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Examining How Sustainability and Architecture Influence Human Behavior in Environmantal Psychology

Updated on January 25, 2013

An Office Environment

Our environment effects our mood.
Our environment effects our mood. | Source

What is Environmental Psychology?

The central concept to environmental psychology is that people live in an environment with which they have a symbiotic relationship. The environment that people live in has an effect on how they behave. This is true whether the environment is natural or man-made. Understanding the way in which environments effect people could enable the design and construction of work, recreation and living space that has the ability to influence people’s behaviors. At the same time it is important to understand the effect that people have on their environment. This is true not only of the local environment but also of the global environment. It is possible to create whole cities that influence human behavior by elevating the moods and perceptions of the people living in those cities and at the same time decrease the negative effects that urbanization has on the global environment.

Physical Structure and Human Behavior

The physical structure of a space involves the amount of open space, the presence or lack of walls, the brightness of lighting, the presence of windows, doorways and other physical features which create a space (Architecture and Health, 2007). Human behavior can be influenced through the arrangement of physical space. The design of physical structures can effect an individual's mood and their perceptions of their surroundings (Architecture and Health, 2007). By influencing a person's mood and perceptions, physical structure can influence that person's behavior (Architecture and Health, 2007).

Controlling Human Behavior Through Architecture

By understanding the way that a building's design can influence a person's behavior, by modifying the individual's moods and perceptions, a building or room can be designed to purposely illicit a specific mood or perception in order to achieve a desired set of behaviors. By arranging the physical structure of an area in a way that increases individual privacy and divides the area into multiple spaces, behaviors which are associated with overcrowding such as withdrawal can be decreased among the individuals occupying that area (Architecture and health, 2007).

Social Density and Spatial Density

Social density is a term that refers to how many people are in a given area. The more people in a room the greater the social density. Spatial density refers to how much space there is or how much space there is percieved to be. The more space there is the greater the spatial density. These two are related in that if one increases the other decreases. The Article Architecture and Health (2007) states that “partitioning space can accommodate increases in spatial density without increasing effective social density” (para. 7). This means that breaking up an area into smaller spaces has the effect of lowering people's perception of social density or crowding even if this density is actually increased (Architecture and Health, 2007). Lowering people's perceptions of social density will make them more likely to interact and socialize with the people around them (Architecture and Health, 2007). Lowering the perception of social density will also have the effect of reducing the amount of stress that each individual feels (Architecture and Health, 2007).

Elevating Moods Through Windows

Kuller, Ballal, Laike, Mikellides and Tonello (2006) assert that “most studies show that people prefer to work in environments with windows and that lack of windows and a view to the outside may have a negative impact on well-being and performance” (p. 1497). Windows have the effect of elevating psychological moods especially when there is natural scenery outside (Architecture and Health, 2007; Kuller, et al., 2006). One advantage of the use of windows displaying natural scenery in design is that there is evidence which suggest a restorative aspect to nature that is specifically linked to people's ability to focus in tasks which require concentration (Joye, 2007).

Commercial Design

From a commercial perspective, office buildings can be designed in a way that will benefit both the health of the employees as well as their productivity (Architecture and Health, 2007). According to the article Architecture and Health, (2007) “filling a large room with desks would not be a good alternative [to private offices] because of the resulting noise as well as inefficiency and decreased regulatory control over social interaction” (para. 8). A large open space with seemingly endless rows of desks would diminish the feeling of privacy that individual's desire, hindering the communication between employees both because of the increase in noise and because of the tendency of people to be less sociable in large crowds (Architecture and Health, 2007). The resulting environment would be more stressful for the employees and would decrease the level of productivity for the company (Architecture and health, 2007). Instead of an open space Architecture and Health (2007) states that “use of modular cubicles or other methods of breaking space up would provide the structure for increasing control over local spaces and productivity and prevent increases in distress associated with crowding” (para. 8).

The Design of New Office Buildings

In designing and construction of new office buildings these preferences can be taking into account. Rooms can be designed to appear as if they were smaller spaces with greater complexity which would satisfy the psychological needs of employees for relative privacy by decreasing the perception of crowding (Architecture and health, 2007). The construction of new buildings can also include the use of windows as much as possible since the presence of windows elevates people's moods and productivity (Architecture and health, 2007; Kuller, et al., 2006). Joye (2007) states that “Natural settings have been found to be ideally suited to restore or rest directed attention” (p. 308). Employees who work long hours in which they are required to concentrate on tasks for prolonged periods of time may benefit from working in an office designed with wide open windows overlooking gardens or parks by feeling reduced stress and a greater capacity for concentration which leads to greater levels of productivity (Architecture and Health, 2007; Kuller, et al., 2006; Joye, 2007).

Residential Design

The implications for residential design both in the construction of new and pre-existing buildings is far reaching (Architecture and Health, 2007). New residential space can be designed to positively benefit the psychological health of the residents (Architecture and Health, 2007). Pre-existing residential spaces can be modified in order to achieve similar benefits (Architecture and Health, 2007). An example of modifying a pre-existing residential structure is provided in the article Architecture and Health (2007) stating that “an architectural intervention, in which a long-corridor dormitory hall was bisected, resulted in greater confidence in residents’ control over social interactions in the dormitory, less residential and non-residential social withdrawal, and less crowding stress compared with the non-bisected long-corridor residents” (para. 7). Windows which overlook parks and gardens can help in reducing levels of stress creating a restorative element to residential areas ( Kuller, et al., 2006; Joye, 2007).

Sustainable Development

According to Grierson (2003) sustainability is a word “used to indicate a change of attitude towards prioritizing ways of life that are in balance with the current renewable resources of the ecosystem and the biosphere” (II, para. 1). Developmental sustainability is predicated on the belief that the world’s resources are finite and the growth of urbanization could easily result in a greater demand for resources than the planet is able to provide (Grierson, 2003; Moore, 2009). To illustrate how the need for resources could possibly outweigh the word’s ability to provide those resources Grierson (2003) explains that “the amount of land needed to generate the resources to sustain the population of London (e.g. with food and timber), for example, is only slightly less than the entire land area of the United Kingdom” (I, para. 3).

The Goal of Sustainable Development

The goal of developmental sustainability is to prevent urbanization from exceeding the limits of natural resources (Grierson, 2003; Moore, 2009). Greirson (2003) asserts that “widespread interest in theories, ethics, and practice concerning sustainability indicates an increasing concern about the adverse impacts that conventional models of development have had on the environment, in both the developed and undeveloped parts of the world” (II para. 2). These concerns have led to an increased interest in the concept of sustainable development.

Architectural Development Supporting Sustainable Development

According to Grierson (2003) “within a second generation arcology, material recycling, waste reduction, energy conservation, and the use of renewable energy sources, like sun and wind power, would offer the basis of a strategy for sustainability that aims towards a more efficient process of urban production and consumption” (IV, para. 1). Arcology is a term which Grierson uses to describe the combination of architecture and psychology in the effort to achieve developmental sustainability (Grierson, 2003).

Many people believe that by using the principles of environmental psychology focusing on ways to reduce waste production, resource consumption and increase resource development in architectural design it is possible to create urban environments which would fulfill the concepts of sustainable development (Grierson, 2003; Moore, 2009).


There is a relationship between people and the environment in which they live. People have the ability to shape and change their environment while at the same time they are shaped and changed themselves. By using elements of architectural design and understanding the way that built structures can effect people psychologically it is possible to construct environments which effect the behavior of the people who work, play and live within them. Locally architectural design has the ability to shape human behavior through affecting perceptions and moods. Globally the concepts of architectural design together with those of environmental psychology could help to achieve sustainable development benefiting the people who live in future urban societies by decreasing the impact that urbanization has on the resources of the world.


Architecture and health. (2007). In Cambridge Handbook of Psychology, Health and Medicine.Retrieved from

Grierson, D. (2003). Arcology and Arcosanti: Towards a Sustainable Built Environment.Electronic Green Journal, (18), N.PAG. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Joye, Y. (2007). Architectural lessons from environmental psychology: The case of biophilicarchitecture. Review of General Psychology, 11(4), 305-328. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.11.4.305

Küller, R., Ballal, S., Laike, T., Mikellides, B., & Tonello, G. (2006). The impact of light andcolour on psychological mood: a cross-cultural study of indoor work environments.Ergonomics, 49(14), 1496-1507. doi:10.1080/00140130600858142

Moore, S.. (2009). Sustainable Architecture and Engineering. In J. Callicott & RobertFrodeman (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy, Vol. 2(pp. 293-295). Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA. Retrieved June 06, 2011, from Gale VirtualReference Library via Gale:

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© Copyright 2012. Wesley Meacham- This article is copyright protected and is the property of Wesley Meacham. All images in this article, unless otherwise stated, are the property of Wesley Meacham. Please do not copy this article in whole or in part without giving credit to the original author.


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