Architects are from Venus, Engineers are from Mars...
Why do Architects prefer curves and Engineers love straight lines? In a couple of recent posts, some comments by Ken Boddie made me think about looking into this a wee bit further. Many designers don't use curves because they are complicated, costly and challenging. So you really have to explore what a curve has to offer rather than including it just because it looks pretty.
People are far more likely to call a room beautiful when its design is round instead of linear. The reason is hard-wired into our brains.
"Again, pity the poor structural design engineers who have to do the various detailed designs and the contractors who have to build these beauties. Brings up an interesting point. When buildings (or rather architects) stray too far from the 'norm', does the client fully appreciate just how much extra he/she has to pay for curves and lack of right angles, etc, etc?" Ken Boddie
Psychologists have said that we respond to curves more positively than sharp lines for over a century.
"Curves are in general felt to be more beautiful than straight lines, they are more graceful and pliable, and avoid the harshness of some straight lines."
In recent studies, neuroscientists have shown that this affection for cures isn't just a matter of personal taste, it's actually hard-wired into the brain. Working together with designers, a research team led by psychologist Oshin Vartanian (University of Toronto) complied 200 images of interior architecture.
Some rooms had a rounded style like this :-
Others were more rectilinear :-
The team put people into a brain imaging machine and showed them the pictures and asked them to rate the rooms as beautiful or not beautiful. They reported that participants were more likely to prefer rooms that had lots of curves and rounded objects rather than ones full of straight lines.
The researchers captured the brain activity that occurred when people looked at the pictures. Participants looking at curved designs had a lot more activity in the anterior cingulate cortex - this area of the brain has many functions, but is especially known for it's role in emotion. The anterior cingulate cortex is strongly responsive to the reward properties and emotional salience of objects.
“Our preference for curves can not be explained entirely in terms of a ‘cold’ cognitive assessment of the qualities of curved objects, curvature appears to affect our feelings, which in turn could drive our preference.” Oshin Vartanian (University of Toronto)
Paul Silvia (Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina) believes that our positive response to curves may come from our relationship with natural environments. Right angles are a rarity in nature.
"Curved buildings can point to nature, whereas angular buildings contrast with it, instead of blending into the environment or evoking natural themes, they stand apart from it by using one of the few shapes you never see in nature—a perfect box." Paul Silvia (University of North Carolina)
Paul Silvia also pointed out that we are all born attuned to human faces. The large round eyes of a baby often trigger very powerful feelings of warmth.
"Curved and rounded objects are so much more familiar that they seem more natural and 'right,'" he says.Another study led by Moshe Bar and Maital Neta of the Harvard Medical School found that looking at objects with straight elements - like square watches, straight couches etc. activated the amygdala. This is the part of the brain that processes fear. Bar and Neta concluded that since sharp objects (like knives and spears for example) have long signaled physical danger, our brains now associate sharp objects with a threat. Curves may be seen as harmless by comparison.
“we prefer curves because they signal lack of threat, i.e. safety.” Oshin Vartanian
Of course the the straight vs curve contest is not always as clear as knife vs spoon - take the rattlesnake for example. Context and familiarity all influence our perception of threat.
Whilst most architecture is straight lines and squared off angles, curves are often used to soften a building's impact - to help it meld into the landscape. Curves work especially well next to bodies of water or in rural landscapes.
“Curves derive their inspiration from the beauty of nature and the efficiency in [the design of] nature, they also relate to the human body, the feminine form. It’s why iPhones, glasses and cars have curves; we instinctively love curvy things."
“A curve is always beautiful because it’s truthful,"
A couple of years ago Zaha Hadid Architects unveiled their design for the 2022 World Cup Soccer Stadium in Qatar. Zaha Hadid was inspired by the Dhow, a traditional Arabic fishing boat. The Stadium's sensual roof curves and bends are meant to evoke a free-flowing sail in the wind.
However Zaha Hadid's design for the Qatar Stadium have been compared to a vagina...
Stephen Bailey a UK Architecture critic and former CEO of the Design Museum in London is convinced that there is a sexual element in our response to curves.
"For reasons hidden in the foundations of the brain's architecture, a curve, because it suggests warmth and well-being and harmony, touches a more profound part of the psyche than a parallelogram, maybe this is because a woman's breasts are generally not right-angled."
I will leave the last word to Ken Boddie
Yup, these flying curves look like a load of para-bolics to me, or, assuming they're high, perhaps hyper-bolics?
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I love Architecture. I think it's vital to talk about all aspects of Architecture - whether it be planning, construction, design or green building. I have written 3 E-Books & over 110 articles. Please feel free to let me know if you have any queries regarding architecture, planning & construction & I will assist you.
I am originally from the UK and moved to South Africa in 1999. I started Blue Designs in 2004 after working as a driver for Avalon Construction on a luxury home in the Featherbrook Estate. In my spare time I am an artist and writer.
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Here's a link to Oshin Vartanian's study :-
and Moshe Bar's study :-