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The relevance of architectural psychology

How architecture and interior design affect our emotions

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We all encounter numerous buildings and interior designs every day – but were you aware that these various impressions have a psychological effect on you? This phenomenon is the subject explored by the field of architectural psychology, which researches how our surroundings influence our emotions and behaviours. In this article, we reveal the insights that have already been gained in this field and which actions can be taken on that basis.

Contrast between the royal Peterhof Palace in Saint Petersburg and three modern skyscrapers from a worm’s eye view on Pexels.

The architecture of every building is unique and so is its effect on the observer. (Photos: Ena Marinkovic, Pexels & Max Avans, Pexels)

Architecture and associations – is it possible to make general statements?

Architecture and associations – is it possible to make general statements?

Every individual is wired differently. We all have our unique biographies and our own ways of seeing the world. So is it really possible to make general statements about the feelings that buildings and interior designs trigger in us?

Numerous studies have already identified strong similarities in how architectural factors are perceived within cultural and geographical groups – especially with regard to colours, for example. And many parallels become apparent even beyond these culturally and geographically homogenous groups. In a 2020 study , researchers asked around 4,600 people from 30 countries on six continents about their emotions when looking at 12 colours. The study revealed that, while there appears to be a global consensus when perceiving the colour red (love), yellow (joy) and brown (very little emotional association), there are also significant differences, which are usually culturally determined. White, for example, is associated in many countries with peace and purity, but in China it is associated with grief – Chinese mourners usually wear white, rather than black, to funeral services. Geographical location can also influence the effect colours have on people. In warmer climes, lighter colours tend to be preferred as they symbolise lightness and freshness, while people in cooler countries gravitate towards warm colours that convey a sense of comfort and safety.

Despite this, architectural psychology can make general statements about what’s true for the majority of people – independently of cultural, demographic and individual influences. Certain colours, shapes, textures and types of light have a similar emotional effect on most people – and effective architectural approaches can be selected and applied on this basis.

Contrast between the bright and modern interior design of the World Trade Center station and the external façade of a building consisting of several curved columns on Pexels & Unsplash.

ogether, the many different architectural and interior-design elements account for the overall effect on the observer. (Photos: Luis Dalvan, Pexels & Adrian Cuj, Unsplash)

The architectural components that elicit emotions

These include:

  • Colours: Every colour has a unique psychological effect and – in combination with the lighting, contrasts and size of the room – elicits various moods in us. Warm colours such as red, yellow and orange, for example, are associated with joy and passion, and are perfect for rooms in which energy should be stimulated – for example, kitchens.
  • Shapes: Straight lines express stability and order, while round shapes exude a feeling of naturalness and harmony. A room with lots of rounded walls and elements promotes a feeling of comfort, safety and relaxation.
  • Textures: The way a material or surface feels evokes different associations – and thereby also emotions. Rough surfaces can evoke a sense of adventure, smooth textures elicit feelings of stability and control, and glossy surfaces in contrast usually convey modernity and luxury.
  • Light: Natural and artificial light have a very different effect on people, and the intensity of light is also a key factor. While bright, natural light improves productivity, low lights encourage relaxation and the release of melatonin.

Happy women in apartments they designed themselves, on Unsplash and Pexels.

A perfect interior design concept is always based on the needs of the inhabitants and creates a feel-good atmosphere. (Photos: Kinga Cichewicz, Unsplash & Pavel Danilyuk, Pexels)

Architecture and interior design can do more than just stir and steer emotions

Architecture and interior design don’t just influence our emotions, they also have an impact on a number of other factors, including our physical well-being. An optimally designed environment can help us to stay healthy and productive, while a poorly designed space can have an adverse effect on our emotional well-being and physical health. But what, in this context, is optimal and what isn’t?

Factors that promote health include plenty of natural light, good ventilation, greenery and calm colours such as blue. Numerous studies conducted in hospitals support this finding: they compared the physical well-being of patients, along with the average length of their stay, before and after hospital interiors were redesigned. The results show that, on average, patients in rooms decorated in accordance with the principles of architectural psychology required less medication, suffered less stress and healed more quickly.

Because architecture and interiors can influence our moods, it stands to reason that they can also affect our behaviour. There is a proven link between the size and style of a room and the productivity of a person working in it. Apropos of productivity: spaces designed with architectural psychology in mind can also have an enormous effect on learning processes. A pleasantly designed learning environment, in educational institutions for example, promotes concentration and creativity while learning. Did you know that natural elements – such as plants or a nice view of a pleasant landscape – reduces stress and distraction

A bright, colourful classroom with a variety of modular seating and playing areas on Unsplash

Classrooms with a mobile interior design and harmonious colours promote creativity. (Photo: Gauto Auroram, Unsplash)

Architectural psychology in day-to-day life: three case examples

Every decision made when designing a building has a psychological effect on its users.

Office: Studies have shown that designing work areas with architectural psychology in mind – for example, by using greenery – has a positive effect on the concentration, productivity and well-being of staff.

Private homes: Our homes say a lot about us because they usually reflect what speaks to us psychologically. However, there are many other architectural-psychological influences that determine how happy we feel at home. We have a measure of control over some of these, and less over others: for example, living areas with large windows that let in plenty of natural light, ideally with a view of green areas, can really boost psychological well-being.

Prisons: These serve, primarily, the purpose of rehabilitation. Inmates should therefore be given a positive and calming environment. Spaces with quiet areas to retreat to, bright natural light, and colourful interior design featuring round elements are perfect for this.

Do you also have innovative concepts to offer the interiors industry? If so, you should exhibit at the imm cologne Spring Edition from 4 to 7 June 2023 – register now!