The global danger of boring architecture

We need to make the exterior parts of buildings that people focus on more interesting, so that people want to preserve them rather than replace them. But most people are not architects or urban planners—they cannot change the design of what is being built.

The reality is that our public feels completely powerless and the construction industry only talks to itself, not the public. This needs to change. We have a public discussion about whether we should fly and use carbon on holiday to travel to Malaga or elsewhere, but there is no national discussion about the buildings around us.

I spoke to the UK’s former chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, about hospitals and care homes in the UK. I asked her: Why is my sanitary environment so poor? She said there was no one in charge; the buildings were managed by independent health trusts. The only way to make change, she said, is to “pull patiently.”

When patients say: “Oh, you’re building a new cancer centre, have you seen the one in Dundee? Have you seen the one in Leeds? It’s really nice because they put plants in it and it’s made of wood.” .” A reasonably decent leader would think: Maybe we should go there and have a look.

It made me realize that in architecture, nothing is more important than the pull of patience. That’s the purpose of the Humanizing campaign – to start this public conversation.

Making buildings more attractive and longer-lasting has clear environmental benefits. But is there any direct benefit to individuals?

We did some polls. In the UK, we found that 76% of respondents believe buildings affect their mental health. However, architectural design is largely viewed as an art – and has nothing to do with health.

But architecture is different from art. When a piece of music plays, you can take off your headphones. With a painting, you can walk to another gallery. Buildings are the backdrop of our lives.

So our Humanity campaign also focuses on the need to take a more scientific look at the impacts on the outside of buildings. While people say buildings affect their mental health, this is not actually analyzed, so the construction industry is not provided with useful information that can be used to make better designs.

What evidence is there that changing the exterior of a building actually improves people’s health?

We know that exposure to nature can reduce stress: this is the attention-restoration theory proposed by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan in the 1980s and 1990s. We know that visual exposure to greenery can help people recover faster in hospital.

On the other hand, a scientist named Colin Ellard studied the effects of flat, straight, drab, plain, shiny buildings on crowds of people. He found that levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) rise when we are near buildings that are straight, smooth, and serious, compared to buildings that have texture, shadows, and differences.

In my experience, places that people really enjoy often have dirty lines, surprises, and the unexpected. I think science will start to show us more that our minds need to be nourished with interests and emotions.

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