There is little question but that architecture is a regulator of human behavior. What sites and facilities look like and function as play key roles in the way people respond to and even participate in what they have to offer. The emergence of a number of fields of study on issues as diverse as health care practices and the habits of crime and safety as well as the developing field of New Urbanism all take for granted that the physical structures on which we depend impact the ways we reflect the world we live in -- for good and for bad. The American Psychological Association's Task Force on Urban Psychology put it this way: "urban psychology proposes that the mix of people and places that make up the urban setting affects psychological functioning and development in these settings" (APA, nd: vi) But exactly how it does this symbolically, directly and even with biases expectations remains unclear at this point even as an entire movement in this direction is clearly underway. Architecture regulates behavior in many ways and needs to be viewed as a powerful tool for change (Shaw and Kesan, 2007).
How physical structure affects behavior is actually fairly well understood. Architects, of course, but even city and state planners have known this for some time and have undertaken specific actions to ensure that their communities respond to this (Ellis, 2002:261-262). For example, there are many efforts to make communities safer from crime (and now terrorism) by looking at how the physical makeup promotes a place where people want to be together. Ellis (2002) and Shaw and Kesan (2007) have linked this in various ways to how some buildings, like court houses, for example, use marble and sturdy materials to convey a sense of trust and confidence. If community places use their own approaches to convey a sense of safety and participation, there is good reason to believe that local will actually be safer and more secure. In a similar way, studies are clear on how well designed learning environments that were built and furnished properly do better at their task of encouraging educational goals (Shaw Kesan, 2007:5). Clean, maintained, student-friendly classrooms and physical facilities that are well lighted, comfortable in temperature, and welcoming encourage students to want to be there and, as such, they perform better.
Two of the most extensive fields of interest in this area in general can be seen, for example, in the way that mental health and health care facilities are being designed with very direct attention being given to the ways that the physical spaces impact care and recovery. This topic has been of major significance in Veteran's health programs where the government has taken an active role in integrating structure and function ideals. Notes the Department of Veteran's Affairs in their December 2010 Design Guide for Mental Health Facilities,
Recovery is promoted not only in the therapeutic program, but also in the facility design. Patient care areas that incorporate natural light, access to exterior environments, color, art, pleasant furnishings, and other components of a warm environment have been shown to advance healing and recovery. Additionally, promoting positive socialization and engagement, while also providing opportunities for controlling one's social environment, is critical to successful treatment and the recovery process (Veteran's Affairs, 2010:2-3).
In a related way, there is a growing, larger movement toward the development of a New Urbanism mentality that takes a look at the overall planning and physical layout of the cities and dense population areas where more people now live. This perspective "supports a pattern of urbanism based on historic neighborhoods, incorporating diversity and walkability in order to allow for personal interaction and an active lifestyle. The ultimate goal is a better quality of life, enabled by a functioning urban framework" (LISC, 2010) Though deemed somewhat controversial -- perhaps as being too idealistic in concept and not clear on what it can really accomplish -- there is still a great deal of attention to what this has to offer the domain of environmental psychology (Ellis, 2002). The overall goal of this effort is to filter back in the human scale of living resources. For example, it is often noted that close-up buildings, porches on homes, and the ready availability of commercial and public resources adds a different character to the places and…