The Architect’s Argument

Posted by on Aug 25, 2017 in Behind the Design | No Comments
The Architect’s Argument

Architects have always argued that a building’s structure can affect our thoughts, feelings and behaviors.  Now, behavioral scientists have facts to back up those claims.

The Beginning

Formal investigations into how humans interact with the built environment began in the 1950s, when several research groups analyzed how the design of hospitals, particularly psychiatric facilities, influenced patient behaviors and outcomes. In the 1960s and 1970s the field that became known as environmental psychology blossomed.

In 2007 Joan Meyers-Levy, a professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota, reported findings that proved the height of a room’s ceiling affects how people think.

Her findings proved that people completed tasks more accurately in the room with lower ceilings and came up with more abstract ideas when put in a room with taller ceilings.

“Ceiling height affects the way you process information,” Meyers-Levy says. “You’re focusing on the specific details in the lower-ceiling condition.”


After her findings proved that ceiling height affects how people think and act, it was natural to question whether or not high ceilings encourage people to think more freely, which may lead them to make more abstract connections.

The sense of confinement prompted by low ceilings, on the other hand, may inspire a more detailed, statistical outlook—which might be preferable under some circumstances. “It very much depends on what kind of task you’re doing,” Meyers-Levy explains. “If you’re in the operating room, maybe a low ceiling is better. You want the surgeon getting the details right.” Similarly, paying bills might be most efficiently accomplished in a room with low ceilings, whereas producing great works of art might be more likely in a studio with loftier ones. How high the ceiling actually is, Meyers-Levy points out, is less important than how high it feels. “We think you can get these effects just by manipulating the perception of space,” she says, by using light-colored paint, for instance, or mirrors to make the room look more spacious.

Other Architectural Designs that Affect Humans

Ceiling height was only the beginning of the study. Many other architectural designs can affect the mood, thoughts and actions of humans. For example, lighter, brighter spaces with full-spectrum lighting increase alertness and help guard against depression. Later in life, brighter, well-lite spaces stave off cognitive decline. Conversely, rooms intended mainly for relaxation should feature darker colors, dimmer lighting, fewer sharp edges on furniture and bookshelves (these activate the part of the brain that alerts us to danger), and more carpeting.

Overall, lower ceilings improve performance in detail-oriented tasks, whereas high ceilings encourage abstract creative thought. Views of nature, particularly distant trees and green space, are proven to significantly aid in creativity, concentration and memory (and in combatting ADD in children). Read more…