Architecture, whether good or bad, has the objective at it's heart of evoking emotions of one kind or another. Although, clearly, some examples of architecture fail to evoke the emotions the designers might have been aiming for. From the ghastly sink estates of Great Britain to the opulence and splendour of the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, emotions will be present to one degree or another for every occupant and visitor. All the more reason for the wise architect to buy plenty of professional indemnity insurance!

It's no coincidence that those occupants of the worst places to live are plagued by illnesses indicative of deep-seated unhappiness while those lucky enough to live in the grandest and most attractive examples of architectural significance tend to be amongst the happiest and most successful demographic. Here, we will look at some of the reasons that our happiness, or lack thereof, can be influenced in some part by our surroundings.

How we react to our surroundings

We humans are greatly influenced by our surrounding environment, and by the aspirational culture we live in today - particularly the over fifties! It is only natural, therefore, that our happiness, while not entirely decided by architecture and our environment, is certainly influenced to a degree by buildings and places we visit, live in, and have attachments to. It's also true that different people will experience entirely different emotions, often at the same time, in the same building or place of architectural significance.

How does architecture manage to affect emotions?

Materials, innovative use of light, control of sound travel along with thousands of other variables all have the effect of creating greatly differing emotional journeys through architecture. While we now know that architecture does indeed have effects on our emotions and feelings of happiness, that knowledge alone is not particularly illuminating. We should look at the extent to which we are affected by it, which will, of course, vary hugely from person to person.

Architecture influences our mood and our happiness. However, it does not follow that our happiness is determined by it, and it would be ridiculous to suggest otherwise. Subjectivity comes into play as well, because there will be people who have no interest in or appreciation of any architecture, and therefore, even the grandest examples will have no impact on their mood or feelings of well-being.

Human reaction to architecture

Architecture in the simplest explanation is just "space". What is done with that space will determine how we react to it. Many aspects of architecture are more appreciated, and therefore, evoke more emotion in, those who have an eye for it, or professional involvement in it. In more recent times, however, much has been done and written about making new examples appeal to the uninitiated and untrained eye, and it is in this way that the subject appeals more and more to the layperson.

How can buildings influence positive emotion?

To understand the reasons why architecture is emotionally affective, it's necessary to take a general look at overall human emotional make-up. For example, the reasons why we take showers, dress well and take pride in our appearance, as well as the fact we want people to see us in a particular way, much of our behaviour in general is driven by our attempts to achieve the ever changing feel good factor. In relation to architecture, that feel good factor can be achieved additionally by controlling our environment and the buildings we occupy. In this way, our surroundings can become an extension of ourselves, and the way others perceive or judge us can be extended from our own physical appearance to include the aesthetics of the environment in which we live.

There are, however, no simplistic or generalised explanations available. Human moods and the things that affect them are as wide-ranging and varied as the architectural landmarks we enjoy and occupy. To end, I think it would be sufficient to say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Where architecture is concerned, that well-coined phrase has never been more apt.