, way-finding, branding, and interior design."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Environmental psychologist and interior designer Migette Kaup, who consulted on a nursing home renovation of Meadowlark Hills, a retirement community in Manhattan, Kan., explains, \u201cArchitectural cues can provide reinforcement to the desired behaviors that we would like to see enacted in specific place types. When we are attempting to shift social meanings and create new experiences, such as making a nursing home actually feel residential, this reinforcement can be central to achieving the stated programmatic goals.\u201d"]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Kaup and the design team at The Ebert Mayo Design Group oversaw the installation of warm, residential-feeling details in hallways, including rocking chairs and broad arched openings at one junction of private and public zones. For a New York City preschool, Kopec worked with designer Zvia Dover to incorporate mezzanine play areas, low ceilings, and vision panels to break a large loft space into smaller, more protected, interconnected ones, which can provide a greater sense of security for anxious children."]]],[1,"h3",[[0,[],0,"Data, design, or both?"]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"As environmental psychologists bring more data-driven decisions to the design process, it\u2019s not unexpected for architects to be concerned about a drift towards a grimly fact-based and results-oriented design methodology devoid of the spark of creativity and artistry. Both Weiner and Kopec disagree, however, and believe that intelligence from environmental psychology can only enrich the designer\u0027s palette. It remains the architect\u0027s responsibility to integrate input from environmental psychologists, along with input from other consultants, into a compelling holistic structure. In Kopec\u2019s description, \u201cThe designers must take the narrow bit of expertise of the sustainability person along with the narrow bit of information from the environmental psychologist, and from the structural engineer, and distill all of that information into a meaningful design.\u201d"]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Weiner understands that the field calls for architects to look through another lens, and examine more strategically the inner lives of the people who use their buildings. \u201cThe goals are to integrate environmental factors such as HVAC, illumination, color, art, and ergonomics into the unconscious mind, so that one\u0027s perception is positive; which in turn shall motivate one to be more effective in academia, in the community, and in the workforce.\u201d"]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"So, in addition to the bluster and boldness of Frank Lloyd Wright, every practicing architect is being summoned to cultivate some of the subtlety and acuity of Sigmund Freud."]]]]}
It's the mission of environmental psychology to show how everything around us—our spaces, our buildings, our cities, and our landscape—make us feel.


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