It has been amply demonstrated that interior Design can influence a response on many different levels. People become relaxed or invigorated dependent on the colour palette choices and stress can be relieved through exposure to indoor plants. However, while much is made of the positive effects of considered interior design, it is not often that designers look at the negative effects.
If rooms and buildings can relieve stress and help relaxation, it stands to reason that they could also cause tension and unease.
That is the viewpoint of a growing number of academics who have found a correlation between bad behaviour – namely violence – and the design of certain spaces. In the report ‘Danger on the Dancefloor: A study of interior design, crowding and aggression in nightclubs’, researchers Stuart Macintyre of the Victoria Police and Ross Homel of Griffith University have found that “the commonplace experience that crowding, heat, noise, and other sources of discomfort in bars and clubs seem to be associated with aggression and abuse; and the finding in the few scientific studies carried out in licensed premises that crowding is correlated with higher levels of observed aggression and violence.”
Through their study of six separate nightclubs in Surfers Paradise, Queensland, the researchers discovered that overcrowding was the main factor contributing to the creation of what they have labeled as ‘high risk’ venues.
The reason for this crowding and discomfort was typically poorly-designed interior spaces.
Homel and Macintyre discovered that crowding in these venues arose “from inappropriate pedestrian flow patterns caused by poor location of entry and exit doors, dance floors, bars and restrooms” and that this crowding “was statistically related to observed aggressive incidents, even when controls were introduced.”
However, academics are not satisfied with the knowledge of the correlation between violence and density; they now want the nightclub owners to take responsibility for poorly-designed venues.
“They gain comfort knowing violent behaviour brewed in over-crowded, booze-saturated clubs is conveniently dealt with by tax-funded cops on the streets,” says professor Rolf Gerritsen, a research leader at Charles Darwin University. “Operators who condone over-crowding, gender inbalance and lax consumption of alcohol are then forced to weigh up the financial risks of violence and will have to jack up prices to secure their patrons’ safety.”
It is the opinion of Homel and Macintyre that venue owners should also protect patrons. They suggest that “architectural guidelines for licensed premises should be produced to minimise the risks to unintended contacts leading to aggressive incidents in new or renovated venues.”
The influencing power of interior design is strong, and should be taken into consideration when developing any space. At its root, the issue is one of safety. With nightlife violence so high, the question now becomes whether is it the industry’s responsibility to mandate positive venue design, or whether that would place unfair limitations on designers.