Architecture and emotion

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Perhaps this drawing by Leon Krier syncs with thoughts by Nikos Salingaros. (Krier)

Architecture causes changes in the emotions and feelings of those who see it, use it, live it. Powerfully felt or hidden in the subconscious, our reaction to our environment pleases or displeases, attracts or repulses, according to rules that are becoming less obscure with each passing year. A top investigator of this phenomenon is architectural theorist and mathematician Prof. Nikos Salingaros, of the University of Texas at San Antonio, who guest lectures at many other universities around the world. He was interviewed by the journal ArchiImpact, in Barcelona, which published his thoughts in English.

Architecture conveys “information” that is ordered or random, understandable or baffling. Salingaros believes that better feelings are naturally generated in humans by architecture that evolved by trial and error down over time, from builder to builder over thousands of years. That sort of architecture became naturally molded to our psyches, as a pair of jeans becomes naturally molded to our legs – fitting better, looking better.

In this micro-interview, Salingaros compares how buildings communicate to us with how people communicate with each other.

Communication with other humans obeys the same principles. We welcome and thrive on one-on-one interchanges with other persons. We are able to exchange ideas and complex messages. Not only the words of what we say matter, but most important are the simultaneous moods created by voice tone, musicality, cadence and rhythm; all of these contribute to a healthy conversation with another person. This process of emotional communication can be expanded to include other persons. However, a limit may be reached when too many people are talking at once, and the message becomes jumbled and random. We no longer find such a situation healing.

The dominant architecture today has only existed for a century and has not developed a coherent architectural language – and apparently it does not want to. Each modernist architect wants to do something new or different, and hence there has been no growth of a pattern language. This, Salingaros believes, causes it to generate feelings that people naturally try to resist, as they normally seek to resist incoherence, and, if they fail, the emotions that arise can be negative, or even unhealthy, causing vertigo or even illness.

Most of this is clearly evident to most people, but society has become infatuated with design of the second rather than the first type, and we have become trapped in a prison whose walls are infested with incoherence. So we need someone capable of bridging the intellectual gap and thus able to lead society from conventional wisdom back to common sense. Salingaros is leading the way in that most vital endeavor.

The drawing by Leon Krier atop this post is not directly related to the thoughts of Nikos Salingaros, but I am sure they have much in common.


About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
This entry was posted in Architects, Architecture, Architecture Education, Architecture History, Art and design, Urbanism and planning and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Architecture and emotion

  1. Pingback: Architecture and Emotion | P2P Foundation

  2. Pingback: Architecture and emotion – b19y

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