Why Design Matters


We were inspired by Sarah Williams Goldhagen's recent book Welcome to Your World: How the Built Environment Shapes Our Lives, for its poetic argument on why design matters. As fellow advocates for the importance and necessity of good design, we were impressed with the author's data-driven links between the neuroscience of architecture and the built environment. Below are a few excerpts that caught our attention and we hope they will catch yours as well. 

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"One recent study of the learning progress of 751 pupils in classrooms in 34 different British schools identified six design parameters - color, choice, complexity, flexibility, light, and connectivity - that significantly affect learning, and demonstrated that on average, built environmental factors impact a student's learning progress by an astonishing 25 percent."

"The difference in learning between a student in the best designed classroom was equal to the progress that a typical student makes over an entire academic year."

"Humans crave and need access to the outdoors and to nature and suffer in its absence, yet few of us appreciate how fundamental that need is. Contact with nature confers on people salutary effects that are nearly immediate. Twenty seconds of exposure to a natural landscape can be enough to settle a person's elevated heart rate. Just three to five minutes will suffice to bring high blood pressure levels down. Nature quite literally, heals us: hospital patients recovering from gallbladder surgery, when placed in rooms with views of deciduous trees instead of rooms facing a brick wall, healed so much more quickly that they were released from the hospital nearly a full day earlier."

"The typical suburban neighborhood, scaled to the view at thirty or forty miles per hour, and to the turning radius of the steering wheel, is designed for driving over biking. One result is that many such developments promote lifestyles so sedentary and auto-dependent that America, and increasingly much of the developed world, is facing an avoidable public health crisis. As public health authority Richard J. Jackson bluntly puts it, "the more time we spend in a car, the more likely we are to be obese - and this is without even taking into account the enervating, resource-and time-draining costs of commuting. An auto-bound, sedentary lifestyle is part of why nearly 40 percent of adult Americans are obese, and fully 70 percent are overweight - compromising people's cardiovascular health and muscular capacity, and greatly increasing their vulnerability to type 2 diabetes."

"The more we learn about how people actually experience the environments in which they live their lives, the more obvious it becomes that a well-designed built environment falls not on a continuum stretching from high art to vernacular building, but on a very different sort of continuum: somewhere between a crucial need to a basic human right."