Constructivism and Gestalt


Piano (Photo credit: me5otron)

Constructivism was initially the architectural equivalent of expressionism in art and a symptom of the new found love affair with expressing the innermost qualities of human psychology. The early constructionist works – putting their obsession with technology aside – were breaking down the boundary between art and life – or more accurately the boundary between art and certain aspects of human physiology and psychology. The physiological aspects – with the ‘skeletons’ and ‘vessels’ of buildings exposed – would ultimately influence the externalised frame and pipework of Piano and Rodger’s Pompidou Centre in Paris.
However, the psychological aspects, in terms of representation and effect were equally important. Gestalt psychology was founded in Germany in the 1910s and its influence extended across Europe, including Russia. Arguing originally against the structuralists (who took the position that phenomena could be pared down to


Psychology (Photo credit: 田村)

certain primitive perceptual elements) the Gestaltists maintained that psychological phenomena could only be understood if considered as organised wholes, or Gestalten


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.

In designing and constructing environments in which people live and work, architects and planners are necessarily involved in influencing human behavior. While Summer (1969, p.3) asserted that the architect “in his training and practice, learns to look at buildings without people in them,” it is clear that from, for example, Howard’s Garden Cities of To-morrow (1902), through Le Corbusier Ville Contemporaries and La Ville radiuses’, to the Smithson’s’ ‘Streets in the sky’, there has been a long-standing thread of recognition that the way people live their lives is directly linked to the designed environments in which they live. Whether the explicit intention to influence behavior drives the design process—architectural determinism (Broadly, 1966: see future blog post ‘POSIWID and determinism’)—or whether the behavior consequences of design decisions are only revealed and considered as part of a post-occupancy evaluation (e.g. Zeisel, 2006) or by social scientists or psychologists studying the impact of a development, there are links between the design of the built environment and our behavior, both individually and socially.



Richard Whitehall is an industrial designer and partner at Smart Design where he works to design what he calls “responsible behaviour”. I found this great article, , where you can see exactly what goes on daily at this industrial designer’s desk.
I like this article because within it are some gems that might help you design places for better occupant interactions. Here are some of his ideas that I think make his designs successful — really promoting green human behaviour…
1 — Persuade people through cues.
2 — It’s important to observe people using a product or design. The way they say they use them is often not how they use them. Plus, your view as a designer may be entirely different than their view. You should consider both.
3 — Go for changing “small practices” with your design. All of these will eventually add up and make a big difference.
4 — Use texture, instead of adding more materials to get a “decorative effect”
5 — Aim to “optimize the efficiency” of a user.
6 — An idea is to create a feedback loop so you can encourage a person to continue or stop certain habits.
7 — Focus on “experiences and systems” so you can understand how “people interact with objects and information”.
8 — Don’t just build products that are, themselves, sustainable. Build products that change people’s behaviours.
9 — Discouraging behaviours can also be as important as encouraging them.
10 — Look at what is currently on the market and find ways to make them better.