If you’re interested in the idea of how the physical environment can affect people, I recommend giving this TED Radio Hour episode, “The Power of Spaces,” a listen. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
I found David Byrne’s discussion of how acoustic spaces can affect creativity especially interesting, given our exploration here of how acoustics can affect learning.
I’m playing around with the formatting of these weekly roundups. Let me know what works or doesn’t work for you. UPDATE: looks like links in pictures weren’t working, so I added embedded links to each article.
A nice overview of the relationship between architectural design and well-being from The Guardian’s Cities.
“One, two, three, four!” they counted in Finnish. (For good measure, I jumped into the ditch, too.) The teacher, Pelo, explained that this experience represented how she and the two aides aspire to teach the kindergartners in the woods. She described this approach as “secret” learning, when children are unaware that they’re learning academic content. In the forest, these Finnish educators might lead the children to find sticks of varying lengths and organize them from shortest to longest, form letters out of natural materials, or count mushrooms.
It’s likely that as long as humans and their institutions hold prejudices and bias, their designs will reflect them. But some progress is possible. Two decades ago architect Ronald Mace imagined a new standard, in which anything humans make — a new piece of technology, a public park, a household product — is usable by everyone. He called this idea “universal design.” Today it’s an enforceable legal standard in Norway. One way to help us get there? Make sure the design process itself is also accessible to all.
“All of the choice-based reform efforts that they’ve come up with over the last 20 years have been designed to bring back all the white people who left after Brown v. Board. But the irony is that, if [districts] keep relying on choice, they’re going to be set up for failure because white people will not enroll their children in schools unless they’re already [predominantly] white,” said Natalie Hopkinson, a black parent and journalist, referring to extensive research showing privileged, white parents tend to send their kids to schools that they perceive as “high status.” “So the segregation keeps repeating itself as long as you rely on choice as a way to make the change.”
In the Philadelphia school district, 37 percent of the system’s 144,000 are chronically absent. Among high-school students, the figure shoots up to 51 percent. The districts in Baltimore and Milwaukee have similar numbers. For Cleveland and Detroit, the chronic absenteeism rates are around 50 percent, and more than 60 percent of Cleveland’s high-schoolers missed more than three weeks of school a year.
The report’s authors write that one common denominator linking these cities is the “nearly 100 years of historical actions that aimed to segregate African American populations in sections of the city with the poorest housing, greatest proximity to industrial pollutants, greatest exposure to violence, and highest unemployment rates, resulting in widespread inter-generational poverty.”
Now the reason for the dismal recordings of happiness and arousal in participants standing in front of blank façades should be clearer. At a psychological level, these constructions fail us because we are biologically disposed to favour locations defined by complexity, interest, and the passing of messages of one kind or another.
The condition of a site is important to how people respond to it. One of the recurrent findings is that people tend to prefer environments that are clean, have a degree of ornamentation, are uncluttered, have an open view, good illumination and so forth. Good designs do not demand too much attention, and are easy to move through and understand – imagine the different experiences between a busy underground station at rush hour and a park in the full summer sun, for instance. Such environments tend to promote well being in a general overarching way.
Another critical success factor is participation, where the end users are involved in the design process. . . .
And if we are going to build more compressed urban spaces to meet housing shortages in big cities like London, we need to think more in terms of spaces that restore elements of nature – these use up less of your attention and therefore help you to recharge rather than use more energy. This is why things like parks, landscape, water and a sense of wilderness are all important in urban spaces. In a similar vein, urban land consumption matters too. Better to build smaller apartments with large public community green spaces than use the same acreage to build large urban lofts with private green spaces, for instance.
Greater architectural variation in the street scene and lower building height both contributed to the perception that the environment was restorative – allowing the participants to “rest and recover their abilities to focus”. Greater architectural variety also tended to go hand in hand with a greater sense of fascination and with “being away” (although not with preference), factors which explained the link with perceived restorative power. In contrast, higher buildings were associated with a diminished sense of “being away” and were judged less restorative.
Many schools are relegated to working in outdated facilities, in forms that no longer follow their function. Kurani saw an opportunity for design to make a difference. . .
The campus design started from the logic that if lines between subjects are no longer clear, then lines between classrooms should not be either.
Working with schools especially, Kurani sees the value of “taking the school and nearby residents through a period of research, observation, and self-discovery,” he says. “It allows us to base design on meaningful insights about the project’s users and their daily lives.”
He calls this “community-centric design,” and it has dictated all of his projects so far.