Psychosocially supportive design in the indoor environment

Abstract: A built environment is psychosocially supportive, when its quality can strengthen or sustain the ability of an individual to perform his/her role, conduct him-/herself in society, and communicate or interact with others in accordance to his/her values, interest, and self-concept. The aim of this thesis was to investigate potential methods in design and re-design for identification, visualization, and evaluation of such environmental qualities. The thesis is divided into two main theoretical approaches of psychosocial supportiveness. The first approach, the psychoevolutionary, postulates that stress-related anticipation, negative evaluation, and harm as well as emotion and aesthetics affect the individual. Finding a methodology which reveals all these factors in terms of environmental qualities was one of the objectives of the first part of the thesis. An Empowering Environment Evaluation (Triple-E) tool was developed and tested in a hospital, a health care facility, and a railway operational environment. Initially, the Triple-E was a combination of a structured brainstorming session, a semantic environmental description, and an architectural aesthetical preference measure. The results of these building performance measures indicated, that participants' opinions about the negative environmental aspects with respect to psychosocial supportiveness were somewhat difficult to grasp. Nevertheless, the Triple-E tool provided sufficient information about the psychosocial qualities of the indoor environments to generate design scenarios. These scenarios were constructed using a research-based design model. The evaluation of the design scenarios showed that, overall, the indoor components like artificial light and windows appeared to be the most psychosocially supportive entities. The second approach, the attention restoration theory, postulates that an environment is psychosocially supportive when restoration of depleted mental resources can be achieved through four constructs (being away, extent, fascination, and compatibility). To detect restoration supportive environmental qualities, the architectural aesthetical preferences questionnaire was modified to be sensitive on restoration (the Built Environment Restoration Support (BERS)). Two studies were conducted, one in Sweden and one in the Netherlands. The aim of these was to identify, visualize, and evaluate restorative supportiveness. While the Swedish study was a CAD-based visualization, the Dutch study was a real environment. The framework for designing both scenarios originates from the perceptual model of Brunswik (1956). The combination of the most frequent distal and proximal cues provided the criteria for the restorative design scenarios. As a conclusion, environmental components such as carpets (Persian carpet, dark and thick, single color), windows (many and large), and doors (covered and closed) as well as view (a nice open garden with a lawn and a pond) and natural light (a lot of daylight and candle) might be some architectural details which facilitates restoration and, thus, psychosocial supportiveness in the indoor environment. The two theoretical approaches resulted in design scenarios and in both similar environmental components were identified in relation to psychosocial supportiveness. These common environmental features indicated freedom/control through the natural and artificial light and openings as well as safety/security through walls, floor, and ceiling. This duality of experience of psychosocial supportiveness in the indoor environment is possible to trace back to the very basic human instincts of survival in terms of escaping and shelter. Further exploration of psychosocial supportiveness in design is needed. As a scenario, the combination of the two theories into a process continuum with enhanced relations to indoor environmental details might be a clear application model for design professionals.