Built Environment and Mental Health: Interesting Impact of Building Design on Human Psychology

Built Environment

The built environment around people, directly and indirectly, affects them. Poor housing quality leads to psychological distress. Living in an area that is too congested may have unfavorable effects on a person’s wellbeing. Design elements have a direct connection with a person’s psychological health and they also help a person navigate space. 

Living in loud spaces or tiny apartments may create psychological disorders but won’t produce mental illness. Toxins emitted because of air pollution cause behavioral disturbances. Lack of adequate sunshine is also a cause of depressive symptoms. The physical environment alters psychosocial processes and, hence, influences mental health. The constructed environment has a significant effect on personal control, socially supportive connections, and recovery from stress and exhaustion. To investigate the influence of the physical environment on mental health, more prospective, longitudinal research and realistic, randomized trials are required.

The issue of building basic theories on how the built environment affects mental health is much more difficult. It is also possible that certain people are more sensitive to the mental health effects of the built environment. We also need to pay greater attention to the health implications of various environmental risk exposure, since exposure to poor environmental conditions is not distributed randomly and concentrates among the poor and ethnic minorities.

built environment
Photo by Dezeen

Designing For Built Environment Services

A holistic conceptual model for designing the built environment for mental health services will improve treatment outcomes and experiences, benefit families and the community, and promote community resilience. The built environment can stimulate or avoid mental strength. Attachment towards a locality refers to the psychological and social connections humans feel with positive locations—their homes, the settings in which they grew up, and others. The conditions of modern-day lifestyles place extraordinary demands on us and regularly exhaust our ability to pay interest. 

Having greener settings can relieve mental fatigue and contribute to repairing a person’s ability to pay interest. Crowded, noisy, and dangerous locations have an increase in adverse effects on humans and their mental states, fostering, for instance, pressure, anxiety, melancholy, and violent behavior. Some locations draw humans collectively and, for this reason, support the improvement of social ties and decorate the development of social capital. Places that inspire physical interest can both prevent and treat mental illness. High walls promote gloominess. Windows that are narrow and inaccessible show limited views. The surroundings of the built environment should be pleasant. 

Nature Therapy

Before modern pharmacological treatments, it was said that a variation of the surrounding environment might be good for our health, both mental and physical. After developments in modern medicine, people’s interest in environmental factors was minimized. A pill or talk therapy was considered as a solution, rather than changing the surroundings of a person. Recently, the benefit of nature has seen an increasing interest yet again, with studies focusing on the advantages of green spaces in urban and metropolitan regions. 

As much as we appreciate nature, we don’t really live like our forefathers. There have been some overwhelming changes in the last three-quarters of the century. For the first time after the Neolithic age, most people are not a part of the agriculture sector. Most of the population lives in towns and cities. The environment we dwell in, its advantages and disadvantages, is mostly artificial. Considering the lifestyle people indulge in today, we spend most of our time in built environments instead of nature. Most of us, sick or well, spend time in a built environment.

Architect’s Role in Built Environment

For a long time, developers’ offers have paid limited regard for people’s happiness. Researchers found that only 4% of the architectural practices do post-occupancy assessments, and only 22% frequently did. This reveals that a huge share of architects don’t appear to be concerned about what people think or feel about their buildings. It is heartwarming that the number of architects designing for health is seen to be increasing day by day and trying to gather research on the effect of buildings on mental health.

 Many architects have acknowledged mental health issues in their structural projects. Andrew Maynard renovated his Melbourne home to be so open that the amount of sunlight coming into his home forces him to “wear sunglasses inside”. This was a bid to improve his mental health via his vitamin D levels. 

The issue with all the newly constructed buildings is that most people are only concerned about the aesthetic value of a particular building. The one thing that sells is the ‘WOW’ factor of these buildings. As said by Sir Francis Bacon, “Houses are built to live in, and not to look on; therefore, let ‘use’ be preferred. Leave the goodly fabrics of houses for beauty only to the enchanted palaces of the poets, who build them with small cost.” 

Whether it is the changing mindset of people, a fluctuating economy, or evolving trends, the architecture, engineering, and construction industry always counters and adapts without postponement. Buildings and built-in interiors can be designed aesthetically, allowing privacy while allowing for social interaction, providing access to the natural world and natural light, and encouraging everyone’s health. One of the most significant silver linings post-covid is the significant rise in mental health becoming people’s priority. Although, even pre-covid, a subtle change in terms of awareness regarding mental health had already begun. 

Strategies for Better Environment

Natural lighting, less glare, increased natural ventilation and exhaust facilities, large windows provide wider views, open stairwells encourage walking, provision of open-air patios or rooftops, adjacent exercise areas, including walking trails and pet parks, access to healthy food, integrating mass transportation, carpooling, or bicycle sharing for employees, waterfall structures, are other forms of bringing nature indoors that help uplift mental health.  

Biophilia can play a major role in making the built environment more favorable for the user. According to certain clinicians, change is a pretty scary phenomenon for people with mental health illnesses. This results in a barrier when the patients realize their habits will have to be changed in order to feel better. So far, there is no obvious diagnosis and no ‘works for all’ solid solution to mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. Egg-shaped mobile therapy spaces were designed by Karl Lenton to provide prisoners with better and more comfortable access to healthcare.

Versatile furniture might help. According to British studies, having workstations like individual standing desks promotes good posture, prevents cardiovascular diseases and certain types of cancer. Versatility in furniture also helps to make work less monotonous, which leads to a rise in the user’s level of motivation. Instead of a traditional desk, armchairs, bleachers, sofas, and high tables with diversity in colors and textures, offer a wide range of places to sit and experience and a variety of perceptions from people. 

Photo by Dezeen
Photo by Dezeen

Space Planning

Spaces should to designed in order to allow social interaction. Having multipurpose rooms with different colors and patterns and terraces or other forms of landscaping overlooking views is a great way to help people unwind. Other examples include yoga and meditation rooms with relaxation areas. Adding a certain level of playfulness in the space is a helpful tool. Inculcating outdoor spaces has always been an important factor. 

Photo by Archdaily

Neuroarchitecture has increasingly focused on outside spaces as instruments that may directly affect the brain, similar to charging a cell phone battery. Outdoor spaces, regardless of their amount of greenery, are critical for taking a break and recharging our batteries. Whatever the scale, the idea is to recognize the importance of physical space in the mental health of individuals who use it, as well as how certain measures may improve people’s quality of life.

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