Monthly Archives: January 2012

Mapping: Users and Submissions.


This map shows (aprx.) where all of the posts are located and the nationalities of the users who submitted the posts.

Nationalities who have submitted: American, Australian, Dutch, Filipino, French, German, Jordanian

States that have been represented in submissions: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington.

Countries that have been represented in submissions: Australia, Belize, Brazil, China, Cuba, Estonia, France, Germany, Guatemala, Holland, India, Jordan, Korea, Latvia, Mexico, Philippines, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.


Environmental Psychology.

Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis

(the) happy spaces project is concerned with understanding “how the physical environment affects people’s happiness.” Essentially we are interested in how space affects human emotion and perception. The field of Environmental Psychology is, broadly, investigating human behavior and space. They are concerned with better understanding how the environment affects human behavior.

Three Definitions of Environmental Psychology

Stokols & Altman (1987): The study of human behavior and well-being in relation to the sociophysical environment.

Russell & Snodgrass (1987): The branch of Psychology concerned with providing a systematic account of the relationship between a person and the environment.

Bell, Fisher, Baum & Greene (1996): The study of the molar relationships between behavior experience and the built and natural environments.

Many spatial design projects take little responsibility for the fact that their designs have social impacts — some good, some bad, some neutral. Design projects associated with commercial ventures have embraced the power of space to influence consumption and purchasing habits. Unfortunately,  public spaces, health institutions, and private accommodation have not embraced the power of space to affect human psychology and behavior positively. Any space has the power to foster well-being, but understanding how a space can do that must be integrated into the design.

Apple Store NYC

In his article, Environmental Psychology: The study of human nature, reasonable behavior and durable living, Raymond De Young explains that environmental psychologists examine “the interrelationship between environments and human behavior.”  He explains that by understanding how humans are affected by their environments, “one can design, manage, protect and/or restore environments that enhance reasonable behavior.”

environmental Psychology defines environments broadly, they may include the natural, the built, the social, and the informational environments that surround us. It also uses the fields of  psychology, sociology, anthropology, biology, ecology in order to collect and process data.

Recurring elements of environmental psychology include attention, perception and cognitive maps, preferred environments, environmental stress and coping, and participation. The field also engages in a substantial amount of research that observes how the natural environment affects human behavior.

Environmental psychologist have proven through research that space does have an incredible influence on us as humans, and that we can design spaces that facilitate more productivity, comprehension, and well-being.

Below are quotes about the recurring elements from Raymond De Young’s article.


“Understanding human behavior starts with understanding how people notice the environment… enhancing people’s capacity to voluntarily direct their attention is a major factor in maintaining human effectiveness.”

Perception and cognitive maps

“Information is stored in the brain as spatial networks called cognitive maps… It is through these neural networks that humans know and think about the environment, plan and carry out their plans.”

Preferred environments

“People tend to seek out places where they feel competent and confident, places where they can make sense of the environment while also being engaged with it. Being involved and wanting to explore an environment requires that it have complexity (containing enough variety to make it worth learning about) and mystery (the prospect of gaining more information about an environment).”

Environmental stress and coping

“Humans can change their physical or social settings to create more supportive environments (e.g., smaller scaled settings, territories) where they can manage the flow of information or stress inducing stimuli.”


“The field… is concerned not only with promoting citizen comprehension of environmental issues but with insuring their early and genuine participation in the design, modification and management of environments.”

Natural Environment and Conservation

The field…explores conservation-related attitudes, perceptions, motivations and values as well as devises intervention techniques for promoting environmentally appropriate behavior at a variety of scales.

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Interview: Naomi Cleaver.

Naomi Cleaver is a design consultant and interior designer from the UK. She studied design at Willesden College of Technology and Kingston University. Naomi established echo design agency, has been a TV host for home design programs, and is the author of The Joy of Home.

Here are her thoughts on how space and happiness are related:

During your time at Willesden College of Technology and Kingston University was the idea of happiness discussed? 

Only in the bar! Seriously though, I seem to remember a general sense of joy as we went about our projects, most particularly at Willesden. I think when you are young, and especially if you are studying design, your main concern is pleasure in every part of your life, which of course can translate as angst and pain, but more often than not happiness. 

There was certainly no explicit discussion of the design of man-made environments possessing the potential for happiness.


How do you incorporate the ides of happiness into your work as an interior designer? 

I think one of the most effective ways to incorporate the concept of happiness into the design of a space or spaces is to ensure you exclude misery, that is to say to make a space easy to navigate or at least legible, easy to use, practical, fit for purpose, a pleasure to maintain, a space that is enhanced with age and use. To take this a step further I would say a happy space is one that engages in a meaningful way with its surroundings or site, that has that much vaunted “sense of place”. Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington College, political biographer and co-founder of the campaigning group Action on Happiness teaches lessons in happiness to his pupils, lessons that advocate psychological health, “connectedness and engagement….appreciating nature and art”. Just as these fine concepts can be a recipe for happiness for human beings so can they be for the buildings they inhabit.

To develop these thoughts further the conflation of the concepts of beauty and happiness is unavoidable but this is where we get into the subjective versus the objective. This is a vast savannah of debate and discussion, subject to the vicissitudes of history and culture. How long have you got?


In an interview for you said, “Our homes can dramatically enhance our quality of life.” How do the physical spaces we live, work, and play in affect our “quality of life” and happiness?

The spaces we inhabit can very easily affect our quality of life in scientifically proven ways. Limited daylight has been shown to cause depression. Limited volumes of space can create a sense of claustrophobia, and have recently been proven by Chinese and US scientists to compromise effectiveness in the workplace. Noise can be extremely upsetting and yet complete silence is not healthy either. The part of our brain that processes our sense of smell is located in, in evolutionary terms, the oldest part of our brain and this is why it can be the most visceral of our senses – bad smells illiciting in some cases violent emmetic reactions and pleasant smells provoking almost dream-like experiences.

If we then adjust our focus from psychological health and wellbeing to physical health we then need to consider issues of ergonomics and the effect of the substances we use to create our environments on our health and the health of the world in which we live.


When talking with other designers and clients does the idea of happiness come up? When it doesn’t come up in design conversations do you think that is because it is implied?

The idea of happiness and its role in a scheme is implicit. The difficulty here though is different people’s interpretation of happiness.


Do you think that happiness is an important component of design, one that should be more integrated into a designer’s education and practice? How would this be done?

As my answer above, the concept of happiness, of success and pleasure, is implicit in the design process. What would enhance design education and practice perhaps is an analysis of this implicit idea of happiness in terms of psychology and physiology – essentially how a human being works or doesn’t work in the context of the environments they inhabit. 

Is the facilitation of happiness something that can be designed or does the end user define happiness? 
Excellent question. No matter how much we as designers might endeavour to “design in happiness” happiness is not something anyone can control; it is an experience both spontaneous and subjective. I know I have been deliriously happy in what could be described as very ugly surroundings but the moment and the circumstances and the people I shared those circumstances with conspired to create a feeling of happiness. The task of the designer is to do the best job they can to remind people of what is useful and beautiful but in the end human beings are complex creatures and, thankfully, are not wholly subject to Orwellian mind-control.
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What I’m Reading Now.

Today I have been reading an online PDF, a lit. review prepared for the  Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (Melbourne, AU), The Relationship Between the Built Environment and Wellbeing: a Literature Review, by Iain Butterworth PhD. Butterworth explains, “Built environments that promote social interaction and participation will also afford the development of social networks, social ties, social support, sense of community, community cohesion and competence, and sense of place — all seen as important determinants of community mental well-being.”

Butterworth outlines eight pieces of how the built environment informs our emotional, psychological, and physiological well-being. Butterworth writes, “The built environment provides the setting and backdrop by which we live our lives, and impacts on our senses, our emotions, participation in physical activity and community life, our sense of community, and general wellbeing.”

Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care (1999).

Environment and Health

“Places are created and shaped by those in control of resources and with certain interests, which affects our degree of access to, and the way we use, those spaces. People living in particular localities may be prone to particular diseases if the aetiology of that disease is located in the environments in which they live. … Health disadvantage is exacerbated in socially and economically disadvantaged settings.”

Understanding that our relationship to services, facilities, and venues is a part of our well-being is crucial in planning at any scale. Bathrooms in homes are rarely more than a 30 second walk from anywhere in the house, offices can be up to one minute, but public parks often do not have one at all. Distance, walkability, and transportation are all important factors in siting a “space.” Where we are determines the kinds of positive and negative environmental factors we experience, are we breathing in clean air or smog? Location, regulations, and industry are all factors.

Aesthetics of Place

“Spaces, places and buildings are more than just props in people’s lives; they are imbued with meaning and resonance, as they symbolize people’s personal histories, interpersonal relationships, and shared events in people’s extended relationships, families, communities and wider culture.”

Spaces facilitate connection, and connection facilitates diversified interactions which make our life meaningful and dynamic. Some spaces ask us to participate with them, in them, around them, others feel discouraging of this. If interpersonal relationships and shared experience are associated with well-being and happiness how can we facilitate more of this through the aesthetics (not location or clarity) of a space?

Legibility and Orientation

“Humans have a strong drive to make sense of the environment and to be involved with it. We prefer environments that afford us safety, food and shelter. We are also motivated to locate environments where our curiosity will be stimulated, whilst at the same time affording a degree of certainty.”

From a design perspective, the legibility of an environment is assisted in many ways. The design of an entrance, the height and color of signage, the use of drawing and simple imagery, and the spatial organization of the interior and exterior spaces all communicate what the space is and how it wants to be used. Unmarked buildings don’t suggests that they are welcome to random visitors, whereas museums often have many signs and banners that plead you into the space.

Built Form and Sense of Community

“Sense of community has been defined as a feeling that members have of belonging…Sense of community reflects the symbolic interaction in which people engage as they use aspects of the physical environment… sense of community has been found to be enhanced by urban planning that encourages visual coherence, diversity and attractiveness of houses and other buildings; affords sufficient privacy; ensures residents have easy access to amenities, parks, recreation facilities and a town or neighbourhood centre; offers pedestrian-friendly spaces; provides streetscapes so that houses have views of the surrounding neighbourhood; encourages open verandas and low fences in order to encourage social interaction; and restricts motor traffic.”

When talking with Lina Srivastava, she mentioned how often she found public squares to be the happiest spaces because it allowed for any kind of interaction. You could hang out in a cafe, or hangout on the benches near a fountain, or you could play a game of pic-up soccer in a more vacant corner of the square, or you could meet up with friends as an easy meeting place. Unlike a restaurant or home, a public square facilities the ability to have interpersonal connections at any age or of any socio-economic bracket.

Transport and Physical Activity

“The built environment has a direct influence on people’s wellbeing inasmuch as it encourages or inhibits physical activity…Diversity of building design and land use promotes interaction, psychological interest in and attachment to one’s surroundings, a diversity of uses of buildings and space, and thus a diverse range of people who interact in the space spaces whilst pursuing their activities.”

I thought the idea that “diversity of building design” promotes positive interactions and a connection to place that drives people to incorporate space into their activities. Perhaps the design of the walkscape of buildings could also affect how people move through space in a way that positively affects their physicality. Buildings can also intentionally foster connections with transportation, with tunnels that lead to underground transit or special drop off/pick up and bus areas.

Safety and Danger

“Satisfaction with features of the local built environment has been found to play a major role in predicting perceived neighbourhood safety…if a space is unused, then it becomes (perceived as) dangerous, because there is no one else to observe the space and the interactions that occur.”

No space is ever completely safe, but that is not the point. How do we create environments where we feel safe. I think one step is ensuring the well-being of more populations. Generally we don’t seem afraid of our neighbor but rather the unfamiliar and different, through interactions with diverse populations perhaps we can begin dissolving the fear associated with the unfamiliar.

Privacy and Crowding

“People need both privacy and social interaction…Crowding, lack of privacy and control over one’s living space may damage social relationships, incite aggression, abusive behaviour, and substance abuse.”

Sensing this probably led to the development of the open floor plan, a space where interaction can happen from multiple spaces in a larger space and where privacy can be found in “resting” space such as bathrooms and bedrooms (though not always the case).

Participation and Empowerment

“The opportunity to participate in civic life has been identified as a core human need, and essential to the psychological health of individuals and communities. Aspects of the built environment influence participation, in terms of architectural design, population density, and control over environmental stressors; the geographical and built characteristics of a particular district, place or space”

Spaces can not be designed to “make” people vote or participate in their community, but they can facilitate a place that makes people feel safe and welcome and a space where they are encouraged to participate. Butter worth explains, “To create living cities and strengthen civic identity, people need to take an active role in claiming their sense of belonging by cultivating political debate over the quality of the built environment and the culture of cities.”

Space can foster our well-being and happiness but does not define it.

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Physical Environment V. Built Environment.

On (the) happy spaces project’s “About page” we described the purpose of the project as attempting “to create a synthesized understanding about how the physical environment affects people’s happiness.”

The physical environment includes all of your surroundings, those designed and those natural. The built environment is a part of the physical environment, but it is only that which is “designed.” It has been wonderful to see how posts deal with the physical, natural, and built environments — though both Gong and I deal with the world of design, acknowledging what about the physical and natural environments brings people happiness is crucial.

I was thrilled to stumbled across the Health Canada’s 1997 definition of the “Built Environment.” I have always loved the precision of definitions and thought I would share how the “Built Environment” is defined in the academic world.

The built environment is part of the overall ecosystem of our earth. It includes the land-use planning and policies that impact our communities in urban, rural, and suburban areas. It encompasses all buildings, spaces, and products that are created or modified by people. It includes our homes, schools, workplaces, parks/recreation areas, business areas and roads. It extends overhead in the form of electric transmission lines, underground in the form of waste disposal sites and subway trains, and across the country in the form of highways (Health Canada 1997, in McMackin 2005: 3).

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Australia Day.

Posts have been less frequent this last week as the internet in my St. Kilda house has not been working. Today I journeyed into the CBD in search of a Wi-Fi hot spot where I could watch the action of Australia Day.  It is a national holiday and all of the libraries and government services are closed (public transport is running).

There is such a wonderful sense of pride today, a pride that feels much more family oriented than the Fourth of July events I have been to. Essentially the whole downtown is closed to traffic and people are wandering with their families, stopping to play in public fountains or enjoying the events and food in the park. Federation Square has been playing a movie and the trams stop running past the arts precinct. there are bellows of laughter every few minutes followed by marching bands and Chinese lion dancers walking through the blocked off streets as if creating their own parade.

It has been an interesting journey trying to navigate this new country, but so wonderful to be a part of their national celebration.

Design slowly.

In thinking about the spaces that make me happy I have had to slow down substantially in order to observe what about a space contributes to my happiness.  Most are familiar with the “Slow Food Movement,” begun in 1986 by Carlo Petrini a Culinary Journalist. However, there are a plethora of “slow movements” that stem from Slow Money to Slow Fashion and even Slow Design and Slow Architecture. I have been exploring the world of “Slow Movements” and feel it speaks quite nicely to some of the ideas being explored in (the) happy spaces project.

“Daily life has become a cacophony of experiences that disable our senses, disconnect us from one another and damage the environment. But deep experience of the world — meaningful and revealing relationships with the people, places and things we interact with — requires many speeds of engagement, and especially the slower ones,” explain the designers from slowLab. SlowLab, a non-profit based in NY, works  “to promote slowness or what we call Slow-Design as a positive catalyst of individual, socio-cultural and environmental well-being.”

The idea of Slow Design, slowLab explains, does not refer to the duration of something but rather the thought process behind the design and design development. Slow Design refers to “an expanded state of awareness, accountability for daily actions, and the potential for a richer spectrum of experience for individuals and communities.”

The focus of Slow Design is not to design for the commercial market place but for the well-being of people and nature. Essentially through the process of Slow Design designers and consumers are supposed to benefit from a higher quality of life. In many of the conversations I have been having with contributors to (the) happy spaces project the idea of “quality of life” has come up.  However the focus is not on the material objects which improve our quality of life but rather the spaces we engage in and how they affect us emotionally. Some of the spaces we curate  ourselves to foster happiness and well-being (such as our homes), others are spaces we seek for how they foster happiness and well-being in us, some have been curated (such as a restaurant) others have not (such as nature).

In 2004 and 2005 a sustainable design facilitator, consultant, trainer, educator, and writer participating in the Slow Design conversation, Alastair Fuad-Luke, maintained a website devoted to facilitating the Slow Design conversation. On the site he outlined the philosophy and principles, process, and outcomes of Slow Design.

Philosophy and Principles
• Design to slow human, economic and resource use metabolisms
• Repositioning the focus of design on individual, socio-cultural and environmental well-being
• Design to celebrate slowness, diversity and pluralism
• Design encouraging a long view
• Design dealing with the ‘continuous present’ (a term coined in the 1950s by Bruce Goff, the American architect who noted that history is past and the future hasn’t arrived but that the ‘continuous present’ is always with us)
• ‘Design as a counterbalance to the ‘fastness’ (speed) of the current (industrial and consumer) design paradigm’

slow design is manifest in any object, space or image that encourages
a reduction in human, economic, industrial and urban resource flow metabolisms by:

• Designing for space to think, react, dream, and muse
• Designing for people first, commercialisation second
• Designing for local first, global second
• Designing for socio-cultural benefits and well-being
• Designing for regenerative environmental benefits and well-being
• Democratizing design by encouraging self-initiated design
• Catalyzing behavioural change and socio-cultural transformation
• Creating new economic and business models and opportunities

(the) Happy Spaces Project is asking users to acknowledge and document those spaces that facilitate happiness in themselves, their friends, their families. In a sense participants are Slow Designers, taking time to acknowledge, think about, and document that which brings them happiness, one aspect of emotional well-being.


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Analysis: Users and Submissions.

The Happy Space project is approaching 70 posts, here are some of the stats so far.

Nationalities who have submitted: American, Dutch, German, Jordanian

States that have been represented in submissions: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Vermont, Washington.

Countries that have been represented in submissions: Australia, Belize, Brazil, China, Cuba, Estonia, France, Germany, Guatemala, Holland, India, Jordan, Korea, Latvia, Mexico, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.


Response to Amy C.’s Email.

(Amy C.’s questions are in bold.)

Is happiness, in the context of our relationship to the natural and physical created world of spaces, a little like what Erich Fromm in The Art of Loving says about love –” Love isn’t something natural. Rather it requires discipline, concentration, faith and overcoming of narcissism.  It isn’t a feeling it’s a practice.”?

What discipline is required to cultivate happiness in our relationship to spaces, and the creation of spaces, which are meant to imbue happiness  – like classrooms and playgrounds and parks and public housing?

Boiled down the question is: What is required of designers in order to cultivate the happiness of others in the spaces that they create?

This question is essentially what the happy spaces project is attempting to help answer through the submissions. I don’t know what the full answer to this question is, but I think the first couple of steps are to begin to broaden our understanding of what elements of happiness are derived from space and an acknowledgement that the answer to that is slightly different for everyone.

So in terms of say a classroom, the classical values of an education teach us a lot about what allow the physicality of a classroom to foster happiness. For example, students should be able to focus and concentrate; studies show that light, ergonomic seating, and well designed acoustic spaces allow for people to focus for longer periods of time with less stress on their eyes, bodies, and ears, this reduction is stress could mean that there is more space for positive encounters, one type of happiness.

If we made happiness one of the criteria for school design what would change about how we design the spaces?  What if we also made this the center of our discussion in designing public housing – what practices would evolve?   How would the discussion change?

If we made happiness the criteria for any designed space what would  most likely  change would be the participation of the desired patron of the space. In a context where subjectivity comes highly into play, as is the case with happiness and spaces that foster happiness, the population whom the space is intended for will be the best gauge for what in a space will bring them the most happiness. Of course the discussion could be tricky, if you ask a group of 5 year olds what they want in a classroom space it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear “a candy store” or “a water slide” (those are things I would have loved as a 5-year-old – for a day) – but what you really want to know is, are there spaces they can go when they are tired and are there spaces where they feel engaged in they activity they are doing.

In terms of public housing, the discussion might change from one that is often direct by government committees and often doesn’t involve the demographic they are intending to serve to a patron input model. My experience working for a non-profit that conducts Human Impact Assessments, however, suggests that often community groups misjudge what is best for their environment and their collective health. As such it is crucial that in adopting a model that involves the intended users that the questions that are asked, help to critically investigate what brings them happiness in spatial situation – not just what the media or social norms suggests will bring them happiness.

I have noticed this shift in myself. Through investigations into what kinds of spaces bring me happiness I have observed that I am contented and happy in spaces that do not hold every aesthetic and practical element that I would like from a happy space. For example I would love if my bedroom had more light, but it has incredible morning light that shines right on my pillow and reveal the most delightful colors of the day.

In a culture that values the ‘pursuit of happiness” why do we so often design public projects for the young, the elderly, the sick and the poor without this as our primary aim?

I wish I knew. I think the intention behind many design projects is incredibly good, and rarely malice – but I am convinced that space and happiness are connected and there is a way to integrate them in the design of spaces.

What would it mean to the collective if we did integrate this into our shared dialogue about urban design and public projects?

The hope is that there would be more happiness, contentment, and wellbeing fostered.

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A different kind of email submission.

Earlier today I got this email (in bold) from Amy C. who has submitted multiple spaces to the project, and wanted to share it with the happy spaces community. I will be posting my reply in another post and would be thrilled to post your responses. Please send your responses, to or comment below.
I wonder if happiness in the context of our relationship to the natural and physical created world of spaces isn’t a little like what Erich Fromm in The Art of Loving says about love –” Love isn’t something natural. Rather it requires discipline, concentration, faith and overcoming of narcissism.  It it isn’t a feeling it’s a practice.”
 My question to the happy spaces project is what discipline is required to cultivate happiness in our relationship to spaces, and the creation of spaces which are meant to imbue happiness  – like classrooms and playgrounds and parks and public housing?
 If we made happiness one of the criteria for school design what would change about how we design the spaces.?  What if we also made this the center of our discussion in designing public housing – what practices would evolve?   How would the discussion change?
In other words in a culture that values the ‘pursuit of happiness” why do we so often design public projects for the young, the elderly, the sick and the poor without this as our primary aim?  What would it mean to the collective if we did integrate this into our shared dialogue about urban design and public projects?
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