Monday 11 Jul 2011

The psychology of buildings: A new awareness

In a book called ‘Visions of Architecture’ (Bloomsbury A&C Black 2011 ISBN 978-1-4081-2881-7, £16-99) the author Stephen Lees examines various buildings and the fascinating facts that caused their creation due to what might be termed the ‘Construction Process’ involving seven disciplines: Architecture, Religion, Engineering, Arts, Psychology, Economics and Politics, the influences of which have eluded people even though they may be familiar with the structures. Stephen shares his findings with WAN readers in an exclusive seven-part series...

Heat affects the body as light affects the mind. A fridge door-light giving symbolic welcome or structures as the Galerie des Machines, Paris with large glazed areas of ferro-vitreous vaulting systems or atrium creating space will calm the mind – an underground windowless bunker will disturb it. The Victorians new very little of the psychological aspects of buildings causing claustrophobia or hysteria, with probable reason, they designed buildings to keep the rough outside world out. Architects as Frank Lloyd Wright, Otto Wagner, Adolf Loos, Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus Movement tried to address light through steel framed glazed walls and open spaces.

The sanatoria built by Alvar Aalto are testament to this new thinking. The concept of space and the mechanism of the balcony as part of a building yet outside of its frame is appealing because it allows free movement from one environment to another through the building’s fabric. However, the concept of a balcony as a spatial mechanism can address successfully certain mental conditions one of which is claustrophobia but fails to deal with another, that of agoraphobia, a fear of open spaces. Some buildings can instil dread by the façade they present to the observer as in the top of the Genesee Valley Trust Building in New York, or a Mausoleum or being located out of context - a Mausoleum sited in a rain forest all emphasise this concern.

In 1911 Hoffmann created a masterpiece in his Stoclet Palace. It indicates a final return to Classicism in style but used in its construction, ferro-concrete in order to span distances within the building and allow light to flow unimpeded. The project involved the Wiener Werkstatte Gruppe in designing the palace with large glazed areas to facilitate light and internal decorative finishes by the artist Gustav Klimt. The building remains an example of integration of the Arts including music. Music, especially by composers as Schönberg and Gustav Mahler can affect space with psychoanalysis and the implications of hysteria by Sigmund Freud. When dealing with Mahler neurotic symptoms, Freud remarked, ‘No light fell at the time on the symptomatic façade of his obsessional neurosis. It was as if you would dig a single shaft through a mysterious building.’ The reason for Freud’s departure from medical terminology into construction analogy was because it is appropriate and because intellectuals considered disciplines of interest other than their own, imitating the Renaissance ideal.

Previously Mahler had been involved with the construction of the Munich Exhibition hall in 1906 which was built using ferro-concrete, iron columns and fabricated glazed sections in order to ‘create adequate daylight and space.’ It was in this hall that Mahler premiered his mighty Eighth Symphony that calls for huge orchestral forces and a thousand performers in one space. Gustav Mahler devoted time in thinking about space, an important consideration in his life, when trying to find an acceptable musical equilibrium in which to exist comfortably. Not easy given his propensity for depression and pessimism, encapsulated in the term every silver lining has a dark cloud!

Stephen Lees
Visions of Architecture

Key Facts:

Urban design

Want to submit your project to World Architecture News?

Contact The Team