As cities become more densely populated, we are increasingly building upward. What are the psychological implications of this shifting urban landscape?

For the attention of: City planners, urban designers, architects, urban policy makers, city mayors

The problem: Cities are densifying and are increasingly building skyscrapers. It is suggested that being in the presence of these massive buildings can have negative effects on psychological state. Considering the cities of the future could be dominated by skyscrapers, to the extent that they could be all we see, we need to better understand the psychological impacts to help inform urban design practices.

What we did and why: We took people to a location in Central London that had access to a low-rise and high-rise building. To understand the psychological impacts of building height, we exposed people to both and measured their emotional responses using wearable technology and a psychological questionnaire. We also took 360-degree video of the locations and repeated the study in virtual reality, which allowed us to have more experimental control and increased sample size.

What our study adds: Our findings suggest that city environments populated with high-rise buildings can have negative emotional impacts on urban dwellers. Furthermore, this study demonstrates that 360-degree video viewed in virtual reality headset can elicit similar responses to those found in the real world, suggesting that this methodology can be used to further explore the psychological impacts of urban design.

Implications for city policy and practice: Our study suggests that cities should pay more attention to how many and where high-rise buildings are built. Practical implications such as space between buildings, or their proximity to public spaces such as parks should be considered.

Links to other resources and support:

London’s Tall Building Strategy

Full research article: Exposure to high-rise buildings negatively influences affect: evidence from real world and 360-degree video

Authors: Robin Mazumder (@robinmazumder), Hugo J. Spiers (@hugospiers) & Colin G. Ellard (@whereaminow)

Editor: Marcus Grant (@MarcusxGrant)