Possibly even the most high end purveyors of home designs in NSW wouldn’t use the term neuroarchitecture, which is really a fancy way of describing how design affects our physiological state, physical health and general well-being.
However, taking a look at what neuroarchitecture means might certainly be of use to buyers of homes in Sydney, particularly at the high end of the market; considering many Australians spend 90 per cent of their time indoors, a truly healthy home is a worthwhile investment.
Neuroarchitecture fuses thinking from two disciplines: neuroscience and architecture. It has the benefit of giving designers, their clients, and those with an interest in health and wellbeing, a vocabulary to explain why we react to different spaces in different ways.
A lot of what neuroarchitecture is concerned with is common sense; most of us know on some level that our environment influences us in some way. Studies have shown that adequate sunlight improves student’s grades; when exposed to more sunlight, retirement home residents experience less cognitive decline and overall improved brain function; having lighting in your home that can change from day to night will help you not only to stay awake, but also to sleep at night; soft lighting helps people relax and party; curved furniture and edges are preferable to sharp ones; in aged care facilities, the old-school practice of placing chairs along the walls of resident lounges has been found to inhibit social interaction.
What neuroarchitecture brings to these insights is a level of scientific empiricism. Studies in virtual reality (VR) settings and real spaces are being used to measure people’s physiological responses to the built environment using metrics such as heart rate, body temperature and eye movements.
According to some experts, when we look at how humans respond to built spaces, we are really looking at a very basic biological problem called ‘habitat selection.’ Studies have shown that humans still tap into basic needs such as the need for protection, which can be demonstrated in the popularity of den or study spaces, alcoves for reading and smaller, cosy looking, well lit homes that remind us of a primal need for warmth at a fire-lit hearth. By contrast, generous open spaces are preferred for relaxing or socialising.
Studies have also shown that symmetric facades cause a home’s inhabitants to display satisfaction and pleasure. Humans are naturally attracted to curved walkways, for example, possibly because they offer a sense of discovery.
Colour is another area where neuroarchitecture has a lot to tell us. Studies have proven that its use in an architectural design influences people and their thoughts; it can leave a lasting impression on the mind and conveys the message which plays a significant role in creating the psychological mood or ambiance. Its tone, placement, proportion, and combination can make us move quickly or slowly, feel more relaxed or even eat more.
And of course, the growing interest in ‘biophilia’ in recent years demonstrates the profound impact of nature on human psychology and the attendant benefits of including natural elements into home design. Indoor planting, generous views of a distant landscape, or even paintings or artworks depicting natural elements, can have a positive neuroarchitectural impact. One study by an environmental psychologist found that views of natural settings actually improve focus. Other studies along the same lines have even found that children with ADD are more focused after being able to observe “green space.”
In order to include neuroarchitecture in your home design, experiment with different spaces to find out what works for you. If you’re at a friend’s or family member’s home, or even in a public setting like a restaurant or hotel, take time to mindfully become acquainted with how that space affects you; what works and what doesn’t. Do the white smooth walls make you feel relaxed or bored; peaceful or alienated? Does the dark slate fire surround look heavy and burdensome or solid and reassuring? Do the curtain-less lounge room windows denote freedom or will they make you feel vulnerable and uneasy at night-time? Why does all that curved timber make you feel just great!? Much of this is about individual taste and personal psychology, perhaps one reason why it is so interesting. There’s no ‘one-size fits all’ approach; often it’s a case of being tuned in to how your mood is affected by your surroundings. Once you gain more awareness, you’ll be able to implement this into the specifications for your new home or your renovation.
While blitzing your NSW home builder with theories about neuroarchitecture might not be the best way to get your project started, understanding the principles behind this exciting new blend of psychology and architecture won’t do any harm in enabling you to build your dream home, so that it not only enhances your lifestyle but also your mental and physical wellbeing.