Environmental psychology and facade design


Ancient façade, via Bibliothèque de Toulouse on Flickr

In the last few weeks on the Building blog, we have looked at innovative building envelopes in various forms. We’ve speculated on current and future technologies, including smart facades and biomimicry.

Building facades always seem to catch people’s imagination and attract emotive reactions. We only have to look at the Chelsea Barracks debacle between Prince Charles and Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (which took place this time last year) to know how powerfully people can react to upfront building design.

Is it simply that people respond most readily to the part of a structure that is most ‘in-your-face’, or are there more subtle forces at play? The Handbook of Environmental Psychology, by Robert B. Bechtel, Arza Churchman and Arzah Ts’erts’man, is an interesting read in this respect. From Chapter 21:

Many sound principles allow us to predict who will co-operate when resources are scarce, how cultures vary in their privacy seeking, what meanings are conveyed to observers by which building facades, and to describe residents’ strategies for dealing with spatial conflicts in their homes. Preferences, attitudes, spatial cognitions, and emotions in response to the built and natural environment: all are understood much better than they were three decades ago.

The book covers subject areas such as healthy design; environments for aging; climate, weather and crime; community and urban planning; children’s environments; and personal space in a digital age. If you have 70-odd pounds to spare, you can buy it here.

I recently started a discussion in the Architecture group on LinkedIn regarding the future of facade design, and want to share some of the dynamic, insightful and optimistic comments that followed:

Anne Elliott Mercia of Integrated Framing and 2SCALEarchitects :

I think that the high-tech materials and systems are really interim technologies until we can learn how to make equivalent materials from more environmentally benign sources, like the water wall. Eventually I do believe we will be able to “grow” building structures from bone or shell-like materials.

Adham Refaat, Owner of Architecture Los Angeles:

Building skin of the future is breathable; able to sweat out moisture and heat and breathe in cool, fresh air in hot seasons; preserve heat and let the sun in in cold seasons. Building skin of the future is alive with micro-particles that react to direct sun and open like flowers for shading, and collects condensation and rain water for re-use.

Shreesh Thergaonkar, Deputy Chief Architect at Gherzi Eastern Ltd:

Building facades are the most important elements in today’s architecture, and the most needed. They have a very bright future.

Shell by sunshinesyrie on Flickr

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