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Architects Are The New Psychiatrists: Why Getting Into The Minds Of Humans Is The Biggest Design Trend Of 2019

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The year 2019 challenged U.S. architects and designers to face a not-so-distant future where Uber aircraft and autonomous-driving vehicles become a reality.  

These developments alone are pushing designers and architects to brainstorm ways their commercial creations can implement technologies and amenities to accommodate tomorrow’s consumers. 

But, perhaps, the biggest architectural trend of 2019 is not technology or its advancement, but rather the design industry’s newfound focus on creating a sense of place that’s not only environmentally healthy, but emotionally stabilizing for each building's end user.  

Architects Are The New Psychiatrists: Why Getting Into The Minds Of Humans Is The Biggest Design Trend Of 2019

“Today our buildings need to do more than just provide shelter, they also need to be an ally in creating environments that enhance the human experience by understanding human behavior and responding in a way that encourages positive interaction,” HKS President and CEO Dan Noble said. 

Noble and other architects and designers will be speaking at Bisnow's upcoming Architectural and Design Conference on Oct. 30. 

BOKA Powell Architects partner John Orfield calls this new placemaking trend the "Starbucks-ization" of the workplace and U.S. communities. 

"People neither want to work at home, nor in a traditional office environment — but rather somewhere in between," Orfield said.

"It is part of a move toward urbanity, where desirable, comfortable spaces are within a five-minute walk. As with pedestrian-friendly locations like Dallas’ Uptown district, so too are we seeing the urbanization of the suburbs into experience-driven districts like Legacy West that support office, retail and multifamily in vibrant walkable communities."

For the above reasons, 2019 could very well be known as the year when architects and commercial designers returned to their prehistoric roots and explored the psychological impact every building’s interior, exterior and landscape design has on the human psyche. 

Like a good therapist, architects are now forced to contemplate how tenants and guests feel when they walk in the front door.

Architects Are The New Psychiatrists: Why Getting Into The Minds Of Humans Is The Biggest Design Trend Of 2019
The power of OTL's interactive water fountain is expected to create ambiance at Texas Live! in Arlington.

The design elements that continue to serve as soothing balms for visitors inside today's commercial properties are the same ones that connected humans to spaces thousands of years ago, says landscape design expert and President and Chief Financial Officer of Lifescapes International Julie Brinkerhoff-Jacobs.

“One [element] is water because we are 90% water, and it’s vital to our survival, so water is a critical element to include in spaces when you can," she said. 

"The other is fire because we all used to sit around the campfire and tell stories,” Brinkerhoff-Jacobs added. "Those two things add a subliminal appeal to people because water is an essential part of our anatomy; it’s what we need to keep alive. Fire is a comfort zone … it’s where the tribe goes to start telling stories.”  

For Brinkerhoff-Jacobs, landscape architects like herself are being asked to link the interiors and exteriors of new buildings in ways that allow tenants and visitors to have immediate access to the outdoors without leaving the interior spaces. 

There is also a sharp focus on creating natural sunlight and implementing relaxing water and fire fixtures, including fountains and fire pits, to create natural ambiance and relaxation, she said.  

Design-build construction firm OTL has been promoting water as an essential feature for modern design projects for years. The company just announced the launch of a special effects water fountain show next to the $250M Texas Live! entertainment and hotel development in Arlington.

The idea is to create a water attraction for sports fans and visitors who will be attending games at the nearby AT&T Stadium and the future Texas Rangers' Globe Life Field ballpark. 

The fountains will offer special water effects, including dancing flames and interchangeable light colors. 

Architects Are The New Psychiatrists: Why Getting Into The Minds Of Humans Is The Biggest Design Trend Of 2019
A Murphy USA office project incorporates DLR Group's focus on merging the building's interior and exterior areas.

To create seamless flow between the inside and outside of a building, DLR Group Vice President Jo Staffelbach Heinz says her firm is always looking for ways to make the walls disappear, or for the outside world to merge with a building's interior. 

“I am working on an office building where we are figuring out how we can integrate the outside and the inside and make the walls go away and roll up to the ceiling," Heinz said. She said the goal is to have retractable or rollup windows, as well as terraces outside the building, where people can interact with nature. 

Dallas-based 5G Studio Collaborative partner Scott Lowe agrees the design vision for many of today's architects revolves around the need to develop or redevelop commercial property in a way where it emits a specific vibe and fits within an existing community. 

“I think what I’m struck with is the emphasis on experience,” Lowe said. “A building is an experience somewhat, but most buildings are transactional in nature. You are seeing more in office [development] where the office is melding into more of a boutique space [and appearing] more like your home, or a living place, than it is an actual workplace or institutional environment as it traditionally has been.” 

5G Studio Collaborative points to its work on the Virgin Hotel project in Dallas' Design District and the home of its own office, 1217 Main Street in Dallas.

To create a sense of place in both spots, 5G relied heavily on artwork and exterior design elements to blend the buildings into their respective neighborhoods.

At 1217 Main Street, the building incorporates exterior tile art to establish the office's creative and elegant presence downtown.

At the Virgin Hotel, the building pays tribute to its home in the Dallas Design District by featuring a unique sculpture out front and a 3D metal skin to create a cutting-edge textural vibe for the artsy area. 

“What I’ve found is that art and architecture have sort of collided and melded together in a pretty interesting way this year in a lot of things we are doing," Lowe said. 

Architects Are The New Psychiatrists: Why Getting Into The Minds Of Humans Is The Biggest Design Trend Of 2019
Gensler's design for 400 Record building downtown shows the inclusion of public art and the merging of the building's exterior with its interior.

To create the right ambiance for humans, Gensler's Commercial Office Design Director Ian Zapata says sustainability is another big trend, but one that ultimately leads back to the idea of creating healthy places for workers and tenants. 

“I think a lot of companies and a lot of offices are interested in creating healthy environments for people," he said.

And one of the questions they are asking themselves is, how do you bring in nature to support environmental sustainability and emotional health?

To create this natural aesthetic, not only are they relying more on sustainable materials, but on amenities that evoke a feeling of being in nature.

"We are seeing a lot of demand for warm, organic materials and textures, and I wrap it up into this whole umbrella of being more people-centric, but it’s also about a concern for our health and connection to nature," Zapata said. 

Gensler experimented with this philosophy when revamping the 400 Record building in Downtown Dallas. The building's renovated lobby features an elevated restaurant overlooking the outdoors, warm tones and a unique glass design that ultimately makes the building's interior and exterior merge into one comprehensive setting.