Copyright and credit: Vyonyx/Arup/ Shanghai Industrial Investment Corporation.

+ How can a building's design encourage sustainable behaviour from its users?

Winston Churchill understood the impact of design on behaviour when he said “We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us,” referring to the rebuilding of the House of Commons. 

All our designs are teaching or reinforcing behaviours in building occupants, therefore the question to ask ourselves is: what messages are we sending?

Supermarkets also understand the impact, using bakery smells and the strategic positioning of products to encourage sales. Arup argues that designers should explore opportunities to support and encourage sustainable behaviour through their designs.

I recently wrote a paper on this, highlighting the Persuasive Design framework. The framework was developed in the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University by B J Fogg as a tool for analysing behaviour change.

There are four key aspects to the Persuasive Design behaviour model. The first is the target behaviour: what is it that you are trying to encourage the building users to do? Common sustainability goals in buildings include: reducing energy use, reducing water use and increasing recycling, to pick just a few examples.

The second aspect is motivation; to what extent does the building user want to perform the target action?

The third aspect is ability – how easy is it for the building user to perform the target action?

The fourth aspect is a trigger.

Let me give you, as an example, the men’s bathrooms at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, where we find the urinal fly. Essentially, the urinals have a picture of a fly stuck on them in a strategic location. The target behaviour in this example is more accurate ‘aiming’ by users, reducing the need for cleaning and increasing amenity. The company that makes them claims that they keep bathrooms up to 85% cleaner.

A second example is a sink with a gold fish bowl above it, including fish. The designer calls this the Poor Little Fish Basin. The target behaviour of this device is for people to turn the tap off as soon as possible. It is reasonable to expect that if someone could turn the tap on, then they will have the ability to turn it off. The interesting aspect is how it motivates. When the tap is turned on, the water level in the fish bowl begins to drop. The water in the bowl is not connected to the tap, rather the level is adjusted to give the impression that it is.

A more serious example comes from the intensive care unit at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne. The open bed bays have red lines painted down part of the wall and across the floor next to the handwash station (see picture). This is a visual reminder for clinical staff to wash their hands before interacting with the patient.

It is possible for designers to support and encourage sustainable behaviour in buildings. The range of examples shows that the possibilities are limited only by imagination.

Any other examples?