Invisible Architectures

How Architecture Influences Group Dynamics

Recently I have been thinking a lot about what shapes our view of the world without us really noticing it. I like to call these phenomena “invisible architectures”, referring to Jean-Francois Noubel, a researcher on the field. Here I focus on the invisible architectures that are relevant to (almost) everybody in a given society. I find them highly interesting as they help us understand the development of group dynamics.

Invisible Architectures

Invisible Architectures include, for example, language, social codes, laws, economic systems, and our use of money. Last but not least even physical architecture can have an influence on group dynamics without us really noticing it. Thinking about hidden architectures I realized that almost nothing in the world is really carved into stone. Most depends on our perspective. That means: Change is possible. Even if we think there are no alternatives. And even more so if we know about the influences of hidden architectures on group dynamics.

In the coming five weeks I will post one article on invisible structures every Saturday.

How Physical Architecture Subtly Influence Group Dynamics

Let’s start with the influences of the architecture of buildings: The shape of a room subtly influences the social interactions within. For example in a “classical” classroom a teacher is standing in front of the students. The students sit in rows facing him. This creates a completely different learning atmosphere than students sitting in a circle together with the teacher. In the classical classroom students fix their eyes on the authority, the teacher. Often the interaction among students is declared an undesired behavior. Empathy among the student body can hardly arise in this setting.

The circle structure – on the contrary – puts students and teachers on eye-level as everybody can see and feel each other. A circle is much more likely to encourage empathy, community co-operation. The classical class room setting is much more likely to manifest a system of hierarchies and a thinking of obedience, ego-centrism and loneliness.

How School Prepares for Hierarchical Structures

Our school system in the West prepares us from our early childhood days onwards for working in hierarchical systems like the military, public administration or big corporations. A circle structure would prepare us for co-operation and co-creation, buzzwords of the current start-up scene. I wonder how our society would change if we started out with letting students sit and learn in circles. This idea is, in fact, not new as many traditional cultures do have class room circles. Just think of Ashrams in India or indigenous cultures in America or Australia.

This is just one out of many examples of how architecture influences group dynamics. Another one is the architecture in absolute regimes. Having lived in Munich for over six years, I had some time to analyze the effect of the remains of some buildings from the Nazi era on myself: They are usually very tall with giant steps, high ceilings and high pillars. Statues of people are larger than real humen. All of that aims at one goal: to make the visitor feel small, powerless and at the mercy of an overly strong state regime, represented by the building.


Next Saturday you will find here an article about the subtle influences of language on our collective thinking.


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Further Reading

Some schools around the world introduced circles. Find some articles here:


Center for restorative process


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