The Architecture of Good Behavior tells the story of the United States government’s investment in the idea of psychological functionalism as a political tool. After World War II, this included the ambition to build institutions that would capture the attention and bodies of every U.S. citizen. In order to craft these institutions, architects were asked work with population studies and theorize new ways to influence behavior with the background medium of architecture. Hospitals, mental health centers, prisons, and public housing took on more diffuse forms suited to psychological functionalism, or the attempt to make inhabitant behavior more functional through design. Architects gained new roles as researchers, organizers, and writers as theories of confinement, territory, and surveillance proliferated.
Inspired by the rise of environmental psychology and increasing support for behavioral research after the Second World War, new initiatives at the federal, state, and local levels looked to influence the human psyche through form, or elicit desired behaviors with environmental incentives, implementing what Joy Knoblauch calls “psychological functionalism.” Recruited by federal construction and research programs for institutional reform and expansion—which included hospitals, mental health centers, prisons, and public housing—architects theorized new ways to control behavior and make it more functional by exercising soft power, or power through persuasion, with their designs.
In the 1960s –1970s era of anti-institutional sentiment, they hoped to offer an enlightened, palatable, more humane solution to larger social problems related to health, mental health, justice, and security of the population by applying psychological expertise to institutional design. In turn, Knoblauch argues, architects gained new roles as researchers, organizers, and writers while theories of confinement, territory, and surveillance proliferated. The Architecture of Good Behavior explores psychological functionalism as a political tool and the architectural projects funded by a postwar nation in its efforts to govern, exert control over, and ultimately pacify its patients, prisoners, and residents.
Date Published: Wednesday, January 1, 2020
Author(s): Joy Knoblauch