Architecture Can Give you a Headache?

On a stressful day, ever wondered why we tend to imagine a scenic view of mountains from your hotel room or just a day at the beach to get your mind out of the tense situation you may have found yourself in now? Why is it that we do not think of tall urban buildings as a way to escape our everyday?


A research done by Arnold J. Wilkins, a psychology professor at the University of Essex, has done an extensive study at how headaches and discomfort can be caused by simply looking at monotonous straight lines and repetitive grey concrete of urban jungles.

According to the Mathematician Jean-Baptiste Joseph Fourier, nature is made up of striped patterns, of different sizes, orientations and positions, all added together. He called these patterns Fourier components. Scenes from nature, when added together show no stripes, but actually, they have stripes that tend to cancel each other out, whereas, in urban environments, we tend to focus on regular, repetitive patterns.

Human brains are evolved to process the natural world where components with low frequency have high contrast and components with high frequency have a lower contrast. Put simply, nature has frequencies that cut the contrast the other emits. But the urban environment seems to break this rule; they tend to feature repetitive patterns which makes it difficult for the human brain to process. Urban landscapes follow a repetitive pattern of windows or staircases and break the rule of nature. Continuous stripes on carpets or doormats or escalator staircases can cause headaches as pointed out by J. Wilkins.


A test conducted by J. Wilkins and his two colleagues resulted in showing that the activity levels of nerve cells increase as the images change from those that follow rules of nature. In other words, it takes more effort for our brains to process such views. With modern architecture becoming more vertical and efficient with the structural design, repetitive patterns have become more common.

Another experiment done by the researchers found that the levels of oxygen is increased in our brains as the images shift away from the rule of nature. It was found that people who already suffer from migraines are more vulnerable to frequent headaches with repetitive patterns as the usage of oxygen to their brains are already high. Infrared light recordings showed higher oxygen levels in their brain when looking at uncomfortable images, such as urban scenes. It became easy to notice that some people with migraines could not function in certain modern offices as they would get a headache every time they entered the building.

As more and more stripes and patterns are making an appearance in architecture with evert decade, more uncomfortable it is getting to look at urban jungles. It might be advisable to go to a garden or walk among nature to look at patterns that our brains take less energy to look at.

Of course, some repetitive patterns have become an ineludible result of modern construction. But many stripes are there quite unnecessarily, for aesthetic purposes added by the architect to catch one’s eye that could be avoided.


But since this research states that vertical, repetitive, concrete architecture causes headaches and also provides with abundance examples and study to understand, it has become comprehensible to understand that we need to incorporate more of nature like stripes and patterns into our designs and make them less dauntless.

In the famous words of Prince Charles, ‘Why can’t we have those curves and arches that express feeling in design? What is wrong with them? Why has everything got to be vertical, straight, unbending, only at right angles – and functional?’

Maybe now we can start embracing the rule of nature with the software used to design buildings. Maybe it is also advisable to the interior designers to waver the interior walls, carpets or curtains and avoid using repetitive stripes indoors.

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Nishita Chopra
Nishita Chopra
Nishita Chopra, an avid writer and an architect. Been born and brought up in a defense environment, she has learnt well to be disciplined and find motivation everywhere. Her positivity and extrovertness has helped her tell and listen to a lot stories the world tells around us. Having been worked as an architect before, it has helped her fulfil her passion to write and make use of that experience to put into words for the architectural world.

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