Your Brain is Being Starved by Dull Architecture

architecture, boring, Brain, Starving

The construction industry, according to acclaimed designer Thomas Heatherwick, is in a state of crisis. He believes that buildings have become increasingly boring, lacking creativity, and aesthetic appeal. Heatherwick, known for his iconic designs such as London’s Routemaster bus and Google’s Bay View, argues that buildings today are too flat, too plain, too straight, too shiny, too monotonous, too anonymous, and too serious. He questions what has happened to architecture and urban spaces that have led to this overwhelming boredom.

Heatherwick goes further to argue that this boredom is not merely a nuisance but can also be harmful. He compares it to a state of psychological deprivation, where the brain suffers when deprived of sensory information. Boredom is described as the “starvation of the mind.” To support his argument, Heatherwick references the research of cognitive neuroscientist Colin Ellard. Ellard’s experiments have shown that people’s moods are significantly affected when surrounded by uninteresting, tall buildings. Heatherwick suggests that when people encounter boring buildings, their bodies go into a fight-or-flight mode, lacking anything for the mind to connect to.

The designer believes that the brain craves complexity and fascination, drawing parallels to the restorative power of nature. Psychological research conducted by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan in the 1980s supports this idea. According to Attention Restoration Theory, people’s concentration improves when they spend time in natural environments. Heatherwick emphasizes the need for buildings to provide complexity and captivate the mind, challenging the notion that less is more. Architects, in their pursuit of prioritizing internal spaces, have neglected the importance of the building’s exterior appearance. Heatherwick reminds us that buildings are the backdrop of society’s life, influencing how people feel and contributing to their overall experience.

However, Heatherwick points out the short-term thinking prevalent in the construction industry, where the public’s opinion is often disregarded. He recalls a debate among industry elites, in which they voted that the public’s opinion did not matter. This disregard for public sentiment has led to what he calls the “dirty secret of the construction industry”: its disastrous environmental impact. Heatherwick highlights the staggering number of buildings demolished each year, resulting in excessive carbon emissions. He argues for a shift towards “thousand-year thinking,” where buildings are built to last and take into account their long-term environmental impact.

The prevailing mindset in the construction industry, according to Heatherwick, is that form follows function, less is more, and ornament is a crime. However, he believes that emotions should also be considered a function and celebrated in the world of construction. The construction industry must adopt a more holistic approach, considering not only the practical aspects of a building but also its emotional impact on the people who inhabit its space.

In conclusion, Thomas Heatherwick raises valid concerns about the state of the construction industry. He argues that the prevalence of boring buildings is detrimental to society, leading to psychological deprivation and negative emotional responses. Architects need to prioritize the external aesthetics of buildings, considering their impact on the public’s experience and well-being. Additionally, the construction industry must shift towards long-term thinking, recognizing the environmental consequences of its actions and aiming for sustainability. By embracing complexity, fascination, and emotional resonance, the industry can create urban spaces that both captivate and nourish the human mind.

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