Seeing Things: Haunted by design

Architect and neuroscientist Jan Golembiewski has been researching how psychologically manipulative environments can be. Design can suggest, motivate and support human behaviour – desirable or not. Haunted at Halloween is one thing, but being haunted by design is another.

Public toilet in Kawakawa New Zealand. It has large mosaic tiles all at different angles. The toilet seat is timber

In extreme cases, environments may trigger hallucinations, delusions and confusion. The effect can be even greater for people who are impressionable.

Jan Golembiewski

Golembiewski’s article in the Financial Times discusses how design is used to create feelings. “The way we respond to the environment is mostly determined by the stories they suggest.” Many ghost stories were told about the university student residence at Alanbrook Hall, but it is likely the building was only haunted by bad design.

A darker story is how architecture can be used as a weapon of war with buildings designed to intimidate. Giant bronze statues wielding swords against blood read marble walls wouldn’t make anyone feel welcome.

A tall imposing grey concrete building with four giant columns and a bronze statue to either side of the giant doorway.

In designed environments, the architect’s every decision is made to make us do or feel something.

Jan Golembiewski

The article uses many examples to show how architecture and design affects our psychology. Vulnerable people often react far more than people who feel secure and small changes can make a difference. Good environments can work wonders especially for people who are neurodiverse.

The title of the article is, Haunted by design: how buildings can make us see ghosts. “Our environments can be psychologically manipulative, triggering confusion, delusions – even hallucinations”.

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