by Layla McCay, UD/MH Director
Colour therapy is a set of methods for using colours to help cure diseases. With a long history in the annals of complementary and alternative medicine, the 'colour cure' was a popular treatment for mental illness at the turn of the 20th century.
"Patients with acute mania were put in black rooms, patients with melancholia in red rooms; blue and green rooms for the boisterous, and a white room for the person who is practically well."
While there is little scientific evidence that the various colour-based therapies can cure any particular diseases, the psychology of colour has long been recognised as an important psychological factor in architecture and interior design: colours can evoke spontaneous emotional reactions that can affect mood and stress. This may in turn exert influence mental wellbeing, an effect that is particularly relevant to designers of the interior and exterior built environment.
The impact of colour on how we feel has been explored by architects and designers in all sorts of contexts, from increasing office productivity to improving wellbeing. The colour red is generally said to be associated with an increase in appetite, reduced depression and increased angry feelings, purple with boosting creativity and developing problem-solving skills, orange with optimism, blue with a sense of security and productivity, and green with a sense of harmony and effective decision-making. The potential effects extend beyond single colours: a monotonous colourscape may be associated with irritability and negative ruminations, while highly saturated, intense colour patterns may increase stress.
An interesting blog by Parkin Architects discusses the opportunities for colour to exert mental health impact in healthcare facility design, again pointing to certain colours that, in addition to helping eliminate the 'institutional look' of facilities, might exert specific impacts on mental health.
Rigorous scientific research on the specific impact of colours on mental health is in its infancy. TheFarthing boutique has developed a new infographic that reflects current ideas on the psychology behind the use of different colours to impact responses in various designed environments. Their sharing this infographic with us reminds us that harnessing the use of colour in urban design to promote good mental health is an interesting field that may have potential, warranting further scientific exploration.
About the Author
This post was written by Layla McCay, Director of the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health, in response to a new infographic developed and shared by Toby Dean and Jessica Morgan of TheFarthing.
World Health Day was on Friday April 7th, and since the World Health Organization designated this year's theme 'depression: let's talk', we had an impromptu urban design and mental health social media flashmob so that architects, planners, citymakers and others could talk about our role in preventing depression. Using the hashtags #udmhflashmob and #designagainstdepression, people and organizations from around the world came together and shared interesting, important and fun ideas and experiences around leveraging urban design to help prevent depression.
Using hashtag analytics, #udmhflashmob reached 1 million people during World Health Day, the majority of whom were in the US, Australia, the UK and Japan, while #designagainstdepression reached 593,000 people - and counting. Did you miss it? Join in the fun: here's some of our posts.
You can keep up the fun with the #DesignAgainstDepression hashtag anytime. And keep a look out for the next #udmhflashmob - a fun way to raise awareness and share great design, research, policy, and initiatives.
Friday 7th April is World Health Day, and this year the World Health Organization has announced the theme, which is depression: let's talk. Depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. More than 300 million people are now living with depression, an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015. People who live in cities have up to 39% increased risk of depression. This is important for architects, city planners, and other urban designers. So, in line with the World Health Day theme, #letstalk about #designagainstdepression.
What is depression?
Depression is an illness characterized by persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities that you normally enjoy, accompanied by an inability to carry out daily activities, for at least two weeks. In addition, people with depression normally have several of the following symptoms: a loss of energy; a change in appetite; sleeping more or less; anxiety; reduced concentration; indecisiveness; restlessness; feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or hopelessness; and thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
- World Health Organization
What does urban living have to do with depression?
The physical and social environments of urban life can contribute both positively and negatively to mental health and wellbeing. There are three main reasons that city life is associated with increased depression:
So how can urban design help reduce the risk of depression for people living in cities?
Learn more detail about these opportunities on our website.
ACTION: What can I do today?
Let's fill the internet with great design to reduce depression. For World Health Day, the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health is kicking off a #udmhflashmob - all day on April 7th:
While the whole world is talking about depression for World Health Day, let's make sure they think about the important and innovative roles that designers and other citymakers can play in preventing depression and promoting better mental health and wellbeing for the population.
#udmhflashmob This is Granary Square, Kings Cross in central London, UK. This public open space invites people to sit and relax with a book, eat their lunch, or meet and chat with friends. It incorporates natural and artificial elements, and is accessible by a biking and walking path along the canal, and by many forms of public transport. #greenspace #openspace #socialspace #activespace #worldhealthday
by Layla McCay, UD/MH Director
Cherry blossom season is upon us in Japan. The national news is filled with cherry blossom reports: it feels like everybody is invested in the specific day that the flowers will bloom in their town. There is good reason for this interest, and not just the national appreciation of beauty, flowers and the ephemeral nature of life. Cherry blossom behavior is part of Japan’s national psyche. In a unique moment of nationwide celebration, the country’s usual work-focused culture presses pause, and a different priority is embraced: cherry blossoms viewing, known as hanami. People walk amongst cherry blossoms, admire them, photograph them… Admiring cherry blossoms is part of the pulse of Japan.
As the flowers fleetingly blossom, so too does another fleeting pleasure: leisurely outdoor social interaction. Everyone dashes to their nearest cherry blossom location to enjoy raucous, convivial, drunken hanami parties, crowded on blue tarpaulin sheets spread under the trees. Offices, universities, friends, and just about anyone else organises hanami parties, characterised by picnicking (with copious alcohol usually involved). Office workers are even sent to the park early in the morning to secure a good spot.
Hanami picnics in Yoyogi Park. Photo by Stardog Champion. Used Under Creative Commons license.
But as the blossoms start to fade, so too does this particular form of social interaction. At the end of cherry blossom season, Japanese people pack up their picnic blankets and store them til next spring. This seems a missed opportunity: many people live in very small homes, particularly those in large cities like Tokyo, which inhibits their inviting others to their homes for socialising. Picnics should be an ideal solution. And yet they are not. Part of the reason may be lack of venue. Tokyo has only 5.4 m2 of green space per person; this compares to 11.8m2 in Paris, 26.9m2 in London and 29.1 m2 in New York. While picnicking takes over many public spaces during hanami season, for the rest of the time this is not appropriate, and many parks are designed to be admired, not as appropriate social dining spots for adults. But finding the right venue is not the only hurdle. Picnics do not tend to be part of Japanese culture. According to many Japanese people, picnicking outside at any non-hanami time of the year is generally considered 'bizarre', 'childish', and even 'suspicious'.
Hiroshi Ota, an architect, and Kaori Ito, an urban designer, helped establish the Tokyo Picnic Club in 2002. Its mission: to tempt Tokyoites to picnic outside of hanami season, socialising in natural settings year-round. They claim: ‘to picnic is the urban culture to utilize the public spaces, to make up for the deficiencies of our city life.’ The appreciation of parks is a cultural norm, but the idea of picnics is unusual. Yet they offer many benefits, not least the opportunity to promote good mental health in the city. Picnicking offers exposure to natural green spaces, encourages physical activity (at least walking to the picnic spot), and facilitates pro-social interaction, which are all urban factors associated with good mental health.
TRY A PICNIC TALK / Illustration: Kotori NOGUCHI, Design: Wataru Noritake
The connections between picnics in the park and good mental health tends to be underappreciated. “Japanese people don’t feel the direct connection between spending time in nature and health,” Ota explains. “However, if parks are used for community activities, that can lead to improved mental health.”
The Tokyo Picnic Club helps people make that all-important but unappreciated connection between urban design and mental health by linking picnics to more commonly accepted health promotion ideas. “In Japan, people tend to think about food when it comes to health. Since the idea of the picnic is based on food, this helps with the idea that going to the park for a picnic can help enhance health.” Ito adds that in Japan, expressing creativity is another important facet of mental health, and this can be achieved by preparing elaborate picnics. “When Japanese people enjoy creativity, they tend to feel happy. Therefore, we believe that writing a poem, making food, and wearing creative costumes during the picnic may also make people feel happy.”
There are further benefits to socialising in the park, Ito proposes: “If you go to a shopping centre, you will notice the lack of diversity. However, parks are open for anyone. You can see all the generations, including rich, poor, elderly and young people.”
Tokyo Picnic Club picnicking outside in Konan-ryokusei Park, Tokyo. Photo and copyright: Hajime Ishikawa
But their enthusiasm for picnics is not shared by everyone. The Tokyo Picnic Club described setting up picnics in various patches of green space around Tokyo – and measuring how long it took before their party caught the attention of the police and were reprimanded for their subversive attitude to picnicking outside the social boundaries of hanami season. It rarely takes long before they are questioned - and often asked to move on.
“We just want the places to have our picnic. We need neither benches nor waterworks. We simply want a spacious lawn. If Green Fields such as beautiful parks are open to us, the picnic becomes the art of encounter in our urban lifestyles. If Brown Fields such as ex-industrial sites or abandoned harbors are open to our picnic, we can develop meals, tools, manners and conversations to fit in the new atmosphere of the modern cityscape.”
The Tokyo Picnic Club hopes that by raising awareness, the value of year-round picnicking will be better understood and appreciated in Japan. Their efforts have included portable lawns, and Grass on Vacation, an art show where they remove aeroplane-shaped pieces of turf from locations where people do not sit on the grass, and take them on ‘vacation’ to other locations where the grass can 'enjoy' its intended use: people are encouraged to sit, lie, socialise, eat and generally enjoy the experience of nature in the city.
Grass On Vacation ANGYANG (2005)
Design: Hiroshi OTA + Kaori ITO + Toru KASHIHARA + Wataru KASHIHARA, Illustration: Kenji KITAMURA
The Tokyo Picnic Club smilingly insist that the "Right to Picnic" should be a basic human right for urban dwellers. Given the normality of picnicking in other cities all over the world, in Tokyo, this is a surprisingly subversive demand.
In time, the Picnic Club hope for proper observation of one of the 15 rules of Tokyo Picnic Club: every day is a picnic day. By encouraging people’s access to green space and positive, natural social interaction, this is also an apt mantra for mental health promotion in the city.
Illustration: Kotori NOGUCHI
About the Author
By Erin Sharp Newton, Assoc. AIA, M. Arch., USA
April will be Happy Birthday to the World Happiness Report. Fresh off the press on March 20th (The International Day of Happiness), this year’s report marks the 5 year anniversary of the first edition. First published in April 2012 by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network in support of the UN High Level Meeting on Happiness, The 2017 World Happiness Report spans across 155 countries, and the data is used world-wide in informing policy makers in their decision processes.
For the researcher, the scientist, the evidence based practitioner, and for any persons in society focused on wellness in the world, this 188 page report provides data-focused, tangible summaries to help gauge well-being of people where they live.
Summary of the report's methods
Happy 10 - The top 10 happiest countries are the same as last year (though in different positions)
Un-Happy 10 - The top ten unhappiest countries (from bottom up)
The key factors that the top ten 'happiest' countries have in common are:
Of particular interest in this year’s World Happiness Report is that it reveals the important role of social factors in supporting happiness. The calculations show that elevating the social foundations from low levels up to the world average levels would have greater positive affect than that of living longer, and making more money, combined.
This graph from the World Happiness Report 2017 demonstrates the impact of social support (mustard colour) on a country's overall happiness rating, using 2014-16 data. (54-155 are at the end of the article).
In Norway the oil prices fell, yet they moved into the number one position in the World Happiness Report. The idea that the successful output of goods and services does not denote a country's wellbeing, is shown in the fact that China’s Gross National Product (GDP) multiplied 5 times over a hundred years, while its subjective wellbeing (SWB) spent 15 years in decline, before starting to improve. Stress and anxiety in the labor market are attributed to this decline of SWB from 1990-2005, whereas changes in unemployment and in the social safety net are ascribed to their substantial recovery. Meanwhile, the Report attributes lower levels of happiness in many African countries to the slowness of change, even as democracy improves. Meeting basic needs in infrastructure and youth development still have not been sufficiently achieved, though the report suggests that African people's exceptional optimism may be their saving grace.
In Western countries mental health seems to affect happiness more than income. "In rich countries the biggest single cause of misery is mental illness," said Professor Richard Layard, director of the Wellbeing Programme at the London School of Economics' Centre for Economic Performance on this year’s Day of Happiness. The United States, Australia, Britain and Indonesia hold economic variables, social factors and health as their key determinants of happiness, while the emergence of mental illness is reportedly more important to all three Western Societies than income, employment or physical illness.
The 2017 World Happiness Report adds investigation of how work affects happiness, and shows that while income may not buy happiness, work matters. Across the world, those with jobs gauged their lives more satisfactorily than the unemployed, and demonstrate that rising unemployment rates affect everyone negatively. The report goes further into condition and types of work as also having an effect on predicting happiness levels.
The United States happiness rating has declined this year, now ranking at 14th, with a score of 6.99. While income and life-expectancy improved, the following four social variables declined:
Based on the calculation system, these declines in social variables could explain the significant drop in overall ranking for the US, emphasising that meeting social needs is crucial to happiness scores.
The 2017 World Happiness Report serves as a tool for many purposes. It helps to understand who is doing well, who isn’t, as well as why or why not in terms of national 'happiness'. Furthermore this report provides a clarification for areas of need – such as the need for the increased social support that is present where we see a greater level of measured happiness.
What this all culminates in is a viable agenda for implementation. The 2017 World Happiness Report demonstrates how social factors affect wellbeing and happiness positively, or conversely where there is lack, negatively. These aspects can be addressed through our development of policies and solutions, as planners, architects, designers and citizens active in our communities. We can target our efforts to support or create opportunities for social interaction, community support, and personal freedom. Through these efforts we can play a role in improving happiness across the board.
For UD/MH practical measures for solutions see:
The remainder of the 2014-16 rankings.
About the Author
We are often contacted by journalists, urban designers, planners and policymakers, asking the same simple question: can you give us some examples of urban design that promotes good mental health in cities around the world? We want to be able to give them a range of interesting examples from cities all over the world, but our eyes can't be everywhere.
The aim of our Instagram page is to present good (and bad!) examples of urban design for good mental health from all over the world. These could take any form, such as; parks, open spaces, public buildings, housing, etc - and any scale, city-wide or nuanced (as long as it fits into a photograph). The pictures should demonstrate the use of any of the urban design factors that affect mental health. These snapshots will weave together to create a patchwork of inspiration, and points of discussion – as well as feeding into the growing discourse of conscious urban design for the benefit of public health. The pictures may also be shared on our website or in publications to demonstrate challenges and possibilities.
It would be great to see this page grow and attract and connect new audiences around the world, alongside the other social media channels used by UD/MH. Moreover, it is a great way for all of us to show off our favourite cities, and our projects.
How can you get involved?
We look forward to seeing and sharing your pictures.
About the Author
Charlotte Collins is a UD/MH Associate. She is responsible for managing the UD/MH Instagram account.
Charlotte is studying BA Geography at UCL, and is currently on an exchange year at the Freie Universität Berlin. Her main interests are in the architecture and regeneration of urban housing estates and its link to wellbeing, which she is currently researching for her undergraduate dissertation.
by Rhiannon Corcoran and Graham Marshall, The Prosocial Place Programme, UK
To support the collective social wellbeing set out in the Marmot Review, Fair Society Healthy Lives (2010), we need to foster a culture that regards and manages places as essential infrastructure. We have entered a critical era where greater thought leadership in our place-making culture is essential.
Dubbed “Toxic Assets” by CABE, Britain’s poorly performing urban places and communities continue to absorb much of our GDP, where land, places and people are exploited and treated like commodities.
In his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, Jarred Diamond discusses the dangers of continued exploitation and the outcomes for societies that could not change their behaviour patterns: certain extinction.
With expenditure outstripping income, we have entered a long period of economic depression with high levels of ‘welfare’ costs signifying a nation under stress. Whilst the government’s economic austerity measures may rebalance the budget on paper, their short-term nature does not address the fundamental health and wellbeing issues that impact individuals, communities and the wider stability of the nation.
The Marmot Review emphasises the impact of urban quality on matters of equity, health and wellbeing giving urban designers an important role to play, but not through the technocratic fixes that they are typically trained to deliver. So, where do we start when thinking about the relationship between place-making, health and wellbeing?
THE URBAN PENALTY
Probably the most fundamental principle is embodied in the Government’s “No Health Without Mental Health” policy. Social scientists have consistently found urban areas to have higher prevalence’s of both diagnosed mental health conditions and a lowered level of wellbeing known as “languishing”. Public health research identifies this failure as the ‘urban penalty’, or the ‘urbanicity effect’, arguing that it results from poor social integration, social isolation, discrimination and deprivation – things we intuitively grasp as urban designers.
However, if we explore these issues through the lens of Life History Theory developed by evolutionary psychologists, we can begin to see things a little differently and to understand better the adaptive nature of human behaviour in context. Research has found that where resources are stable, reliable and predictable, people can plan their futures, enabling greater resilience and the capacity to adapt in response to inevitable life stresses, to change and to cooperate with similarly future oriented people they encounter in their communities. It should be no surprise that public spending is lowest in places where people are prosperous, well-educated and healthy.
When we study low resource environments through this same lens, we find that people live their lives and forage in a different adaptive way. This can be difficult for design professionals to understand and, furthermore, the outcomes of this way of being are typically disapproved of by society. The insecurity of resources promotes an adaptive strategy, termed ‘future-discounting’ in those who live in these harsh environments. In other words, in these environments immediate gratification of wellbeing needs is an ingrained, sensible strategy to pursue.
In general people who live in harsh environments will tend to thrill seek, shun long term educational goals, have children younger, act impulsively etc. However, together, harsh environments and the behaviours they prime have significantly negative impacts on sustainable individual and community wellbeing. Harsh environments also tend to get harsher as people make only defensive, short-term investments in them. This includes the managerial actions that public authorities imposed upon these places.
And when we talk about resources we mean more than money – we refer to the whole resource of our human habitat and relationships. A gated, well healed estate is just as capable of promoting low levels of wellbeing as public housing can.
WHAT IS WELL-DESIGNED?
In short, Life History Theory shows how the qualities of an environment directly determine our life strategies and our wellbeing. In so doing, it emphasises the utmost importance of urban design, but when government policies demand places are ‘well designed’, what do they expect from this nebulous phrase? In 2012, Dr Steven Marshall published a paper interrogating urban design theory and found it “based on assumption and consensus, open to wide and personal interpretation by all players in the built environment and pseudo-scientific at best” – assuming built environment practitioners apply any principles at all.
The time to address the weaknesses in our urban design practices and prejudices is overdue. We need to widen our knowledge base and work with social scientists to understand our intrinsic human ecology and the predictability of its ‘pattern language’. Whilst many secure professionals can successfully ‘forage’ in the ecological niche that is the ‘built environment’ or ‘regeneration’ industry, we embrace higher concerns that will advance thought leadership in place-making.
We need to design, manage and maintain ‘psychologically benign’ environments that reduce feelings of ‘threat’ to optimise opportunities for people to interact and cooperate. This is prosociality; co-operative social behaviour towards a common goal that benefits other people or society as a whole, such as helping, sharing, donating, and volunteering. Prosocial communities are central to sustained wellbeing and themselves encourage future focussed perspectives in the individuals who live in them.
The BBC documentary series The Secret History of Our Streets provides a good illustration of the issues we face today. Silo thinking, unaccountable planning (eg highways), starchitecture (remote), all create harsh environments that are barriers to our intrinsic preference for cooperation and interaction.
In the episode on Duke Street in Glasgow (2 of series 2), we can watch an unfolding story of a place that developed from nothing during the Industrial Revolution, suffered social policy failures and then was dismantled bit-by-bit by planning and design policy failures. The scenes near the end of the programme show a townscape that has been ‘un-placed’. An uplifting aspect of the programme is the positive response from the community against this threat, demonstrating the powerful force of prosociality where it prevails.
A WELL-DESIGN PLACE
It is important to note the fore-sighting that tells us that at least 80% of the buildings that we will inhabit in 2050 have already been built. Moreover, many of the new buildings erected between now and then will be constructed within existing fabrics and infrastructures, and so be quickly assimilated to become ‘existing’ too and subject to the same management regimes. We therefore need to:
Read more about pro-social design by the authors here.
About the Authors
The original version of this blog was posted at What Works Wellbeing
By Professor Martin Knöll, Department of Architecture, Technische Universität Darmstadt, Germany
I love people-watching. Most urban designers do. The more people in a public space, the better. The more diverse, active, extroverted, connected, playful, and affectionate people are with each other, the more there is to see and do. In this sense, the more insane a crowd is, the more livable and healthy is a city. My research on people-centered urban design does not aim to eliminate insanity from everyday life in cities. I rather seek to better understand which factors of the urban environment are stressful to pedestrians and particularly vulnerable people and how urban design can better support them in using public space.
Figure 1 shows participants rating environmental properties in open public spaces (OPS) using a smartphone app (Halblaub Miranda, Hardy, & Knöll, 2015). Photo credit: Marianne Halblaub Miranda.
Current city living has been related to various manifestations of stress and a higher risk for mental health problems (Lederbogen, et al., 2011). Lederbogen et al. (2013) have named a set of influencing factors for urban social stress including infrastructure, socio-economic factors, noise and environmental pollution. These remain open questions:
This blog entry reports on a few findings in two recent publications, in which my colleagues and I from TU Darmstadt have introduced a framework of environmental factors and spatial analysis tools shown to be useful to describe and even predict PUS in open public spaces (OPS). In a first step, environmental properties have been constructed for a sample of OPS in the city of Darmstadt, Germany, using the space syntax framework (Hillier & Hanson, 1984). These were paired to users’ ratings of spatial qualities such as loudness and subjectively perceived safety and stress (figure 2). Isovist vertice density has been shown to be weakly associated to users’ ratings of safety (r=.365, p=.09, Pearson), while global and citywide integration of a street segment have been shown closely related to PUS (r=0.432, p=0.04, Pearson) (Knöll, Neuheuser, Li, & Rudolph-Cleff, 2015). City-wide integration of streets has been closely related to actual amount of car traffic. Our findings may underline the importance of traffic calming, speed limits and walkability for measures to reduce pedestrians’ perceived stress levels.
Figure 2 shows an isovist with a high vertices density (vertex number / isovist area2) is shown, which is weakly associated to users' ratings of an OPS as "safe". The map of Darmstadt on the right shows global integration (r=n) values of its street segments (red indicates high global integration). They are significantly related to ratings of OPS as “max. stressful“ (Knöll, Neuheuser, Li, & Rudolph-Cleff, 2015).
In a recent journal article, the data has been analyzed using different types of multivariate models with the aim to predict ratings of PUS with a highly explained variance and significance (Knöll, Neuheuser, Cleff, & Rudolph-Cleff, 2017). Open space typologies (park, square, courtyard, streets) were found to be the best predictors for PUS, followed by building coverage ratio, isovist vertices numbers and syntactical characteristics (Figure 3). The isovist characteristics in particular, revealed interesting new insights and research questions. For example, visibility, as the relative size of the area that can be overseen from a given point in a space, was found positively related to users ratings of perceived stress. This was contrary to findings previously reported in indoor spaces. And it is somewhat surprising, since visibility of pedestrians by car drivers is key to reduce traffic injuries and improve overall actual pedestrian safety. In other words, people seem to feel most stressed in those areas of busy squares and streets where, in theory, they should be safest from car traffic. We conclude that to further study the isovist characteristics and their relation to percieved stress should be a priority in future research. Visibility and the geometric shape (“complexity”) of urban environments are factors that can be influenced by urban design measures such as street furniture, trees and facades (Knöll, Neuheuser, Cleff, & Rudolph-Cleff, 2017).
Figure 3 lists environmental factors found related to ratings of perceived stress in open public spaces (Knöll, Neuheuser, Cleff, & Rudolph-Cleff, 2017).
A model has been presented that uses a combination of environmental properties and achieves a predictive power of R2=54.6% (Knöll, Neuheuser, Cleff, & Rudolph-Cleff, 2017). These results are a first attempt to predict more complex emotions such as perceived urban stress by analyzing factors of the built environment and using standard planning tools such as GIS and Space Syntax. They extend existing models that have predicted tranquility in green spaces (Watts, Pheasant, & Horoshenko, 2014) or activities and spatial experience in streetscapes (Bielik, Schneider, Kuliga, Valasek, & Donath, 2015). The framework may be useful to architects and neuroscientists alike, who seek to identify or visualize urban configurations likely to be perceived as stressful and seek to further investigate pedestrian comfort by pairing environmental factors with geo referenced, psychophysiological effects.
Bielik, M., Schneider, S., Kuliga, S., Valasek, M., & Donath, D. (2015). Investigating the effect of urban form on the environmental appraisal of streetscapes. In K. Karimi, L. Vaughan, K. Sailer, G. Palaiologou, & T. Bolton (Ed.), Proceedings of the 10th International Space Syntax Symposium (pp. 119:1-13). London: Space Syntax Laboratory, The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London.
Franz, G., & Wiener, J. M. (2008, April 3). From space syntax to space semantics: a behaviourally and perceptually oriented methodology for the efficient description of the geometry and the topology of environments. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design , XXXV, pp. 574-92.
Halblaub Miranda, M., Hardy, S., & Knöll, M. (2015). MoMe: a context-sensitive mobile application to research spatial perception and behaviour. In Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management (ed.), Human mobility, cognition and GISc. Conference proceedings. November 2015, (p. 29-30). Copenhagen.
Hillier, B., & Hanson, J. (1984). The Social Logic of Space. Cambridge: University Press.
Knöll, M., Neuheuser, K., Cleff, T., & Rudolph-Cleff, A. (2017). A tool to predict perceived urban stress in open public spaces. Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science.
Knöll, Martin, Environmental factors and tools to analyze perceived stress in open spaces. ANFA 2016: CONNECTIONS – BRIDGESYNAPSES. 23rd-24th September 2016, La Jolla, CA: Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture. Video
Knöll, M., Neuheuser, K., Li, Y., & Rudolph-Cleff, A. (2015). Using space syntax to analyze stress perception in open public space. In K. Karimi, L. Vaughan, K. Sailer, G. Palaiologou, & T. Bolton (Ed.), Proceedings of the 10th International Space Syntax Symposium (pp. 123:1-15). London: Space Syntax Laboratory, The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London.
Lederbogen, F., Haddad, L., & Meyer-Lindenberg, A. (2013, December). Urban social stress - Risk factor for mental disorders. The case of schizophrenia. Environmental Pollution .
Lederbogen, F., Kirsch, P., Haddad, L., Streit, F., Tost, H., Schuch, P., et al. (2011, June 23). City living and urban upbringing affect neural social stress processing in humans. Nature , 474, pp. 498-501.
Watts, G., Pheasant, R., & Horoshenko, K. (2014). Predicting perceived tranquillity in urban parks and open spaces. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design , 38 (4), pp. 585-94.
I am grateful to my co-authors Dr. Annette Rudolph-Cleff, Professor of Design and Urban Development, Yang Li, PhD Candidate, both Department of Architecture, Katrin Neuheuser, PhD Candidate, Dept. of Human Sciences, TU Darmstadt, and Dr. Thomas Cleff, Professor of Quantitative Methods for Business and Economics at Pforzheim University, Germany.
About the Author
Psychologist Eric Greene, in his first of a series for Sanity and Urbanity, discusses the links between depth psychology and architecture.
“Buildings [today] make you feel like death…[they are] constructed with the absolute intent to destroy emotion…[and] they alienate you” - Alexander in Landy, 1990
With this observation coming from architect Christopher Alexander, I would like to throw my hard-hat of depth psychology into the construction site of urban design and mental health. First, allow me to explain what I do and how this builds upon the discussion, and to sketch the similarities between depth psychology and architecture.
A depth psychologist is, simply put, any psychologist who includes the unconscious in their understanding of the mind. The job of a depth psychologist is to analyze dreams, speech, fantasies and images of the mind and the world which function as a kind of subtext to the surface symptom. The founder of this tradition is generally identified as Freud then Jung.
The practice of analysis is popularly conceived of as occurring in an office by a therapist with a patient. But the field extends far beyond this practice. Consider this quote from Freud: (1930) in Civilization and its Discontents (a more literal translation is ‘the disease in culture’):
“…would not the diagnosis be justified that many systems of civilization—or epochs of it—possibly even the whole of humanity—have become neurotic under the pressure of the civilizing trends?” - Freud , Civilization and its Discontents, pp69
This quote suggests that culture and all that it contains could be the context that makes people sick, and therefore, itself could and should be analyzed. Additionally, both Freud (1895) and Jung (1963) often used the metaphor of a house to describe the mind. Jung, in fact, constructed a literal house and often referred to it as an extension of his mind. Since its inception, depth psychology has been linked to architecture. But how?
My thesis is this: The foundation upon which our modern buildings and minds are constructed is the same. This foundation is not a material foundation but rather it is an idea, or image, if you will. The image is characterized by its isolation, alienation, emptiness— all conditions which lead to dis-ease or mental illness. The reification of this image has reached its peak today. In order to change the mental illness of our culture, we need to rethink this foundational idea. Both post-modern critiques of architecture and psychotherapy are pointing the way forward to rethink our cities in terms of its relationality, not its isolation, in order to create a more mentally healthy world.
1. Strip Bare the Patient
Since Freud, many depth psychologists continued to analyzed the world in relation to mental health. Freud’s student, Bruno Bettelheim, in The Mental Health of Urban Design, continued with Freud’s thesis: the world can make us sick. Bettelheim (1979) asks:
“[t]o what extent does physical design affect the psychology of hope?... Mental health is created or destroyed in the home.” - Bruno Bettelheim, The Mental Health of Urban Design, pp 201
Bettelheim argues that the carelessness with which a home is constructed— in this case, the projects created mostly for the African-American poor in America— becomes internalized in the mind of its inhabitants, and they come to know their first world as one which does not care for them. Then, they lack the hope that beyond their immediate horizon is a world which welcomes them. The construction of the space colonizes the inhabitant’s physical and mental landscapes. Generalizing this theme for our purposes, one could say, that the spaces in which we live project onto us just as we project onto them.
It is on this precise notion—that of the world projecting onto us—that the student of Jung, James Hillman, staked an important claim: psychotherapy strips bare the patient’s psychology to its utopian essentials by withdrawing its projections from the world. Hillman (1970) claims that this process exacerbates the disease of isolation or alienation. The problems are not just all in our minds. We have had 100 years of psychotherapy and the world has gotten worse, precisely because we internalize all of the world’s problems as if “the end of the world were an inner problem”(Hillman, 1993; Hillman, 1998, 129). As a result, we have become anesthetized by the subjectivism of psychotherapy (Hillman, 1970). To break free of this emptiness and isolation, in order to restore mental health to the world, Hillman (1970), like Bettelheim, argues that we need to recognize that psychology is everywhere and in everything, that each thing sparks with its “eachness” or particularities. In other words, mental illness is not just in a person’s head. It is also in our cities, our buildings, in the whole of civilization, and these things projects onto us.
2. Strip Bare the Building
The progression of architectural design in modernity seemed to follow a similar historical path. Architect Irata Isozaki, in the introduction to Kojin Karatani’s (1995) Architecture as Metaphor, narrates that architecture has passed through three crises. The first occurred when the ‘bible’ of architecture, Vitruvius’ The Ten Books on Architecture, became relativized. The vacancy left from this displacement was filled by a new orientation of “Architecture as Art” (Isozaki in Karatani, 1995, x). The second crisis occurred when that art became institutionalized and oppressive. The new orientation of modern architecture was, then, “Architecture as Construction” (Isozaki in Karatani, 1995, xi). The idea was to strip its subject bare of the projections or decorative elements (i.e., art) and construct buildings from basic elements towards a utopia. This left buildings “skeletal” (Isozaki in Katajani, 1995, xi). The movement reached its fruition in the middle of the twentieth century.
We are, according to Isozaki, still in the third crises. Architecture, like so many things in post-modernity, suffers from a loss of the metanarrative, and the orientation is one of a “loss of subject” (Isozaki in Katajani, 1995, xii). This strange characterization means that buildings are seen as projects which are separated from, and indeed colonize, the communities in which they are built; and, they contain no elements of humanity. This is why architect Christopher Alexander (in Landy, 1990) states these “buildings [today] make you feel like death…[they are] constructed with the absolute intent to destroy emotion…[and] they alienate you”. In short, the world we live in projects alienation and mental illness onto us.
3. The Foundation
These two monuments of study— architecture and psychotherapy—are founded upon a mutual image. This image is characterized by bareness, isolation and alienation. It has affected the spirit of our culture and makes us feel mentally unhealthy.
If the goal is to create sane urban life, we ought to begin with an image of buildings which engenders hope and humanity. They would be constructed with an eye towards beauty, focus on the particularities, consider the relationship to its parts and to the community at large. If we can hope to create a healthier future—a future which promises movement beyond the horizon of our felt sense of isolation and alienation— we can begin by caring for our cities and buildings— the places which we can and should call home.
Bruno Bettelheim, “Mental Health and Urban Design,” in Surviving and other essays. (NY, 1979), pp. 201.
Breuer, J. & Freud, S. (1895). Studies in hysteria. New York, NY: Hogarth.
Freud, S. (1930). Civilization and its discontents. New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Co.
Hillman, J. (1970). Re-visioning psychology. New York, NY: Harper and Row.
Hillman, J. (1993). We’ve had one hundred years of psychology and the world is getting worse. New York, NY: Harper.
Hillman, J. (1998). The thought of the heart and the soul of the world. Los Angeles, CA: Spring.
Jung, C.G. (1963). Memories, dreams, reflections. New York, NY: Vintage.
Karatani, K. (1995). Architecture as metaphor: language, number, money. Boston, Massachusettes: M.I.T.
Landy. Places for the Soul: the Architecture of Christopher Alexander. (1990). Christopher Alexander.
About the Author
Switzerland-based urban planner Silvia Gugu provides her takeaways from the conference "Happy City - Faire la ville par l’événement" (December 9th 2016 at the Haute École Spécialisée de Suisse Occidentale in Geneva). A collaboration between the Geography Department at the University of Geneva and the Swiss Geographic Association, this one-day conference brought together academics and professional citymakers to explore the potential of one-off events in helping to create a “happy city”.
The "Happy City" agenda was famously articulated by geographer and writer Charles Montgomery in his 2013 book Happy City. Transforming our Lives through Urban Design. This book brings together evidence from psychology, neuroscience, public health and behavioural economics to discuss the ways in which urban design affects psychological wellbeing. It has generated spin-offs such as the Happy City Labs in Vancouver and Geneva, where a key focus is on devising urban events that foster social interaction and a sense of ownership of public space.
Disrupting the urban rhythm
Over the past decades, community, commercial, arts and leisure events have been frequently designed as disruptions of the urban rhythm, temporarily altering urban form, function and social relations. Many are organized by administrations and are primarily attributed to the competitive neoliberal ethos that calls for cities to build their unique brand in the global economy. Others are initiated by individuals or associations, falling into the recent category of tactical (do-it-yourself / guerrilla / lighter-quicker-cheaper / pop-up) urbanism; in other words, grassroots attempts to re-inject agency in the relationship between residents and their environment. Leisurely and convivial, urban events are malleable instruments that can fit neatly into any of the quality-of-life-oriented urban agendas developed since the 1970’s, such as: Cities for People, Participative Cities, Creative Cities, Liveable Cities, and of course, Happy Cities.
The conference considered both grassroots do-it-yourself interventions, and official policies of ‘event-based urbanism’, highlighting their effects on urban form and function. The talks remained theoretical and exploratory; nevertheless, they opened interesting questions about the way events can mediate the relationship between the urban environment and psychological well being by changing mood and behaviours. Here are a few takeaway hypotheses:
Urban events may make us happier by providing additional aesthetic stimuli
Several speakers referred to how urban events alter the urban aesthetics and our perception of it, making use of a broad range of props and techniques, from images, lights and installations to highlights, reframing and unexpected vantage points and narratives.
Urban events are by definition designed and staged. They are often initiated to beautify and render cities more attractive; and they may be accompanied by physical urban improvements in order to ensure adequate “display windows” (public or private venues). Some are primarily itinerant or episodic ambiances (the circus, the fun fair, the Christmas market, Park(ing) Day – which transforms parking lots into green patches). They play down the familiar and the unremarkable and place the emphasis on memorable, festive choreographies.
Events can thus stimulate the senses and create feelings of awe and discovery in an otherwise familiar environment. Lea Sallenave (University of Geneva) showed for example how street art festivals draw attention to neglected corners; stimulate physical and sensorial apprehension of the city through unexpected trajectories and critical commentaries.
This temporary increase in aesthetic stimuli and capital seems to be popular with the residents that can directly benefit from them (but less so with the ones that feel left out). While urban form is slow to evolve and adapt to new taste, urban events can quickly respond to current expectations by cladding physical infrastructures with new shapes, colours and accents, thus allowing for a continuous symbolic and material renewal of the environment.
Urban events may make us happier by negotiating between social interaction and privacy
Many participants stressed the relational logic of urban events, most of which are designed for social interaction, attracting large numbers of people in the public space and providing a reason for eye contact and conversation. The mere collective consumption of an experience fosters bonding and belonging, and the pro-active participation in public life facilitates “eudaimonia”, Aristotle’s idea of happiness as self fulfilment through benefiting others, a fundamental concept in the “Happy City” theory.
Importantly, the episodic nature of events allows for equilibrium between the need for social interaction and for privacy. As pointed out by Diego Rigamonti (AIDEC), quality of life is a subjective assessment of a complex environment that has to function for everyone, hence conflicts are inevitable – we desire more events as opportunities to encounter others but we don’t want the mess and risks that come with them; we like densification as long as it does not happen in our neighbourhood etc. The temporary nature of urban events appeases such conflicts by allowing conflicting interests and needs to take their turn.
Urban events may make us happier by changing urban uses in favour of desired activities
A prominent and much-cited application of the event in city-making is the temporary adjustment of land uses or the subversive reprogramming / occupation of space in favour of activities preferred by the community. Many of these started as DIY, illegal uses enabled by loopholes in legislation or tolerated due to being temporary. Some were adopted as permanent changes, showing how, thanks to its temporary nature, tactical urbanism can negotiate with legal and institutional frameworks.
Moreover, examples cited at the conference demonstrated that temporary uses, together with the “tactical” approach, have been embraced by planners and administrations to respond to immediate needs and expectations (small green spaces, beach-volleyball fields, snack bars, community gardens, family spaces or simply loosely-articulated structures that permitted people to assign them meaning and function).
Urban events may make us happier by allowing us to exert agency on our environment
There seemed to be a consensus among conference participants that, whatever their source, urban events stand in opposition to the 20th century approach to planning cities. The latter presumes a vision: a finite, virtuous state of equilibrium, to be reached through a strategic plan – an instrument that aims to control both internal and external environments, leaving nothing to chance. In contrast, urban events are a way of refocusing the attention on the city as something that happens, as a process not a product, a continuous transformation that we witness and in which we can choose to participate or not. By providing opportunities for participation, they render the city more “open”. The universal appeal of tactical urbanism, which operates primarily through small and temporary, but scalable interventions, lies precisely in presenting urban change as a matter of choice, not of resources or power.
Events may keep us happy by appeasing permanent change
Throughout the conference, the most iterated role of events was simply taking the edge off drastic urban change brought by new technologies, policies or projects.
Speakers from urbaplan noted that events can facilitate the popularization of a technical discourse, rendering it accessible, reframing issues by using play, invitation, celebrations, and appeals to emotion (climate change activism quickly comes to mind as a prominent example). Nicolas Nova (HEAD) talked about events such as fun fairs as itinerant laboratories for testing and diffusing behaviour-altering technologies (the cinema, the automobile, elevators, moving sidewalks etc). Thus, technologies that could otherwise be perceived as unsettling or outright dystopian could be experienced in ephemeral, fun doses, and introduced “tactically”. Primed by marketing, the public is reassured by the ephemeral and fragile nature of temporary installations, and is more willing to test them.
Luca Pattaroni (EPFL) noted that events are easily assimilated as experimental, exploratory, pilot changes. In other words, events introduce change without requiring immediate or drastic behaviour adaptation. The same logic was outlined by Giovanna Ronconi from the Republic and Canton of Geneva, who presented a version of the lighter, quicker, cheaper approach to urban change, centred on temporary, reversible interventions to facilitate shared decision making, the legitimization of projects by testing the response to the conflicting needs of residents, and use of little resources, which can stimulate creative solutions.
Outdoor cinema event on inflatable screen, Geneva. Picture: Cinetransat
Urban events may not make everyone happy
The limitations of urban events emerged less compellingly at the conference. However, it was acknowledged that event-based urbanism can be just as frustrating as any other urban development process, particularly if it doesn’t consider participative decision making (even grassroots, guerrilla and tactical interventions are often the initiative of a small group of people or an individual, not of the entire community exposed to them). Urban events can be a source of noise, environmental pollution, stress, and annoying disruptions for those who don’t want or cannot partake in them. These nuisances may extend far beyond the interval when the events manifest, accompanying the preparatory work that goes into assembling and dismantling them. Depending on their nature and scale, they can entail significant security costs and risks; for example, gatherings are a preferred target of terrorist and criminal attacks. Just as these events may create the illusion of safety, they can also instil the fear of crime. Besides, it was pointed out, not everyone feels happiness is the ultimate banner for urban action.
Are these potential negative effects justified by the happy city aspirations? After all, urban events cannot claim to actually improve most day to day living conditions that affect psychological wellbeing (housing quality, work conditions, commuting time): they are based in the public space, tend to be leisure-related and reserved for free time. This also means that they favour the segments of society with ample leisure time.
The current practice of seeking to transform cities through events acknowledges that people have evolving and conflicting needs: for varied cultural and aesthetic stimulation, for different urban uses, for social interaction as well as for privacy, for freedom as well as structure and control, for change as well as stability. It promises to lead to happier cities by addressing these needs on a rotating basis, by temporarily altering urban form, function, and social interactions. The approach is used by both grassroots organizations and administrations to test and diffuse urban change gradually. As we are running out of space in cities, perhaps a key to our mental wellbeing could be better use of our time through cyclical or nomadic opportunities.
About the Author
Sanity and Urbanity: