Floral facades, or the benefits of beautiful buildings

By Hannah Jarman-Miller

When you consider your favorite building, what does it look like? What drew you to notice it, and which pieces of its construction stick out in you when you go to describe it to someone else? When we think of the structures that surround us, we might consider it valuable that we have a coffee shop down the street or a grocery store around the corner. However, the aesthetics of our built environment are playing an essential role in guiding the emotional state of our daily life that is just as significant as the functional purposes that these buildings serve. So, why is it important for a building to be beautiful, and from what impetus does our aesthetic variety grow?  

There are many ways in which individuals interpret the aesthetics of the built environment. First, there are the qualities that contribute to the whole of a buildings appeal, the components that define its aesthetic presence. Attributes of formal aesthetics include shape, proportion, rhythm, scale, complexity, color, illumination, shadowing, order, hierarchy, spatial relations, incongruity, ambiguity, surprise and novelty[i]. These constructs and their presence or absence in the built environment will elicit a variety of responses from their audience, which may vary with biology, personality, social and cultural experiences, goals and expectations of those interacting with the space[ii]. In this sense, there is not one perfect or uniform way in which a building can be beautiful, but we will find commonalties in what we are drawn to, and how our aesthetic response informs our emotional state.

One component of architectural design that is particularly valuable for human emotional and cognitive function is the incorporation of nature-based forms and originations[iii]. In a world of increasing urbanization and decreasing greenery, architecturally mimicking natural forms and the structural organization of natural settings can tap the emotional benefit of nature for human psychology within the built environmentiii. How remarkable to consider that seeing a ornamental doorway reminiscent of a leaf can have a similar impact on reducing stress as seeing the actual plant? So deeply ingrained are our evolutionary responses to nature, that when we replicate the natural form in our built environment we perpetuate the benefits of the natural world in our daily lives, even if we don’t step outside the urban core.

Photo by Brandon Crawford

Now, should the take away be that every building needs to be adorned with ornate depictions of blooming flowers? Certainly not. There will always be the need for a variety of aesthetic tastes. However, there is a case to be made for the importance of beauty in the building design, and striving to understand the roots of our aesthetic attractions. As we continue full tilt in the direction of massive urbanization, we will need to maintain the integration of the natural world into our built environment in every way we know how. If you want to learn more about the influence of the built environment on human psychology, please consider attending our conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico, from October 2-6th.

[i] Groat, L., & Despres, C. (1990). The significance of architectural theory for environment design research. In E. H Zube & G.T. Moore (Eds.), Advances in environment, behavior and design: Vol. 4 (pp. 3-53). New York: Plenum.

[ii] Sonnefeld, J. (1966). Variable values in the space and landscape: An inquiry into the nature of environmental necessity. Journal of Social Issues, 4, 71-82.

[iii] Joye, Y. (2007). Architectural lessons from environmental psychology: The case of biophilic architecture. Review of general psychology, 11(4), 305.