What if architecture were inspired more by science than by art?

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Toward a Science of Design
What if architecture were inspired more by science than by art?
Sauerbruch Hutton, KfW Westarkade, Frankfurt / Photo: Igor Prahin

People spend nearly 90% of their time indoors, and we are surrounded by buildings the rest of the time, since most of us live in cities now. More and more research confirms that high-performance design can have significant benefits for health and wellbeing. Just last month, a Harvard study found that design can double or triple cognitive performance. Furthermore, as I show in my book, a growing wealth of science in various fields reveals that certain shapes, patterns, textures, and colors–the designer’s toolkit–are both widely appealing and beneficial for mental and physical health, in some cases lowering stress by as much as 60 percent. Yet, few architects seem to know this research at all, much less explore it in their work, and some reject it as “retreats to mystical order.” Designers typically treat even the more familiar evidence (e.g., the benefits of natural light and fresh air) as incidental, not instrumental to design, and the untapped possibilities remain substantial. If every architect understood more about the science of wellness and the mechanics of attraction, how much healthier and happier could everyone in or near buildings become?

The Economic Impact of Design
According to current estimates, the built environment represents a staggering 87 percent of global GDP–$37 trillion in the US alone. As expensive as buildings are to build, the initial costs can account for as little as 5-10 percent of what an owner will pay over the lifetime of a building. Yet, few architects are trained in the economics of architecture, and the most famous architects–the ones most likely to be labeled “artists”–are notorious for budgets overruns and long-term maintenance problems. […]

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