Have you ever noticed the feeling you get after a long day around a lot of people? In a few words, I would guess the response to be: leave me alone. Why is that? What is it about certain environments that leave us so drained? My answer is this: poor control of privacy. Properly applied, responsive levels of privacy in the design of shared spaces have the potential to greatly improve the quality of interaction between people as well as the quality of work done.
Thanks to environmental psychology research, we know that our surroundings have more of an impact on us than just a form of shelter. The field of environmental psychology undertakes questions of privacy, and researches how an interrelation between human behavior and the surrounding physical or built environment are played out. Among the key concepts of this field of research is that of privacy, personal space, and territoriality.
When trying to describe how the feeling of privacy can be a force that can draw people together, my mind conjures images of Bill Murray stuck in a tree. This is a scene in the movie Get Smart, and aptly portrays the effects of forced or prolonged isolation – a sort of internal force that drives us together. Bill’s character, through a string of events, is temporarily relocated to a security check point… in a tree. He has no contact, desirable or otherwise. This leads him to deeply crave interaction, at the end of the clip Bill pleads Steve Carell to not leave him alone.
Too much privacy is not a good thing, but neither is too little. Having too little privacy leads us to turn inwards, trying to create a sense of isolation. At times, our world many feel the constant push to be connected to others, and this constant connection can damage our ability and desire to connect with others.
Imagine two people, one lives in a crowded city and the other in the country. The first is much closer to their neighbors, yet the latter is far more likely to make the effort to speak with their neighbors. A friend of mine would walk a mile each day just to chat, because that was how far it took to be with people. We don’t usually speak to our neighbors anymore, and I firmly believe it is because we are fighting levels of privacy placed upon us not by us.
According to researchers of the Shahid Beheshti University and the Bauhaus University Weirmar, “We should attempt to design responsive environments, which allows easy alternation between a state of separateness and a state of togetherness. If privacy has a changing dialectic quality, then ideally architects should offer people environments that can be responsive to their changing desires for contact or absence of contact with others.”
Bronwyn Wismer Henry
As an undergrad at the University of Houston’s College of Architecture , Bronwyn brings fresh eyes and an eagerness to learn and participate in the field. As a recipient of the 2017 Otto Grove Scholarship from the Association for Learning Environments, Bronwyn brings an awareness of the importance of humanizing one’s experience in built spaces. Through this essay based scholarship, she researched and applied theory of environmental psychology - more specifically the influence of the designed and built world over one’s mental and physical health - to a list of theoretical improvements to her own college building.