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How much NeuroArchitecture can be found on Public Housing Projects? - Part II

By Andréa de Paiva 

This article is based on the author's visits to public housing projects in Brazil to a consulting job performed at FGV Projetos.

Following the first article, How much NeuroArchitecture can be found on Public Housing Projects - Part I, today we will discuss a few alternatives to solve the dehumanization problem in the public housing complexes, always considering the contributions of NeuroArchitecture.

 Public Housing Building in Londrina, Paraná
Public Housing Building in Londrina, Paraná

When we were interviewing  the residents of public housing complexes, we also interviewed  public housing houses` residents. The results from the interviews show an interesting contrast: the people who lived in houses were much more satisfied than those who lived in building complexes. Furthermore, the houses in allotment were much more conserved than those in condominium.

Public Housing Houses in Allotment - Itu, São Paulo

But what makes the relation the residents have with the space change so abruptly? Among the many features identified, some must be outlined, like privacy, the feeling of space control and the possibility of customisation. In this article we will discuss what NeuroArchitecture reveals about the importance of the feeling of control and customisation to generate bonds and belonging.

When we think about evolution, it is possible to understand that our brain was hard-wired to control basic situations related to our survival [1]. Eat when feeling hungry, drink when feeling thirsty, fight or flight when there is any threat. That is why te loss of control impacts brain health. In a study with rats, such loss made them suffer with higher stress levels and have an anticipated death compared with the rats that felt in control [2].

In public housing, the condominium rules limit the residents' feeling of control of their own space. It can be inside the apartment, where loud noises can result in fines and problems with neighbours and where architecture cannot be freely altered to fulfil the family's need. It can be in the common areas, where residents cannot change decoration and the space conservation depends on the collaboration of everyone living in the same complex. This lack of control of a space that is so important as the place we live in can increase stress levels in an unhealthy way. This might result in problems between neighbours as well as in a lack of identification with the space, or even in physical and mental health problems due to the whole situation [3].

In the case of houses in allotment, the resident's conditions are very different. The architecture can be altered and adapted to fulfil specific needs of each family. For instance, many families prefer to use the back yard space to build an extra room since the families are usually constituted of 4 members or more. The residences can also be customised externally, each one being painted and decorated according to the residents' will. This generates identification with the space and affection, resulting in better conservation and happier families living in harmony.

Houses in allotment after occupation - Cambé, Paraná
Houses in allotment after occupation - Cambé, Paraná

However, houses in allotment are not a good solution for the huge urban centres where space is limited. Is it possible to bring such elements as customisation and feeling of space control to the architecture of housing complexes? What other aspects of architecture should also be taken into consideration in public housing projects? The relation between NeuroArchitecture and public housing does not end here. Thats is why soon we will be back to analise other issues related to the subject that can help architects and neuroarchitects to face this challenge!

Read the first part of this article here: Part I

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[1] KÜHNAB, S., BRASSA, M., HAGGARD, P. (2012) Feeling in control: Neural correlates of experience of agency. Elsevier: Volume 49, Issue 7, July–August 2013, Pages 1935-1942.

[2] Rock, D. (2009) Your Brain At Work. New York: HarperBusiness

[3] BORHANI, K., BECK, B., HAGGARD, P. (2017) Choosing, Doing, and Controlling: Implicit Sense of Agency Over Somatosensory Events. Psychological Science 2017, Vol. 28(7) 882–893.

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