The fact that inanimate objects may affect one’s stress levels must come as a surprise to many people, however grey concrete, uncreative and sterile buildings harm their occupants’ and users’ mental health.
Architecture is way more than just a building to live, work or spend time in, it affects us on a personal, emotional level; layout, airflow, light and finishes are just some of the feature that can contribute to the space user’s health, productivity and mood.
In the past the architectural part of a building, together with its interior design, has been associated to its aesthetics only, making it almost a discretionary part of the environment, beautifying as its only purpose. After starting as a mean to provide protection and shelter, architecture started losing its deserved credit, as creativity and beauty started being introduced into buildings; today, after way too long, this art form is finally being associated to all of the above, while at the same time being used as a subject of important psychological studies, at long last being validated as a mean to support and benefit a user’s emotional well-being.
In 1943, Winston Churchill was considering whether and how to repair the House of Commons after it was destroyed with bombs when he famously said “We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us” and this is what, after a long time, these psychological studies have managed to prove.
Things have massively changed from the fifties, when the housing projects of the time were being built without any behavioural insight, often placing large open spaces between blocks of high-rises, for some discouraging any sense of community and perhaps encouraging crime, given the lack of a sense of belonging.
Psychological studies these days have a very strong idea of what humans find stimulating and architecture and design are encouraged to use this knowledge to create environments that fully use good design and craftsmanship, stimulating the creation of a feeling of community and togetherness.
Each building is composed of three parts: form, use and beauty; while beauty is subjective, the feeling of it is universal. Buildings necessitate to promote a feeling, as that is what impacts us psychologically; each environment needs to promote a subconscious reaction to be more than just a shell with a purpose, so to be able to have a positive impact.
To determine what our brain associates with pleasure in buildings, we have to go back to the evolution and understand what is it that we, as humans, automatically recognise, as it is linked to a location that most possibly helped our ancestors survive. These survival attributes are generally associated with characteristics and patterns, which then our brain recognises as consistency, organisation and lack of chaos and when our ancestors were able to recognise a pattern that gave them an increased chance to guess what would come or happen next, therefore increasing their chances of survival.
But how does this translate in today’s buildings?
When our brain recognises a natural pattern within a building and associates it to something that has been advantageous to our ancestors, it automatically evokes a positive psychological reaction; this, therefore, implies the lack of pattern or the presence of chaos, can negatively impact us.
Buildings that incorporate specific aesthetically pleasing patterns are perceived by our brain as more beautiful, as they bring back that feeling of security, safety and well-being that our ancestors felt. Understanding this part of our brain is very important, as it emphasises how specific historical buildings have been more successful than others with its pleasing looks; most of these architectural successes were built with patterns in mind that try to copy a natural environment in which our ancestors not only survived but thrived.
When having these positive feelings because of a building, our conscious mind does not realise that these feelings are caused by the subconscious part of it and that is why more time and resources must be dedicated to ensuring a fit for purpose environment is provided when designing each new building.
Each new building does not only represent a new beginning for lodging, business or other purposes, it also represents culture and roots; architecture shows the world how a specific place sees itself and how the residents see the world around them. Through the centuries the world connected different civilisations with one another, mixing and evolving its traditions, yet ensuring each place maintained its particular traits and allowing for beauty and the universal feeling it gives to remain intact, moving our subconscious through its underlying, hidden patterns.
While “design” is often considered a visual art, it is also important to contemplate the positive effects it can have on a person’s life, not only as an embellishment of surroundings but also as a way to ease life, make it better and more user friendly.
When useful, smart and durable come together with beauty, then you have good design, which is something very important, especially when someone’s life standard depends on it.
It is estimated that by 2021 more than one million people in the UK will be living with dementia, within a total population of about 68 million; just by looking at these two numbers the realisation that dementia enabling design needs to be explored and developed, so to have a positive impact on the independence of those affected and their families, is a milestone.
While there are over 200 subtypes of dementia, with Alzheimer’s probably being the most known one, there are some symptoms that are common and therefore some design processes that can be applied to most of them; this does not mean that there is one solution for everyone affected, as each person will experience dementia in their own unique way, but there is room to create a common ground and to develop a scheme which can be used and further developed for common spaces, perhaps shared by multiple people living with the condition.
Most designers, when starting a project, will consider aesthetics, budget and practicality and these are still important when developing such projects, but with the added awareness that there is a need to prioritise the changes to perception and sight of those with dementia, ensuring the texture, pattern and colour do not increase stress or the risk of falls within an already vulnerable user group.
Two of the main aspects to consider when developing dementia enabling design are pattern and colour, as an inappropriate or wrong choice may have a negative impact on the independence of a person living with such condition, rising levels of stress and consequently diminishing their mobility, as the person would not feel comfortable in the environment.
People living with dementia can suffer from difficulties in visual perceptions, meaning that reality can be perceived in a distorted way; some examples are that a glossy surface may be perceived as wet, while a black and white granite countertop can be perceived as to have crumbs on it. It is therefore important that matt finishes are used with not too stark contrast on surfaces on the same level, while walls and floors or different levels of surface need to show a clear difference so to be perceived correctly.
As for any project, flooring is one of the biggest surfaces to consider and one of the most important when developing a scheme that is dementia enabling; a flooring that is dementia-friendly may reduce anxiety levels in people experiencing changes in the sense of sight as they feel more comfortable navigating a space, reducing falls and giving them more freedom of movement.
Oftentimes, wood or wood effect flooring is used in care homes for dementia patients, as wood flooring gives a homely and warm feeling, giving patients an added sense of security. When pairing a wooden floor in a not too dark or not too light colour, with a smooth transition from one room to the other, by avoiding transitions by welding joints and avoiding T-bars, space can become user friendly and much more economical in such structures, as patients are more independent and staff members can more easily attend to them when calm.
One of the most difficult tasks is introducing dementia-friendly design in hospitals, where patients suffering from the condition may be recovered for other reasons, or in private homes, where most people with dementia live; the cost of such specialist designs may not be sustainable, nor the importance of it recognised in large spaces such as hospitals, where different kind of patients may be using the space, nor in private environments, such as the home. As previously mentioned, flooring is where designers tend to start from in these contests as, by occupying so much space, it can have a great impact on the feeling the place gives, while also empowering the inhabitants.
While the depth of such a topic may take years to explore, by gently spreading such knowledge, positive changes may happen in the background, making shared facilities more suitable and comfortable for residents living with dementia, while also raising awareness among the wider public.
Texture and Pattern are two of the biggest elements involved in the Interior Design process and are on many levels some of the trickiest to work with.
The use of pattern and texture in a room heighten our experience of the space, as they awaken different senses, which as humans we use to feel connected to the world around us.
When adding texture to an element of design, such as wooden floors, we stimulate different senses at the same time, making us feel more in touch with the environment by adding a feeling of comfort.
Different textures will produce different shadows depending on the light they are exposed to, the time of the day and even the proximity of reflective surfaces, thus catching our attention via a visual media, although we mostly associate texture with the sense of touch.
The sense of touch is one of the senses we rely on the most since a very young age, and to confirm this we just need to see how children feel a need to touch everything in their reach to actually experience it.
Patterns, on the other hand, can stimulate the brain and make us see things in a different way, for example, the repetitive use of large patterns on a small wall may make it appear smaller than what it already is, while non-geometric designs provide excellent camouflage for surfaces with irregularities.
Given the importance of both texture and pattern, it is no surprise that floors, undoubtedly one of the largest surfaces in any property, be it commercial or residential, have such a major impact on how we make use of – or how we are made to use – a specific space.
The significance of flooring has been understood for centuries, as even during the Roman Empire they used to be highly designed and decorated with mosaics, underlying their value; floor patterns are so important in everyday’s life that retail facilities have invested in research that analyses them in order to find the ones that ensure customers spend more time in the areas or isles that offer the highest profit margins, effectively altering the speed at which people walk through specific areas without creating any physical obstacle.
Patterns and textures are not only studied for-profit purposes, but also for health reasons, such as to find the best way to ensure patients with dementia feel safe and comfortable navigating a space, or for learning causes, like how to best stimulate children’s imagination.
With this introduction on the importance of floors’ textures and patterns in everyday’s life, here at The New and Reclaimed Flooring Company, we hope to have caught your attention and look forward to investigating this and other subjects further.