Strategy. Innovation. Brand.

Do Tall Buildings Make You Crazy?

Our son, Elliot, is an architect living in Brooklyn, where all the cool kids hang out these days. Since Elliot went off to architecture school, I’ve been reading more books on design and, especially, the effects of physical space on human welfare. In other words, how do the places where we work and live affect our mood, creativity, energy, and general attitude towards each other? Then, once we know the answers, how do we design better spaces?

One of the better books I’ve been delving into is A Pattern Language, which is often described as a classic in the design literature. Published in 1977, the book describes “an entirely new attitude to architecture and planning.” (It’s available here on Amazon).

On page 115, the authors make a simple but stunning claim: “There is abundant evidence to show that tall buildings make people crazy.” Here are two key passages that explain the claim:

“The strongest evidence comes from D.M. Fanning (“Families in Flats”, British Medical Journal, November 18, 1967, pp. 382 – 86). Fanning shows a direct correlation between incidence of mental disorder and the height of people’s apartments.”


“A simple mechanism may explain this: high-rise living takes people away from the ground, and away from the casual everyday society that occurs on the sidewalks and streets and the porches and gardens. It leaves them alone in their apartments. … The forced isolation then causes individual breakdowns.”

The book goes on to cite studies from Canada and Denmark that reach similar conclusions.

So why am I writing about this on a website that normally focuses on persuasive communication? Because Im interested in how our physical environment affects our ability to communicate. I’ve seen any number of business meetings ruined because the physical accommodations inhibited rather than promoted communication. Even so, I still can’t predict with certainty whether a given space will be “good for” or “bad for” communication.

So, I’m posting this more to gather information rather than to disseminate it. What are the characteristics of physical spaces that promote communication? And what characteristics inhibit communication? Please share your thoughts in the “Comments” section. If you can point me to any particular resources, I’ll be sure to review and summarize them in future posts. In the meantime, stay away from tall buildings.


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