Design and Mental Health – How Buildings on Campus Can Help Students Thrive – The Daily Utah Chronicle


We shape our buildings; subsequently, they shape us.

– Winston Churchill

While this may be one of the only things Winston Churchill has said or done that I can agree with, I think that sentiment still rings true more than half a century later. Interior design and architecture are not just aesthetic tools for making buildings attractive – good design solves problems and can shape our built environment to be vibrant and comfortable.

What makes a building good?

We are inside most of our lives. The way a space is designed really affects how we feel and how we behave.

– Ilse Crawford, interior designer

Good design can make life a lot easier, but can it actually have an impact on mental health? Environmental psychologists have sought to answer this question by 1953. The team studied various aspects of mental health facilities like light, color and private spaces versus public spaces. Their findings became the basis of the burgeoning field of environmental psychology.

Many in the field of environmental psychology today have suggested that making buildings sustainable and adaptable is a great starting point when designing buildings that promote mental well-being. Incorporate natural elements like plant life and bringing in lots of natural light can help people feel more comfortable and balanced in a space.

Beyond that, interior design elements can help buildings perform better to better meet user needs.

How do U buildings measure?

To determine if the University of Utah buildings promote mental wellness, I decided to take the visit I never had during orientation (as a transfer student during the pandemic of coronavirus) and explore the campus to see which spaces were best for students. On my self-guided tour, I explored a dozen buildings and told a few students about their favorite and less favorite places on campus.

In my research, I realized that designs to meet the needs of students seemed to be an ongoing challenge. Buildings, parking lots and other infrastructure are constantly under construction and regularly change the landscape.

The types of priority construction projects on campus are a testament to U’s emphasis on STEM and commercial programs – social science and arts buildings are mostly dated and, to be fair, sometimes drab. However, the novelty or the age of the buildings did not seem to be the determining factor affecting the opinion of the students.


Students studying on campus in front of Gardner Commons. (Photo by Paige Gardner | The Daily Utah Chronicle) (Paige Gardner)

I’ve had mixed results telling students about their favorite buildings on campus – some are die-hard fans of Gardner Commons or the Marriott Library, others like it Student union.

The law school blows everything else out of the water.

– Anna Paseman, second year law student

The building of the law was certainly a crowd favorite, and venturing inside the building for the first time, it’s easy to see why. Large windows, a large study room, and a clean, quiet atmosphere make this the perfect place to study.

It feels like it was built for people to enjoy.

– Lucy Schoenfeld, Linguistics Major

In second position, it seems that the Art and architecture building has stolen the hearts of many students. Psych Major Karen Bennett said, “Concrete is kinda unwelcoming, yet the color of the wood is so warm. And it’s full of art and artists!

Other unsung heroes among student favorites include the Crocker Science Center, the CMH library, the the Sorenson Molecular Biotechnology Building and the Irish Humanities Building.

The bad

The social and behavioral sciences pavilion. (Photo by Paige Gardner | The Daily Utah Chronicle) (Paige Gardner)


– Leslie Sroczynski, Major in Society and Health Policy and Sociology

Undoubtedly, the Social and behavioral sciences building ranks last in the opinions of the students I spoke with, and I can’t really blame them. Commonly known as the “Tower of Terror”, Soc. The building is on its own (literally, as you have to cross a bridge to get to the main elevator lobby) at the southwest corner of campus. It’s Kafkaesque and, to put it mildly, scary.

Takeaway meals

“Lots of stairs, but I liked the large windows. “

– Chloe Koken, major in special education

While chatting with students about their favorite and less favorite places on campus, I learned that large windows and space to study and meet classmates come in handy. Conversely, inconveniences such as many stairs and clutter are among the least appreciated spaces.

Good design is not a panacea for mental illness or in any way a substitute for professional help or prescribed medication, but it is definitely a way to add comfort, connection and joy to our lives.

Buildings designed to let in light, incorporate natural elements, and bring people together are good for mental well-being. Buildings on campus that have all of these characteristics are highly regarded and well used.


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