Architectural Design and Psychology

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Architects need to consider a variety of disciplines when designing a structure--very importantly, psychology. By attending to psychological questions, architects can design processes and experiences and control behavior within the building. Below are some philosophical questions posed by Maria Lehman in which several psychological issues can be derived and addressed.

1. How do you get your occupants attention?
2. What will occupants remember most about this design?
3. How will this architecture impact their real-time experiences?
4. Is this architectural environment coherent?
5. Can this architectural environment be explored?
6. Will occupants enjoy the variety and complexity of this design?
7. Does my design promote opportunities for occupant discovery?
8. Can occupants manage and escape from stress in this environment?
9. Does my design promote healthy social interactions?
10. Is there a sense of community fostered in this architecture?

By considering these questions, designers can start to make influential decisions that impact the experiences of the occupants. An extreme example of psychological presence in a building is the Panopticon jail. The cells are located on the outer edge of the building, arranged in a circular plan, many stories high. In the center, there is a tower where one guard sits and has a panoramic view of the entire jail--able to see each cell. The prisoners feel as if they are being constantly watched, even though that is not the case. In the Panopticon, there is a curious fact that solidifies this psychological dilemma that the prisoners experience. There was a higher rate of suicides in this jail than in ordinary prisons. The elimination of privacy caused the prisoners to go crazy.


This ingenious design illustrates how attention to psychological issues in architectural design can exhibit covert power over occupants. There are many other examples of how architectural designs have an impact on the behaviors and experiences of the occupants. Architects need to embrace this and not take advantage of the power.

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