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Interview: How are our cities developing?
Interview: How are our cities developing?

People find a house beautiful or ugly, they feel good or uncomfortable in it. But in very few cases can they say why. DAS HAUS spoke to architectural psychologist Peter G. Richter about research results that can help make our cities more livable. Read the entire interview or see the short version in the video.

Mr. Richter, can architecture influence our quality of life?

Richter: Of course, our environment influences our well-being, regardless of whether it is natural or built. Important factors are the temperature, the material that surrounds us, or the light. Many people know that darkness and warmth lead to relaxation. Numerous influences are unconscious, but there are good studies on it. For example, one can show that the room color leads to an immediate increase or decrease in the heart rate of the residents.

Which colors work how?

If a room has many warm shades of red and orange, this activates. The heart rate increases by about 10 beats per minute. Cool, blue spaces slow the heart rate by about the same amount. This happens without people noticing. Unless you think about it deliberately, like now in an interview. Only we don't usually do that, because architecture surrounds us almost permanently.

So a red room would rather stimulate?

Yes, absolutely, but it could be tricky in the long run. In classrooms in schools, for example, calming colors should be used, i.e. blue or green. They have a positive effect on the learning behavior of the students. Red tones tend to create unrest. When designing colors, you always have to think about what you want to do in a room. In work rooms, one should promote the state of relaxed alertness. This is a slightly above-average activation. That's the best way to think.

What would you recommend for the bedroom?

Relaxation rooms should be kept in relaxing colors, such as blue and green. Simply because of the color psychology, I also advocate singles for a two-room apartment: Then you can design a room for activities and one for relaxing.

What other effects of buildings does architecture psychology know?

We know that architecture can have a significant impact on health. Especially when it is interspersed with nature. People from all cultures and continents like plants. For example, an American study has shown that after surgery, patients get better sooner if they look out of their hospital room at a park with trees. A control group looked at a firewall. It took her much longer to recover. As a psychologist, I was particularly impressed that even the hospital staff found the patients who looked into the green to be much more sociable and positive. So there is something like "healing spaces".

Is that also true in an everyday living environment?

Plants in rooms significantly improve the ability to concentrate and also help, for example, to avoid bronchitis.

Can architectural psychology also say something about why we find a house or a city beautiful?

Quite if you know in which environment you grew up. Because a third of our aesthetic judgment is shaped by the environment in which we were born, in which style of construction or furnishing. Our idea of ​​beauty is, so to speak, "socially inherited". The wallpaper in the children's room influences our ideals for the rest of life.

Why is that?

As soon as people perceive something repeatedly, their attitude towards this object improves. We rather like what we are familiar with. This effect increases the more you see something. And it is particularly effective when you are not aware of something.

Is that why modern architecture makes it so difficult for many people?

Modern architecture can hold its own if it takes into account the human need for green and nature, i.e. integrates many elements of natural environments.

So isn't the feeling of beauty changeable?

Those who deal intensively with architecture or interior design, such as studying architecture, for example, can change their ideals of beauty.

In addition to what you have learned, is there an innate sense of beauty?

In psychology there is the "savannah hypothesis": it says that people prefer landscapes that are rich in resources and that allow control of the dangers of wide views. Just like in the early history of humans, natural habitats with trees and other vegetation. This is exactly what the African savannah looks like. We still like places like this today.

Which public, urban spaces do we find attractive?

We like urban squares when they have seating, lots of green spaces and water elements. But they should also be well lit, well-kept and safe.

What are the most important elements of an ideal city?

How many people around me are good for me? And how many are too many and restrict me? Because urbanization will continue to advance in Germany, this is a central question of urban planning. Over 60% of us already live in cities. It is getting tighter, and apartments will be packed closer together in the future. If the number of people in cities grows too much, there is a "cocooning", the people retreat to their own apartment.

You certainly don't want that. What can you do?

We need people around us, but not too many. There is something like an optimal, medium density: As a person, you don't want to feel lonely, but you don't want to be under pressure. Classic examples of a too high density are the elevator or the full subway. But even a large, wide architectural void does not make us feel good. Pleasant spaces, including urban spaces, should offer space to dodge and at the same time be meeting places. Communication spaces are also important in larger houses. Stairwells are something like that. There are studies that show that the distances between apartment doors in houses determine the degree of neighborly relationships.

What should you pay attention to when buying a property?

Above all, a good connection to nature is important: I would make sure that you can look into the green, ideally even if you sit inside. And on a way to go out, i.e. on a terrace, garden or balcony. This significantly improves the quality of life.

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