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Architecture Psychology: Why should it be the main concern for architects?

The evolution of art and architecture is not just a process of improvement; rather, it involves a process of metamorphosis. The confluence of artistic sensibility and scientific approach lies at the heart of all outstanding architecture. Both art and architecture have a history that may be traced back farther than the ancient world. It changes in synchrony with the spatial dynamics and the sociocultural evolution of its milieu. With the resurgence of contemporaneous utopian architecture, the design industry should be much more cognizant of the foundation we lay since the physical and emotional needs of users tend to be compromised; allow us to explain why this transpires.

How It All Begins

Tracing back to the beginning, architecture was born out of our primal instincts, or rather, our behavior patterns: a strong desire to survive, to be shielded from foes and predators when we are most vulnerable, and to provide shelter as the environment changes. This urge for the cave—like a safe haven—is easily explained from childhood until old age (Harari, 2015).

Scientific advancements were discovered as early as the Mesopotamian Age (3000 BCE). Back in the 1500s, the Scientific Revolution may have heralded the end of a dark time in history and the beginning of a new era. Economic and territorial expansion; demographic and urban growth; the development of national identity; and the restructuring of secular and ecclesiastical institutions were all hallmarks of the Medieval period. Even medieval architecture was primarily civic, military, and religious in nature, with numerous Gothic and Christian churches and cathedrals being built to encourage people to embrace Christianity as a full religion.

The Renaissance period marked the end of the Gothic style's dominance. Artistic and architectural ideals arose from the belief that humanity was a measure of the universe. People and artists of the era were devoted to nature, humanistic study, and the pursuit of individualism. The term "renaissance" is a French word with the literal meaning of "rebirth," encouraging people to break free from Medieval values. The main elements of Renaissance architecture were the use of classical orders, mathematically accurate height and width ratios, symmetry, proportion, and harmony. With the rise of famous art and architecture in human history, this was a cultural turning point for the world.

Then there's the Industrial Revolution, which occurred between 1760 and 1840 and involved the transfer of new manufacturing processes. As previously stated, when the world became all about science and technology, it paved the way for a long line of social engineering experiments, which led to a series of unexpected and dramatic alterations in human ecology and the environment that surrounds us. The use of machinery, mass production, standardization, and the utilization of new materials such as steel and glass all have an impact on architecture. All of this has shifted radically over the last two centuries, and the concept of "prioritizing functionality of spaces for habitats" has somehow persisted into modernity in the form of one-size-fits-all, standardized architecture.

Where did we go wrong?

How did it all go so wrong? … We showed them how to do it.

Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe (Modernist Architect)

Such ideas of over-standardized architecture were surpassed in the 1950s and 1960s by the enormous influence of the so-called modernists. Bad high-rise blocks similar to cell-blocks were built across the country, killing the concept of spacious, humane, original, life-enhancing, and, most importantly, the individualism of the Renaissance and previous eras. Yes, there were some new approaches when they put "luxury" in those high-rise apartments, but it ended up causing the same social problems as before, but only in a different skin (Dr. Keedwell, 2017). Architects and city planners ignored the needs of the people back then. Instead of listening to the voices of those who were supposed to live in those areas, they blindly followed the government's agenda, believing they knew what was best. As a result of this, architecture failed, and buildings became soulless, with boring and shabby facades and fewer public spaces. Through the lens of the users and researchers, a series of repercussions, including a significant impact on our mental health, have been assessed as part of its shortcomings.

Even though today's architects and planners have been learning from past mistakes, we still cannot deny that much of the architecture remains focused on the dialogue of form generating, rather than finding solutions for the emotional and socioeconomic needs of the diverse users. The next dramatic shift we are about to witness will be no less profound than the modern era's pioneering breakthroughs. We have already seen the evaluation of 3D printing in architecture, projection mapping, and even virtual reality, making designers recognize that architecture has developed into a much more transdisciplinary field. We will undoubtedly make another similar mistake in the near future unless we try to understand the relationship between psychology and architecture. Also, in order to really grasp the human-social-ecosystem-behavior relationship as a whole, we must also better understand the importance of human ecology.

Implications of Neuroscience in Architecture

Before we begin studying and discussing architectural psychology, it will be fascinating to know some interesting facts about our brains and how they function. In neuroscience, we do not actually use the following terms. However, here, to make it easier for the readers, we may divide our brain into three parts: the Thinking Brain (Prefrontal Cortex), the Emotional Brain (Hippocampus), and the Survival Brain (Amygdala), or "The Lizard Brain." We should remember that certain regions of the brain are localized for specific purposes, but these areas must be supported by other parts.

The Thinking Brain, also known as the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC), is where our thoughts and beliefs are formed. We then make the decision to act and carry it out. It is important for cognitive control functions and produces dopamine chemicals, which influence our good (happy, gratitude, pleasure) and negative (anger, jealousy, pain, grief) emotions.

The hippocampus (HPC) is located in the medial temporal lobe. The HPC is much more of a command center. It mediates and works with so many parts of the brain in unison, and the Amygdala (AMG) is one of them. It regulates and controls learning, memory encoding, memory consolidation, and spatial navigation, as I will explain further. The hippocampus in our brain creates mind maps, which is why we remember the letters we learned as children and never forget where our bathroom is in our house. This is what we call "spatial memory," which is the storage and processing of information within our brain, which is required both to plan a route to a chosen place and to recognize where an object is located or where an event occurred.

Now that we have briefly discussed the basic functionality of HPC in spatial memory, we will explore further how the physical environment or space influences people's behavior and well-being. Interactions between people and their environment can be considered an individual relationship. Each environment possesses its own identity, which humans address by using the established concepts of space and place. There are eight different concepts of space: pragmatic or primitive, perceptual, existential, sacred, geographical, architectural and planning, cognitive and abstract spaces (Relph, 1976). We can simply understand space as an environment where humans interact.

On the other hand, a place is a space with experience added in. And by the term “experience”, it includes perceiving, doing, thinking, and feeling. A place is an environment that is derived through human experience, interpretation, and establishment. What people do, think, and feel in a specific location gives identity to a place, and through its physique and morale, it shapes a reality that is unique to places (Walter, E. V., 1988). Humans rely on interaction with important spaces so that they can establish valuable places where they feel comfortable (Moos, S., 2009). There is no denying that spaces can transform people, and that people can transform spaces. As a result, this relationship is always a two-way path. There is mounting evidence of how the space around us can affect our physical and mental health, yet there is much more to explore. However, researchers and architects have yet to continue their exploration of how spaces can affect people.

Several factors influence how people adapt to their physical surroundings, including genetics, culture, personal memories and experiences, and the frequency and length of exposure to the physical and social environment. Our brain actively interacts with the physical environment through some kind of activity, such as work, rest, buying, exploring, recovering, remembering, and creating. All these core actions affect how architecture can influence individuals, and here is another obvious example.

When you walk into a shopping mall, you have the impression that you have spent an enjoyable hour shopping there. But, when you leave the mall, you realize it's been 2 or 3 hours since you were there, and you've already purchased items you didn't realize you'd need in a few weeks or months. This is known as the "Gruen Effect." This effect was named after Vietnamese architect Victor Guren, who came up with the idea of building commercial and public spaces with the psychological phenomenon that he used to manipulate consumers into making impulse purchases due to the environment around them. However, the architect was later chastened by his own creation. Now, you realize why shopping malls, casinos, and arcades have few or no windows and no clocks at all.

We will now explore how the emotional states of each individual can be affected based on the duration of exposure to a certain environment. There are four biometric feedbacks or combinations: (i) short-term exposure with a short-term effect; (ii) long-term exposure with a long-term effect; (iii) short-term exposure with a long-term effect; and (iv) long-term exposure with a short-term effect. (Paiva & Jedon, 2019). The word "exposure" was chosen over "occupation" or "interaction" because physical space is considered a stimulus to which individuals can be exposed (Paiva & Jedon, 2019). Such exposure might be active (for example, individuals go to schools to study, hospitals to recover, and homes to live in) or passive (e.g., people hesitate to walk into dark corners or do not feel like interacting with the view of the window).

Short-term exposure: a short-term effect is an immediate and temporary reaction. This even helps people adapt while they are still in the environment that triggered the change. These alterations can remain for several hours after the individual leaves the space (Paiva & Jedon, 2019). The obvious example is going into a haunted house and facing all of the above experiences. It is because of the atmosphere that you have been put in that you will immediately feel threatened and disoriented. This situation will give you a thrill at the same time because our brain is always striving for order in apparent chaos. Your brain and body will instantly enter a fight or flight state and seek a rapid getaway. Even if you manage to escape from there, you will still feel uneasy about what you have experienced, and it may take some time for your mind and body to heal completely.

Long-term exposure: A long-term effect requires repeated stimulation and a long period of time to occur. For example, taking a day off from work and spending it at home can be very beneficial in lowering stress levels and relaxing, with an obvious short-term effect (Paiva & Jedon, 2019). Long-term effects typically require more time to occur as well as more time to reverse. Even during the COVID pandemic, we struggled to adjust to being locked in for nearly two years with a global lockdown at our own homes. This long-term order captivated us, and we have had the long-term effect of dealing with stress levels. The remaining two combinations also prove that the long-term effects of architecture on the human brain have a direct impact on human behavior. Furthermore, space can increase perception. It is well known that stress levels are affected by many different changes, and that is why we should eagerly try to lay the essential foundation for design principles that come from an understanding of human-built environment interaction.


With the preceding facts, I believe this conclusion would send a clear and strong message to the architectural community to be more aware of the upcoming unexpected consequences we have on the people. We should proudly represent ourselves with the proper information and the capacity to take advantage of our empathic minds to build and create places for people. We have this ability to shed light on establishing a better and healthier environment for habitats. After all, aren’t we the ones in charge and responsible for managing the habitats? We are living in an era of suffering from wars, violence, global warming, humanitarian crises, etc. The future needs leading professionals who emphasize our emotional, physical, and environmental needs, not utopianists. It is time for us to focus and contribute to the healing of what we have caused and what the people have endured. And I can affirm unequivocally that this will be my firm goal for the better future of my country, Myanmar, which has been in a humanitarian crisis, and I urge you to spread out your innovative and compassionate ideas to those in need.




Completed her Bachelor of Architecture Degree from Thanlyin Technological University, Myanmar. Shin is seeking new adventures in the architectural field to improve her skills at the international level. She has a great interest in urban and placemaking works through community collaboration.



Dr. Keedwell, P. (2017, March 16), Headspace: The Psychology of City Living.

Harari, Yucal N. (2015), Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Moos, S. (2009, April 24). Analyzing the interconnectedness between space, place, and human interaction with the natural environment: ecological reawakening: organic DNA and evolution. Scripps Senior Thesis. Paper 9. Retrieved May 30, 2022, from

Paiva, A. de. (2020, March 18). NeuroArchitecture: limits and possibilities. Neuroau. Retrieved

Paiva, A. de, & Jedon, R. (2019, August 26). Short- and long-term effects of architecture on the brain: toward theoretical formalization. Frontiers of Architectural Research. Retrieved May 27, 2022, from

Relph, E. (1976), Place and Placelessness.

Renaissance art and architecture: The movement explained in 8 works. (2020, August 19). Emerald Cruises UK. Retrieved May 27, 2022 from

Stehle, D. (2017, November 10). Why Your Actions Are Not Your Own. Medium. Retrieved May 27, 2022 from

Walter, E. V. (1988), Placeways: A Theory of the Human Environment.


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