Stuff We Already Knew

Saturday's _Wall Street Journal_, included a Jonah Lehrer column, "Building a Thinking Room", about recent discoveries on how building interiors affect the mind.

Today, it turns out, the real cutting edge of architecture has to do with the psychology of buildings, not just their appearance. Recently, scientists have begun to focus on how architecture and design can influence our moods, thoughts and health. They've discovered that everything—from the quality of a view to the height of a ceiling, from the wall color to the furniture—shapes how we think.

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It's not just color. A similar effect seems to hold for any light, airy space. In 2006, Joan Meyers-Levy, a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota's school of management, studied the relationship between ceiling height and thinking style. She demonstrated that, when people are in a high-ceilinged room, they're significantly better at seeing the connections between seemingly unrelated subjects. In one experiment, undergraduates came up with nearly 25% more connections between different sports, such as chess and basketball, when sitting in a loft-like space than in a room with an 8-foot ceiling. Instead of focusing on particulars, they were better able to zoom out and see what various things had in common.

This is'nt news to anyone who's visited Wright's original workspace on the second floor of his home in Oak Park, or Wright's studio, or drafting areas at Taliesin, or Taliesin West, or Alden Dow's home in Midland, Michicgan, or the tower in the Auditorium Building where Adler & Sullivan had their offices. Or visited a gothic church, or the US Capitol Building, or the Library of Congress, or any one of the thousands high-ceilinged, light-filled human structures built to inspire creativity, intellectual advancement and sense connections between the mundane and the sacred.

The concluding line of the column: "One day, we might be able to firmly ground the forms of architecture in their mental functions." Oh, for a future utopia where our buildings are designed by a cadre of professionals, with extensive training and study of architectural history.