How Can Architects Combat Anxiety with Interior Spaces

People often find themselves physically and emotionally comfortable in specific public places. Whether one's reading a book on the terrace of a coffee shop, sitting on a cozy sofa at a hair salon, or waiting for the train at train station, some spaces tend to initiate a feeling identical to being in the comfort of one's home. 

The field of environmental psychology has helped find the factors that achieve "human comfort", and now, architects and designers are working alongside the field's specialists to develop comfortable spaces.

Walnut Street Cafe . Image Courtesy of Casey Giltner of Baltz & Company

Metropolis' Audrey Gray was visiting a café attempting to observe it the same way real-life environmental psychologist Stephani Robson does. Robson, who is a professor at Cornell's School of Hotel Administration, is an expert on how the design of hospitality spaces affects our feelings and behavior, and could make us uncomfortable. The psychologist realizes trends with countless hours of watching people maneuver through spaces, observing how they react to the details present around them.

Walnut Street Cafe . Image Courtesy of Casey Giltner of Baltz & Company

One of the design trends Robson has been examining for over a decade is how hospitality spaces can help alleviate anxiety. In her 2008 study, she found that people who were more anxious chose to sit next to walls, corners, or partitions, giving the individual a sense of control over the environment. Robson has seen an increase in intimate, partitioned, and quiet spaces in restaurants and hotel lobbies, as a result of external factors.

© Rose Wong

There’s a sense right now that everything is falling apart. Climate change, the political situation, economics. We know a downturn is coming, but we don’t know when. So we’re craving comfort. - Stephani Robson

Walnut Street Cafe . Image © Andrea Behrends

Gray had chosen to observe Walnut Street Café in Philadelphia, since it has gained a reputation for being “cozy.” Reviewers overwhelmingly use that word, along with phrases like “nice & quiet” and “good for Instagram.” She began her observation process by analyzing the elements that made people feel "chilled out". She had taken a checklist from Robson to help evaluate the space. The checklist listed characteristics such as: natural light and floor-to-ceiling windows, intimate spaces with lots of curves, plants, gentle color palette, calm acoustic treatment, ventilation... To which the cafe, which was designed by Parts & Labor Design has ticked off all of them.

Walnut Street Cafe . Image Courtesy of Casey Giltner of Baltz & Company

Environmental psychologists can offer designers an ability to quantify what “feels good” so that acoustics, lighting, shapes, and materials can be integrated within the design adequately. Hospitality spaces, however, can help track societal trends with their high turnover and detailed point-of-sale data.

Walnut Street Cafe . Image Courtesy of Casey Giltner of Baltz & Company

When you take that into the realm of design, I think it’s comfort, mindfulness, peace, and serenity—and a calming space. What I see are people continually struggling with the amount of accessibility we have to each other. Email, IMs, texting, phone calls. So much distraction. We used the word ‘quiet’ a lot, And we kept saying, ‘This is a house, not a hotel.’ People are going to feel more drawn to the space whether they know it or not - Architect Nick Dryden, principal of Dryden Architecture and Design in Nashville

Walnut Street Cafe . Image Courtesy of Casey Giltner of Baltz & Company
Walnut Street Cafe . Image © Andrea Behrends

To learn more about Gray's observations and input from specialists in the field, read the full article titled "Can Psychology Help Combat Anxiety in Crafting Welcoming Hospitality Spaces" on Metropolis Magazine.

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Cite: Dima Stouhi. "How Can Architects Combat Anxiety with Interior Spaces" 16 Oct 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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