Designing for needs vs. pleasure in 2021 and beyond

According to the Cambridge dictionary, architecture is defined as ‘the art and practice of designing and making buildings’ – but any ‘clued up’ would be hard-pressed to simply design a square box with windows and present it to a client.

Regardless of the type of structure we’re creating – be it for healthcare, education, retail, or residential – each concept is brimming with ideas and a desire to truly push the envelope. But, as we strive to break boundaries, have we forgotten why buildings are created in the first place?

Arguably, each construction should be erected to serve the purpose with which it was conceived – so, when does the practical brief stop and the desire to create a talking point start to take over, and should we stop and take notice?

As Winston Churchill once said: “We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us,” – when considering the repair of the bomb-ravaged House of Commons. While we’re no longer living in post-War Britain, the sentiment still rings true – the environments we find ourselves in can have a significant impact on our mood.

If we look back through history, design has always played a significant role in society, but at a time when real estate is often deemed a marker of commercial – and residential – success, are we all in danger of missing the point?

Of course, functional architecture rarely equates to the creation of uninspiring ‘boxes’, but find the right architect and you can seamlessly blend the two concepts – but first, it’s important to establish the vision for the use of the space, before wondering how best to bring it to life.

As more of us flock to urban living – blending our work, home, and social lives within a few square miles, city designers are re-thinking buildings’ influence on our moods in an era of neuroarchitecture – succinctly described as ‘designing with the mind in mind’.

While we all aspire to create homes which foster a sense of sanctuary in which to hide away from the outside world – there’s a lot to be said for the way commercial design can make us feel, too. From the workplace to our shopping experience, the discussion around designing for needs vs. pleasure has long-since been debated.

Data centre design

The Reid Brewin Architects team is known primarily for its work in the SciTech sector, the confidential nature of which lends itself more towards the ‘designing for needs’ camp – and the ‘big square box’ type of design. Yet, there is scope to tip the scales in the balance of pleasure.

Recent design concepts for a Spanish research centre saw the RBA team striving to avoid the monotonous narrow corridors often associated with research laboratories – replacing them with multipurpose spaces which amplify the ‘living’ sounds of people within the building.

Way back in 2017, neuroscientist Kate Jeffrey told the Conscious Cities conference that we’re “creatures of the place we’re in,” and it’s a fact that we – as designers – mustn’t ignore. Increasing access to psychological studies empowers architects to give thought to how the environments we find ourselves in can stimulate our senses or affect our mood.

Of course, while the events of 2020 brought this sentiment firmly under the microscope – from the minutiae of what we want from our workstations through to how willing we are to commute into an office.

A few months ago, Gérald Darmon, head of science and technology at DDRA – and consultant for Reid Brewin Architects – blogged about the various elements we must consider when designing for SciTech including the notion that sealed, windowless pods with LED lighting can be counterbalanced by providing access to calming and creative spaces, with access to, or at least views of, the outdoors.

While the jury is still out on whether ‘function and purpose’ should triumph over ‘aesthetically-satisfying add-ons’, there’s an argument to say a happy marriage between the two is the most sensible solutions – striving to achieve the perfect equilibrium between the practicality and pleasure.

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