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Workplaces and Brain Health: NeuroArchitecture Insights

By Andréa de Paiva 

Have you ever analysed how many hours you spend in your work space? Making a simple counting, considering just 8 hours on weekdays, we usually spend around 2.000 hours occupying such spaces. This situation results in alarming consequences: the impacts that workplaces have on the brain's health are directly linked to the length of time spent on such spaces. This means that the more time we occupy the same site, the more it can affect us. Do companies have the exact knowledge about how their architecture can affect theirs employees mental and physical health? The answer is: no. In today's article we will discuss some insights from NeuroArchitecture regarding this issue.

1990's office
Source: bostonglobe

Influenced by industrial revolution and by the mass production system, initially the workplaces were designed seeking the same efficiency of the industries' production line. On account of that, the layout of offices aimed mainly to facilitate the company's production system, focusing on improving the quantity produced. The hyerarchyzation of spaces, the location of teams and their leaders and even the decoration were all planned with focus on production, like in a factory [1]. However, opposite to factories that operate essentially based on machines, offices operate based on people. 

The results of this are inhuman workplaces, without identity. Environments that impair the mental and physical health of people who occupy them, with direct impacts on stress levels and anxiety. Spaces that can increase conflicts, lack of collaboration and communication, insecurity, concentration problems, reduction of creativity.

Unfortunately, even nowadays there are many companies that struggle to unleash these production ideals. Nevertheless, due to the technological revolution that has been happening on the past years, human features that cannot be replaced by machines (yet) are getting more valued. Therefore, the design of spaces begins to focus more on the people and their creativity, communication and collaboration skills. Quality of work is getting more important than quantity.

For this reason, NeuroArchitecture can help in creating more humanized work spaces. There are too many architecture features that can directly affect cognition, attention, creativity and learning. [2] Colors, shapes, sizes and proportions, layouts, visual and acoustic isolation are a few examples. How can architects combine these elements in order to create the ideal environment? First of all, NeuroArchitecture has shown that there are no recipes to be followed. An effective work space can be created only when architects take into consideration who are the professionals who will occupy that space and what tasks will be executed there.

In spite of that, there are some architecture features that when combined can result in positive impacts apart  from the activities on the office. The contact with nature (biophilia), the sensory diversity and environment diversity are a few examples. The choice of materials, layouts and the creation of alternative spaces of occupation are key points on healthy and efficient workplaces design.

Some practical examples can be presented: the use of elements that remit nature can diminish stress levels and improve concentration (as already discussed on the articles: Understanding Biophilia and Sick Cities); sensory richness obtained due to the use of combined textures, colors, shapes and smells stimulates learning and memorization (not only memory formation but also its recall) [3]; the layout can be designed in a way to stimulate collaboration and communication between teams [4]; the creation of alternative spaces of occupation, like meeting rooms and phone-call rooms, improves the feeling of control among employees, decreasing stress levels and creating alternatives to improve privacy and, consequently, concentration.

Although NeuroArchitecture is gaining more attention and the corporate world has been changing, unfortunately there are still too many companies and workplaces that suffer influences of the mass production system. This means that many people still have to work in inhuman spaces that affect performance and mental and physical health in a negative way. This is the reason why it is up to the architects and neuroarchitects not only the challenge of creating more humanized spaces, but also of transforming mentalities that are stuck in out of date values.

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