Before planning any new build, architects and builders should always consider the importance of social space within a building. Social architecture is the conscious design of an environment that encourages a desired range of social behaviours. Social psychologist Kurt Lewin (1936) designated this equation as: B = f (p,e) which stands for “Behavior is the function of a person within their environment.”
Our physical environment can significantly influence the social interactions among the people who live and work within it. For example, physical distance is a major factor of social influence. In a study of engineers, it was found that the majority of their work-related information came from the people within six feet of their primary work area. The importance of verbal and nonverbal language between people is crucial, but more recently, it has been suggested that barriers to these nonverbal cues may reduce the overall efficiency of communication. A good example of this, email and texting has made work processes quicker, but certain words and tone can often be misinterpreted – which may lead to potential mistakes.
When designing interior spaces, there are a number of suggestions to help support and encourage social interactions. Having large windows in a room, as opposed to no windows, has been known to increase social desirability – the bigger, the better. Studies have shown that a person’s mood and emotion can be easily improved by introducing natural light.
Furniture can also help encourage social interaction if the arrangement removes barriers between people (for example, a circle of comfortable chairs works better than rows of desks). Configurations that allow open, face-to-face orientations with other team members encourage social interaction more than those that don’t. Tailored social spaces have started to exist in forward-thinking companies like Google – introducing new office concepts that support a fun, flexible, yet productive work experience.
As a society, we are already finding ourselves more and more removed from those around us as technology continues to connect us. When it comes to the next generation of architectural design, developing strong social spaces will be particularly important – making people feel more at home and comfortable to socialize within the space.
“There is no doubt whatever about the influence of architecture and structure upon human character and action. We make our buildings and afterwards they make us. They regulate the course of our lives.” – Winston Churchill, addressing the English Architectural Association, 1924