Holger Schnädelbach

University of Nottingham

Physiological & Emotional Responses to Adaptive Architecture
Buildings are becoming adaptive to us and their environments. Research into the emerging field of Adaptive Architecture is concerned with the technical, design and social dimensions of this field, where architects, engineers, computer scientists, artists and social scientists collaborate to explore the resulting spatial condition. In recent years, research in this area at the Mixed Reality Lab at the University of Nottingham has explored people’s psychological and emotional responses to new types of spatial environment. ExoBuilding, one particular spatial prototype, follows the breathing, heart rate and skin conductance of its single inhabitant through synchronised motion, sounds and visualisation. When a person inside ExoBuilding breathes in, the prototype moves up around them and when they breathe out, the prototypes moves back down. The resulting experience is multi-sensory, immersive and visceral.

Studies of ExoBuilding have shown how it triggers behavioural changes in people who occupy it. Without framing or any instructions, this biofeedback environment prompted people to breathe more slowly and more deeply, resulting in a greater coherence between heart rates and respiration rates. A follow-up comparison of experiencing ExoBuilding immersively and experiencing it from the outside, demonstrated how immersively experiencing ExoBuilding afforded a very much embodied relationship to the environment. ExoBuilding allowed people to stay with their breathing without consciously concentrating on it. For some people, the experience brought unexpected clarity in thinking, a reduction in their worries, deep relaxation and a higher perspective from which to deal with life.

As adaptivity in our environment continues to increase through real-world deployments of Ubiquitous Computing and the Internet of Things, we need to understand the physiological and psychological effects of Adaptive Architecture. Depending on context, which emotional responses are desirable and which are detrimental? To what extent can these be shaped by design interventions? What knowledge is required to support all stakeholders in the generation of built environments to create such responses?

Dr Holger Schnädelbach is a Senior Research Fellow at the Mixed Reality Lab, School of Computer Science, University of Nottingham. Dr Schnädelbach is an Architect with more than 15 years experience in HCI research focusing on the interface of information technology and the built environment. Recently, he has focused on the nature of the embodied relationship between a building’s inhabitants and their adaptive environment. He has held a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship (2007-2009) and was Principal Investigator on the EPSRC Creativity Greenhouse (EP/J006688/1) and Screens in the Wild projects (EP/I031413/1).
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ExoBuilding, by Holger Schnädelbach, 2009