Despite heavy use, there isn’t a lot of clarity on how and why we use patterns in architecture. How do architects rely on patterns in their designs? Is the use of patterns changing as architecture changes?
Patterns Are Pleasing to The Human Brain
Our brains are hardwired to find and recognize patterns. This recognition is calming and pleasing to us. This seems to be especially true of natural pattens – they seem to call to something within us.
In fact, researchers have hypothesized that we greatly prefer natural forms over synthetic ones.
A study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology wanted to better understand how our brains view natural patterns in architecture. Do natural patterns make us view a structure as more natural? Do we prefer those structures over more synthetic, geometric ones?
By having study participants rank buildings as more or less natural, the researchers were able to determine that the use of natural patterns make us view a building as natural more than just surrounding the building with vegetation.
The researchers also found that “aesthetic preference ratings of scenes were strongly predicted by mean naturalness scores.” Meaning, yes, we seem to prefer natural patterns over synthetic ones. Adding patterns is a way to bring in nature and the “feel-good” emotions without needing to rely on natural materials or bringing in the outdoors.
When we are in places that don’t have natural patterns, we can experience anxiety and stress. Relying on patterns in architecture can actually be healing for the individuals inhabiting that space.
“The stress-reduction is triggered by a physiological resonance that occurs when the fractal structure of the eye matches that of the fractal image being viewed,” explains Richard Taylor, a physicist at the University of Oregon.
Architects Should Change How They Think of Patterns
In the book The Architecture of Patterns by Paul Andersen and David Salomon, the authors make a plea to architects to change how they think of patterns.
They argue that patterns can be used, not simply as decoration, but as a way to link previously noncompatible notions. This in turn “breeds novelty and variety” in architecture. The use of patterns opens up the world of architecture to new ideas and interpretations.
The book has as an example the combination of flowers and real estate development using floral color patterns. By bringing floral colors to residential design “new and diverse color patterns could be spawned.”
It’s important here to recognize that patterns aren’t seen in just physical shapes – light and colors also can be arranged in patterns.
The authors argue that patterns increase the ability of the architect to communicate whatever it is they are trying to convey with their design.
The authors also note that there is a “silence on patterns”. Some architects won’t use patterns, because they are concerned that patterns bring an instability to a building. Andersen and Salomon argue that this instability can be re-viewed through a new lens as connecting, variable, diverse and flexible.