Psychology is key to everything we build: part 2.


Dr Paul Hanna, Senior Associate & Chartered Psychologist

New voices of the built environment.

Read part 1 here.

Rethinking healthcare design and provision

Psychology can enable a rethink of healthcare settings which places the specific needs, aspirations, concerns and desires of patients, their carers, and staff at the heart of design and implementation. This can be co-produced to ensure that in addition to meeting clinical excellence requirements, there is a sense of connection, enhancing patient-staff interaction and leading to better health outcomes. It can offer up a range of designs with health and wellbeing benefits (e.g. biophilic design principles) for which there is psychological evidence – to enable collective decision-making on how each department might look. These sorts of insights can help us work with patients, carers and staff to think through how they engage with healthcare. They provide new understandings of the spaces and broader concepts within, e.g. shifting the perception of hospitals so that the thought of them does not bring up negative emotions. These can hinder people in a) presenting to services, or b) their experience if they do present (in short, if we dread a place, we will likely focus on the negative elements of that place when we experience it). We can offer a rethink of the healthcare facility in much the same way as the Alder Hey Hospital presents itself as a ’children’s health park’.

Psychology and sustainability

As highlighted above, actual building performance sometimes doesn’t match up to the performance suggested through the modelling process, and often it is human interaction with the space which causes this mismatch. Here, psychology can help us better understand why some people engage in sustainable behaviours, why others don’t and, perhaps more importantly, the techniques and interventions we can use to engage more people in sustainable behaviours and encourage them to act in ways that better align with our modelling.

Finally, psychologists have suggested that part of the reason for the high and much-publicised levels of anxiety and distress in everyday contemporary society is the result of our detachment from the natural world. We have extensive evidence for the benefits of engaging with nature in terms of positive individual mental health, as well as evidence that shows wellbeing enhancement for individuals who engage in pro-environmental practices and behaviours. Therefore, rather than seeing human-centric and planet-conscious concerns pulling us in different directions, psychological insights can help us to think about these concerns as intrinsically linked.

Through such harmony we have the foundations for a truly sustainable future.