Interview: Dr Colin Ellard

Colin Ellard

Colin Ellard is Director of The Urban Realities Lab at the University of Waterloo and author of You Are Here and Places of the Heart.

His research draws together neuroscience, psychology, architecture and design to understand the impact of urban design on our psychology.

You can follow Dr Ellard on Twitter (@whereaminow) and on Facebook. For more information, his website is colinellard.com.

Colin Ellard’s Reading List

Welcome to Your World
by Sarah Goldhagen

This is a brilliant book by an architectural theorist interested in cognitive science and written for the non-specialist.

The Great Indoors
by Emily Anthes

This book is not quite out yet (releases officially in about 2 weeks) but also highly recommended.

What was the journey that you took to carve out an area of research that crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries?

I’ve always been interested in finding unusual and unexpected connections between things, so I guess I’m a born interdisciplinary researcher!

At some point about mid-career it occurred to me that the very specific problems in animal behaviour that I had been working on (how animals avoid predators, find homes, etc) had interesting connections to an important human endeavour — architecture.

I was heartened (and very lucky) to quickly find some kindred spirits in the field of architecture and avid interest from people in many different fields.

Can you provide an example of how Psychology has contributed to our greater well-being in built space?

One of the most robust findings in my field has to do with the power of natural settings, whether they be images of nature, gardens or parks to influence how we feel, how we think, and even our bodily physiology.

There’s still much more to learn but this finding has had wide influence and application in many different settings including urban design and health care design.

If you had to chose one finding that fascinates you within your area, what would it be?

At the moment, we’re interested in what happens above your head. This might sound a little odd but remember that the citizen of a dense city is likely to be surrounded by skyscrapers.

we’re interested in what happens above your head … remember that the citizen of a dense city is likely to be surrounded by skyscrapers.

We know that being in an “urban canyon” can be measurably oppressive and unpleasant. At the same time, looking up at an impressive building (or a cathedral ceiling, for example) can elicit positive emotions, especially awe.

How can the same kind of setting produce two such disparate effects?

What books would you recommend to students interested to learn more?

Welcome to Your World by Sarah Goldhagen is a brilliant book by an architectural theorist interested in cognitive science and written for the non-specialist.

The Great Indoors by Emily Anthes. This book is not quite out yet (releases officially in about 2 weeks) but also highly recommended.

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About Daniel Edward 65 Articles
Daniel set up Psychology Unlocked in 2016 to support Psychology students in higher and further education. Daniel has a Bachelor's and Master's Degree in Psychology, Politics and Sociology from the University of Cambridge.