How many spaces have you walked into that just have that one element that is ‘off’?
The focus of design is centered around catering to the human needs in terms of how we interact with our environment through our senses. Our reaction to spaces depends so much upon our first impressions of smell, touch, sounds, visuals, and in some cases taste! This puts a lot of pressure on designers to create spaces that appeal to the senses without overloading any one of them. I would argue that smell and light are two of the biggest instant turnoffs for people deciding whether to return to a space. With this being stated smell is more of a ‘personal’ owner/occupant problem that is, for the most part, out of the architect/contractor’s control past the first few months of building operation. Light, however, is in the control of designers and plays a major role in the way people interact with spaces. Light affects mood, health, and overall length of stay in a space.
A recent study was conducted by the University of Minnesota Interior Design Program that shows the importance this factor has on spaces. In her study Dee Ginthner displayed that the lighting where vertical meets horizontal (such as hallways) is crucial for safety reasons but that the materiality of the walls makes as much of a difference for the user as adequate brightness does. As you can see by the picture an all white hallway causes visual problems (especially in aging eyes) because the value and hue of the walls and ceilings are indistinguishable. This can really be seen in late 1980s to early 1990s hospital hallways. The other type of hallway that causes problems is one that is too reflective such as one that has polished stone floors with tile or reflective metal walls. When too much light bounces around the visual sense essentially becomes overloaded.
These problems are easy to overlook when designing a space, especially one that uses more high end finishes. In the design of spaces, I see this issue as being one that is commonly underfleshed out. While a lot of architects accomplish this feat with great excellence in terms of natural light, many neglect the importance of artificial light within an area. Rooms which do not have access to natural light should have the tone of the area considered with top priority. Poor or ‘blight light’ can ruin the users experience equally as much as misplaced or constrained spaces. The intangible property of light makes it difficult to categorize it with physical materials such wood or steel but this notion is greatly overshadowed when the two worlds collide within the design profession.
1. Ginthner, Delores. Lighting: Its Effect on People and Spaces. Implications newsletter by InformDesign. Volume 2 Issue 2. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. 13 June 2012. Print.