anthropology · architecture · community · design · environment

Does adding art to slums improve poor’s quality of life?

I saw this article last week on Recycle Art, about a design company in Brazil that does outreach to poor communities by creating more aesthetically pleasing surroundings:

Brazilian design studio Rosenbaum and TV show Caldeirao do Huck help poor families to redecorate their homes and improve their surroundings, in the hope that they feel more comfortable and happier at home.

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I’m pleasantly surprised by this philosophy. And apparently this idea is starting to pick up steam.  The New York Times just published an article (also below) about a design show being presented at the United Nations right now focusing on design for third-world countries, trying to create effective, efficient, and hopefully beautiful tools, boats, and buildings.

I’m curious, however, if designing a new space or adding beauty to an already existing slum really works. Does having a more beautiful environment make you want to protect it and invest in it? Even the curators of the exhibit in the New York Times article state that building something new and getting people to adopt it are two entirely different challenges.

I know having a greener work space is correlated with better worker productivity, and many communities in the U.S. have installed public gardens or parks with some success regarding improved community involvement and improved outlook of the neighborhood. The groups featured in the exhibit claim successes all over the world. However, somewhat similar experiments have been tried out with movie stars and athletes installing movie theaters or centers in poor neighborhoods with mixed success with mixed results, as I remember.

I would be interested in seeing more studies that looked at parks or even residential gardens and patios correlated with crime rate, income, and so on.

Anecdotally, have you seen or know of anyone who has seen a correlation between greening or beautifying a space and better sociological stats?

anthropology · architecture · brain · disease · environment · psychology

Thinking by Design: Scientific American

Illustration for Design Portal.
What makes some objects more appealing than others? Image via Wikipedia

One of the biggest pieces to having an enriching, relaxing, invigorating, or overall non-stressful space is what you put into it. There has been lots of research into creating better work spaces, medical spaces and homes, but it can be hard to quantify some of this research; after all, it’s hard to quantify “feeling better.” So it’s nice to read about one team in Vienna that is doing just that, by trying to figure out which objects people like more than others:

Each person’s aesthetic taste seems distinct, and yet that perception belies a large body of shared preferences. Our team at the University of Vienna, among others, has sought to unravel the patterns and principles behind people’s emotional reactions to objects. Although trends drive certain design decisions, scientists have identified fundamental properties of the mind that consistently dictate which products people tend to like and dislike. Psychologists are now better equipped than ever to explain how you came to choose your belongings in the first place. They can also begin to decipher why you continue to love certain purchases long after they have lost their initial shine, whereas others land in the trash.

more via Thinking by Design: Scientific American.

According to their work so far, we like big, round things, but also like things to be symmetrical. It’s pretty well established that we like symmetrical faces, so it makes sense that our tastes in other areas would follow. We also like things that are familiar but not exactly the same, old with a kick maybe.

While none of this is ground-breaking insight per say, it confirms what psychologists, architects and designers have known for years but didn’t necessarily have a good scientific reason when asked why.

I’m curious what other insights other groups have found when looking at design and aesthetics form a neurobiological standpoint. Know of any good ones? Post them in the comments below!