Measuring the impact of openness, enclosure, mystery and complexity: a meta-analysis of the results

  • YEAR
    Dosen, Annemarie S.
    Ostwald, Michael J.
    2015 Conference Papers
    Architecture and Social Research
    Conference Papers


Contemporary design manuals for architects often refer to the psychological benefits of particular spatial and formal configurations. However, the research which these works cite as evidence is largely qualitative and only a small number of quantitative studies are ever referenced. The origins of
the quantitative research can be traced to the 1970s, where the first of a growing number of
environmental and psychological studies suggested that various spatial and visual characteristics of
environments can potentially shape or influence psychological wellbeing. Four key factors that have
been repeatedly discussed in terms of perceived comfort are prospect or openness, refuge or enclosure,
mystery or enticement and complexity. However, many of the studies that architects reference in design
manuals are not actually about architecture, and others have strongly conflicting results. In response to this situation, the present paper undertakes a review of twenty-five studies testing preference for
spaces which exhibit openness, enclosure, mystery and complexity. The results of these studies are then
categorised to develop a meta-picture of the evidence. The paper does not test specific results, or
interrogate the methods used, rather it holistically identifies evidence-based claims that have been
made about these spatial properties, and summarises the complete set of findings.


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