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DESIGN IDEALS OF THE PAST ARE BEING REVISITED

LETTERS

The 21st century will, I am confident, go down in history as the century in which, in many spheres, everybody was busy reinventing the wheel. And nowhere more so than in the world of architecture.

The latest buzz phrase is, it seems, 'evidence-based design'.

Yet, in the late 1950s, the journal Contract Furnishing (later renamed Interior Design) was launched specifically to propagate the view that good design of building interiors could enhance health care in hospitals, facilitate learning in schools, improve efficiency in offices and increase productivity in factories.

In the journal's first issue, an article on the design of waiting rooms considered the role of interior design in helping people cope in stressful situations, especially in the waiting areas of hospitals. (To emphasise the point, the launch party itself took place in a waiting room - at a central London railway station! ) In subsequent issues, over the years, the magazine published several articles dealing in detail with the therapeutic role of the environmental design, as it came to be known, in hospitals - a role that was increasingly recognised as a growing number of doctors began to accept the psychosomatic origins of much illness.

By the mid-1960s, however, I was, as founder-editor of the journal, beginning to think we might have over-estimated the role of the physical environment. As a consequence of research carried out by the Pilkington Research Unit at Liverpool University (to say nothing of the famous Hawthorn Experiment), I came to the conclusion that socio-psychological factors were equally, if not more, important.

(The Pilkington research has shown that there was no correlation between objective measurements of the environment, such as temperature, humidity, lighting levels, etc, and the occupants' subjective responses to it. ) It is possible that I was partly influenced by the social climate of the 1960s, with its 'all-you-need-is-love' ethos, so perhaps that will be the next decade to be reinvented.

Maurice Jay, via email

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