We spend around 90% of our lives inside some kind of structure, so it’s worth considering how the spaces we inhabit are making us feel. Experiments have found that a room’s ceiling height can have a large impact on our thought processes. Higher ceilings encourage, free, abstract thought, while lower ceilings increase focus. For example, a creative studio may benefit from having high vaulted ceilings, while operating theatres typically have low ceilings for heightened attention.
Building designs that allow for views of natural settings and natural light have also been found to improve the inhabitants’ focus and mood. Natural light stimulates the brain’s production of the neurotransmitter serotonin which can increase feelings of calm and happiness, and reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Designs which expose inhabitants to busy city views can result in over stimulation and lack of focus. Like lighting, the colours used in building design can create intense emotional effect, for example tones of blue and white often found in hospitals connoting cleanliness, calm and serenity.
Dr Elmira Jamei, VU lecturer in Building Design, says that an understanding of the effect of building design on the emotions of inhabitants is one of the essential elements of intelligent building design: “In the past, architecture was more aligned with a sense of spiritual satisfaction and wonder. It touched us with beauty, intimacy and memory and offered us an emotional platform. Modern architecture must engage again with this idea of building design as a story. By using narrative as a building design principle we could reinvigorate buildings so that they can be worthy of exploring as an emotional experience.”