Lost in space

Jan Golembiewski (University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia)


ISSN: 0263-2772

Publication date: 28 June 2013



Psychological and epidemiological literature suggests that the built environment plays both causal and therapeutic roles in schizophrenia, but what are the implications for designers? The purpose of this paper is to focus on the role the built environment plays in psycho‐environmental dynamics, in order that negative effects can be avoided and beneficial effects emphasised in architectural design.


The approach taken is a translational exploration of the dynamics between the built environment and psychotic illness, using primary research from disciplines as diverse as epidemiology, neurology and psychology.


The built environment is conceived as being both an agonist and as an antagonist for the underlying processes that present as psychosis. The built environment is implicated through several means, through the opportunities it provides. These may be physical, narrative, emotional, hedonic or personal. Some opportunities may be negative, and others positive. The built environment is also an important source of unexpected aesthetic stimulation, yet in psychotic illnesses, aesthetic sensibilities characteristically suffer from deterioration.

Research limitations/implications

The findings presented are based on research that is largely translated from very different fields of enquiry. Whilst findings are cogent and logical, much of the support is correlational rather than empirical.

Social implications

The WHO claims that schizophrenia destroys 24 million lives worldwide, with an exponential effect on human and financial capital. Because evidence implicates the built environment, architectural and urban designers may have a role to play in reducing the human costs wrought by the illness.


Never before has architecture been so explicitly implicated as a cause of mental illness. This paper was presented to the Symposium of Mental Health Facility Design, and is essential reading for anyone involved in designing for improved mental health.



Golembiewski, J. (2013), "Lost in space", Facilities, Vol. 31 No. 9/10, pp. 427-448. https://doi.org/10.1108/02632771311324981

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