Corridors, the forgotten space: Mental Health and Wellbeing at office

Architects and interior designers (though not necessarily their clients) might intuitively appreciate the importance of corridors and transitional spaces. But now there is some quantitative evidence to explain why investing in these spaces could be important for the actual workspace, productivity, and mental health.

Back in 1716, the design of Blenheim Palace was one of the first places—if not the very first—that introduced the word “corridor” into the English language. Idea novel at the time became an overlooked aspect of design in the upcoming centuries. Now, new research from psychologists and architects at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore – a city well-known for its urban architecture -has some evidence to remind us of this forgotten space and how it could be related to mental health and productivity.

Corridors. We know them as places meant for a quick chit-chat with our favorite coworker on the way to the meeting or an area to shortly pause in and take a deep breath before entering that dreaded conference room. But science suggests that corridors have a much more substantial impact on our mental health and wellbeing than could have been guessed.

The study examined the responses and beliefs of indoor office workers towards their workspace, while recording data related to their mental health and performance. One important takeaway from the study is the effect that corridors and other transitional spaces can have on the office room’s perception. Both sense of confinement in the transitional space and high design contrast between transitional space and the office room contribute to a less desirable perception of the actual office room. The study showed that a one unit increase in the perceived confinement of the corridor was associated with a significant increase in the workload employees felt they had. Importantly, a one unit increase in the perceived confinement of the corridor is associated with a significant decrease in Mental Health scores. Individual differences matter, but mostly for somehow extreme cases: Poorly designed corridors pose a particular strain on 1 in 10 people who have some degree of claustrophobia, meaning they are naturally uncomfortable with enclosed spaces.

Given that development of indoor workspaces has been prioritized in many of the world’s megacities, this study offers both an urge to pay attention to how those places should be built, as well as a fruitful contribution to that discussion. 

Research has already established the link between office environments and wellbeing—headaches, fatigue, and stress are all consequences of spaces that are unsuitable for work. However, the interplay between the overall office environment (including entrances and corridors), our perception, and our mental health has been given much less attention. The hope of this study is to stress the importance of those oddly in-between spaces and highlight their potential to be serviceable not only to the design vision and strategy but also to the mind and bodies of the ones they are built for.

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Tan, Z., Roberts, A. C., Lee, E. H., Kwok, K. W., Car, J., Soh, C. K., & Christopoulos, G. (2020). Transitional areas affect perception of workspaces and employee well-being: A study of underground and above-ground workspaces. Building and Environment, 106840.