A few years ago, researchers at the University of Warwick in the UK ran some tests. They asked people to look at pictures of hundreds of thousands of places around Britain, and to mark down which ones they thought were the most scenic. What they discovered was a bit of a shock – that it wasn’t the shots of forests and countryside that scored the best, it was buildings like the huge Canary Wharf tower and St Paul’s Cathedral.
The idea that well-designed buildings can have a positive effect on us isn’t a new one. All kinds of studies have been made that back it up, from how the height of a room’s ceiling can change the way we think, to the finding that surgery patients heal 30 per cent faster if they’re allowed to recover in a room with a view.
“Architectural design has strong but modifiable effects in social behaviour and users’ mood and productivity,” wrote Susan Ayers in the Cambridge Handbook of Psychology, Health and Medicine, “and, to some extent, design features also affect health and wellbeing.”
Of course, if a location is badly designed, the effects are reversed. A 2008 study in the UK asked people to take a ten-minute walk down a poorly appointed main street in South London – at the end of their strolls, the human guinea pigs showed significant spikes in their psychotic symptoms.
“If the built environment isn’t supporting you, then the chances are it’s probably hurting you,” says architecture critic Sarah Williams Goldhagen.
So, if that’s the case, why are so many buildings just thrown up instead of designed by architects? Goldhagen’s theory is that we’ve just become used to the idea that architectural design is expensive.
“Architecture has evolved to be an elite practice that can be purchased only by elite clients in highly rarefied settings,” she says.
Fortunately, the way we view architectural design is turning around, with the realisation that it need not always require a wheelbarrow filled with cash to secure it. At Nicheliving, we have all of our affordable homes and apartments designed by award-winning architects.
In fact, architectural design can be good from an economic point of view. Living and working in spaces that innately stimulate and encourage the best in us, and that promote our wellbeing can save significant amounts of money and time. After all, the happier and healthier we are, the more we get out of life, and by taking care of our buildings, they can, ultimately, take care of us.