We know that humans form bonds and attachments to one another; our friendships and relationships provide us with comfort and stability and support for growth. Similarly, we can also form attachments to buildings or environments. Think about the house you grew up in, a favourite holiday destination or your university campus. Environments like these can be meaningful to us as individuals, and we may feel a sense of emotional attachment to them for any number of reasons.
This feeling of emotional bond to an environment is known as Place Attachment and has been shown to affect factors such as happiness, perceived safety, and overall wellbeing. Place Attachment has been linked with an increased sense of community, more pro-environmental behaviours, and increased efforts to maintain and protect the environment. There are almost no limits to the type of place we can form an attachment to, you don’t even have to have visited for an environment to be meaningful enough for attachment to form (e.g a person’s ancestral home). Place Attachments are strong and can last after a place is lost or destroyed, even evoking a response that is similar to the grief we feel at losing a loved one.
Place Attachment can be used in Architecture and Urban Planning to help us understand why people may object to or resent certain redevelopments. The quality or functionality of a place does not always influence the attachment people might feel towards it. My halls of residence in my first year of University was neither attractive nor functional, yet I still feel a sense of attachment to it. The same can be said for some of the environments; workplaces or leisure facilities, that we aim to improve.
So, what can we do? We can learn to foster place attachment in our new projects by encouraging stakeholders and users to get involved with the process and by using materials or decorative elements that will hold significance. Studies have shown that higher levels of place attachment can even encourage individuals to actively protect the environment and engage in wider pro-environmental behaviour. Using what we know about Place Attachment, we can help to foster a sense of identity and ownership over our new projects. For example, we recently worked with a local authority to incorporate local landmark and wildlife photography, taken or submitted by their team, into the interior concept for their new workplace. Small additions like this can make a big difference to people’s perception and warmth towards a space. Attachment is not only related to the physical attributes of a space, often it is due to a particular event or behaviour that occurred there. In the context of our projects, we consider the historical uses and features of the site and integrate them into our concepts and strategies where possible.
As with a lot of the work we do, fostering Place Attachment within architecture and interior design isn’t new, but being able to put a name to the concepts we’re applying can help us develop and explore the methods we’re using and the behaviours we’re trying to elicit. We want the environments we design and develop to have character and to be an important part of the community that people feel attached to, understanding Place Attachment can help us get there.
Carys is an Environmental Psychologist, with degrees from Sunderland and Surrey Universities. She works closely within GT3 Architects project teams, to ensure our People Architecture approach is incorporated at every stage of a project. With a particular focus on our workplace consultancy service, Carys helps our architects really get to know the users of our spaces before we design them. Engaging users in the design process not only helps to produce better spaces, but helps to generate buy in and enthusiasm from user groups, resulting in happier spaces overall.