Monday, February 28, 2011

Scientific Proof for Good Architecture!

1. High ceiling for high energy over gathering space contrasting with
lower, more intimate, ceiling over dining area.
Finally there is scientific backing for an idea architects have long espoused: that good architecture is good for people. The current issue of Psychology Today (January/February 2011) has an article about "how ceilings shape behavior."  Citing several sources it demonstrates what architects have always claimed (but could never prove) that the height and color of ceilings affects our mood and behavior. In general, extremely high ceilings can be uncomfortable and overwhelming, except for gatherings of many people in in a party atmosphere.  Low ceilings encourage intimacy and conversation, say in a dining room or window seat. Light colored ceilings raise perceived height and dark colored ceilings bring it down.

Somehow the typical American home has accepted the standard eight-foot ceiling as the norm. The article quotes a University of Minnesota study that reports "people in 8-foot-high rooms feel more confined, while those in 10-foot rooms feel freer." Further, "Low ceilings can trigger feelings of confinement, making places like basement apartments seem all the more crowded and unbearable."

2. A low ceiling at surrounding galleries adds emphasis to central space.
Much of the research in things like this comes from the fields of marketing and advertising for purposes that have nothing to do with architecture. Architects must be content with thinking serious thoughts in their ivory towers until they come to similar conclusions.

Of course, manipulating scale and creatively introducing variety remains a challenge for architects.  However, it is heartening to know that good architecture is not simply a matter of taste and opinion and more a matter of good practice for human well-being.
3. Playing with scale.
1. Worley residence by Michael Knorr. Photo by R. Munger.
2. Florida Southern Chapel by Frank Llloyd Wright.  National Archives American Building Survey.
3. Worley residence by Michael Knorr. Photo by R. Munger.

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