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14 VIEWS


VIEW POINT


Camilla Siggaard Andersen of Arup explores how, regardless of the construction industry’s myriad motives, the worth of projects that architects and designers create is ultimately about their social value – how they shape peoples’ lives


W


hy do we build? Depending on who you ask in the building industry, the answer to this


question is certain to vary. Architects, engineers, and designers may be passionate about shaping structures that leave a physical imprint on the natural world. Builders and entrepreneurs could be attracted by the power to construct and assemble disparate parts into a whole. For developers, the drive might be the thrill of finding and closing gaps in the market, or indeed, the urban fabric itself. Across these and many more sub-sectors, we are united by a motivation to build – to add pieces to the puzzle that becomes “the built environment”. When populations and, in turn, industries


grow, we construct ever more complex structures, find astute technical solutions, and engineer economic models to help us


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meet the bottom line. We have largely succeeded in answering to the demand by continuously supplying bigger, taller, longer, and, more recently, greener projects. But is this enough? I’m not convinced. Winston Churchill famously said:


“We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us”. Since then, an abundance of research has reinforced the truth of the statement. In his book ‘Happy City’, Charles Montgomery explains how the design of hallways in buildings determines the likelihood of neighbours becoming friends. He also points out that your ability to concentrate at work may be linked to whether you were subjected to traffic jams en route. The former is a product of building design, the latter, of car-centric urban planning. In 2007, the BBC reported that people with ‘dirt exposure’ could benefit from a


healthier, happier hormonal balance, while Dr Frances E. Kuo has published research since the early 2000s showing that urban greening reduces aggression and crime in inner cities. Yet, green space is still often regarded as a nice-to-have amenity, or a tick-box exercise.


An analysis of the 2016 US presidential election by The Atlantic suggests that places which invite diversity through mixed land use, building stock, and functions either create or attract more people with left-wing political views, while the opposite is true for places that are more uniform. And at the most basic level, researchers working at the intersection of architecture and neuroscience, such as Colin Ellard, Oshin Vartanian, and Moshe Bar, have demonstrated how our brain interprets the shapes, textures, and colours of the built environment. As it turns out, we are


ADF SEPTEMBER 2019


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