The study of how both the natural and built environment affects human cognition and behavior is known as environmental psychology. Traditionally, the bulk of research on environmental psychology has been concerned with built environments rather than naturally-occurring settings. However, more attention has been paid recently to how humans and natural environments affect each other (De Young). For example, decisions made in the design of the built environment concerning what materials and building systems are used can have far-reaching effects on the natural environment as well as on the health and wellbeing of the building users. Also, the way a building is planned determines human access to or views of the natural environment while inside the building, which also affects human health and wellbeing. Research for this Thesis will examine the aspect of environmental psychology that deals with this interrelationship between humans, interior spaces, and the natural environment, or more specifically, sustainability. Sustainability is defined as the practice of designing in a way that preserves the natural environment and long term human wellbeing. The primary goal is to gain knowledge that will enable the author to better design interior spaces that address the needs and wellbeing of both humans and the natural environment.
The main questions that shaped the research for this Thesis include the following: do sustainable spaces affect human behavior and wellbeing, and if so, how? For instance, do people feel differently in spaces that include or connect to natural elements? Do people feel differently in spaces that they know are low-impact or energy-efficient? Also, what discrepancies exist among the various sources of information on sustainability of building materials? In what situations are human needs and sustainability needs at odds with each other, and what can be done to reconcile these differences? What can be done to improve design for both people and the natural environment?
After determining what questions needed to be answered, determining how best to answer those questions was the next part of the research process. Given the very dynamic and changeable nature of the design profession (due in large part to advances in building materials and other aspects of technology), the decision was made to balance a traditional literature review with information obtained directly from design professionals. This latter category of information was derived from two primary sources: results from a survey distributed electronically to design professionals, and the author’s work experience in the field.
To address the question regarding discrepancies among the sources of sustainability information, an in-depth discussion on carpeting--a widely used product in building interiors--was conducted to illustrate the prominence of discrepancies in the industry. This discussion references information obtained via the literature review as well as phone interviews with carpet sales people.
The Thesis is organized according to the sources of information used, with Chapters 2-4 examining the findings of the literature review, and Chapter 5 focusing on the findings gained from interaction with design professionals.