Using Architecture and Technology to Influence Behavior


Architecture as Modifier

Architecture has long been used to affect and improve the lives of those who interact with the “built environment” (archibabble for buildings and their immediate surroundings). Even the choice of paint color on the walls of a room can have a profound effect on the psychological state of those inside the room. Cool colors such as green and blue have a calming effect, while red can be very agitating.

Likewise, the access to daylight and views can also have a dramatic impact on the behavior of those using the buildings. Access to daylight has been proven to improve schoolchildren’s test scores and the productivity of office workers. Access to natural views from inside hospitals has demonstrated a statistically significant reduction in healing time. Architect Alvar Aalto split the difference with his library designs (including Oregon’s Mt. Angel Abbey library). Aalto designed the library spaces to allow for ample daylight, but without direct views to distract those studying inside.

Technology as an Aid to Architecture and Behavior

I’ve written about the use of technology in architecture, particularly with BIM tools. Just as technology can aid in the design of a building, it can also aid in the behavior modification in buildings.

Buildings account for a substantial proportion of energy used in the U.S. Programs such as the Net Zero Energy Buildings initiative seek to promote more more energy-efficient building design. However, the behavior of the users of a building may also need to be changed in order to get the maximum benefit of the high-tech energy-saving features of a building.

Just as there is a strong correlation between daylight and behavior, there is a strong connection between daylight and energy use in a building. A good balance is needed to maximize the use of daylight (which reduces the need for electric lighting) without introducing too much solar heat gain (which increases the need for air conditioning). Simple devices such as blinds can allow for control of daylight and reduce electric light use. However, human behavior can be strange sometimes, and technological aid may be needed. For example, studies have shown that in spaces where blinds are available, people will shut the blinds if the daylight becomes too bright. However, when it starts to get too dark in the space, people will turn on the electric lights rather than opening the blinds again. Designing buildings with automatic shade controls can overcome this perverse behavior.

Put Away That @%$^# Cell Phone!

One of the best ways I’ve seen recently of architecture modifying behavior comes from a project in Vancouver BC that aims to get people to put away their cell phones. Certainly, smart phones have allowed us an amazing degree of connectedness to the InterWebs and each other. The downside of this is the almost pathological degree of dependency that we now have on these devices. It’s not uncommon to see groups of people in public, not talking with each other but rather pecking away on their phones.

Recently, a perhaps apocryphal story came out about how smart phone use in restaurants has caused the wait times to increase substantially. While this story has the smell of an urban legend about it, it did touch on a raw nerve, and generated a lot of response. Call me an old curmudgeon if you will, but I think the prevalence of smart phones causes a lot of rude and selfish behavior in public, and has reduced real human interaction.


A design project in Vancouver BC has found an interesting way to put a stop to this behavior. The Faraday Cafe is a small coffee bar that prohibits its customers from using their wireless devices. No, it doesn’t ask it’s customers to behave and not stick their schnozzes into their phones, rules which can easily be flouted (“Sorry, this is important!”), it actually uses technology to prevent it.

Created by artist Julien Thomas and Hughes Mahler Condon Architects, the coffee bar uses the principal of a Faraday cage to block electromagnetic signals that cell phones and other wireless devices use. Essentially, the space is enclosed by a fine metal mesh that shields it from electromagnetic radiation – the same technology that make tinfoil hats so effective!

faraday cafe cage

By eliminating the possibility of cell phone use, the Faraday Cafe forces its patrons to actually interact directly with one another. So far, it has been very popular, even though it is effectively an installation that will only be open for a few weeks. However, the widespread positive community response it has generated will perhaps give an impetus for the creation of permanent bars and restaurants that will feature this technology that limits self-absorbed behavior.

To see how Tesseract Design can help you modify behavior with cool architectural design, please see