The global threat of boring buildings

We need to make the exteriors of buildings that people notice more interesting, so that people want to protect them rather than replace them. But most people aren’t architects or city planners—they can’t change the design of what’s being built.

In reality, we have a public that feels completely powerless, and a construction industry that talks to itself but not to the public. This needs to change. We have a public conversation about whether we should fly on holidays and use carbon to get to Málaga or elsewhere, but there is no national conversation about the buildings around us.

I spoke to Dame Sally Davis, the former Chief Medical Officer of Great Britain, about hospitals and care homes in the UK. I asked him: Why is the health environment I live in so bad? She said there was no one in charge; Separate health trusts run the buildings. The only way you can bring about change, he said, is “to try 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 cool because they put plants in it, it’s made of wood, “A half-decent leader would think: We should probably take a look there.

This made me realize that there is nothing quite like patient charm in architecture. So that’s the purpose of the Humanized campaign – to start this public conversation.

Making buildings more attractive and longer lasting has obvious environmental benefits. But does it directly benefit individual people?

We’ve done some polling. In the UK, we found that 76 per cent of people we asked believed that buildings affect their mental health. And yet building design is seen as an art – nothing to do with health.

But buildings are different from art. With a piece of music you can take off the headphones. With one painting you can go to another gallery. Buildings are the background of all our lives.

This much humanitarian movement We have also started to focus on the need to look at the impact of the exterior of buildings from a more scientific perspective. While people say that buildings affect their mental health, there is virtually no analysis of this, so the construction industry is not equipped with useful information that it can use to create better designs.

What is the evidence that changing the exterior of buildings can actually improve people’s health?

We know that exposure to nature can reduce your stress: This is the attention restoration theory, developed by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan in the 1980s and 90s. And we know that visual exposure to greenery helps people recover faster in hospital.

On the other hand, a scientist named Colin Allard has researched the effect of flat, straight, dull, plain, shiny buildings on groups of people. They have found that levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, increase when we are near buildings that are straight, smooth and solemn compared to buildings with texture, shade and difference.

And in my experience, often the places people really like have messy lines, surprises, and unexpected things. I think science will start to show us more that our brains need to be fed by curiosity, by emotion.

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