Looking at Buildings Can Actually Give People Headaches
Over tens of thousands of years, the human brain evolved to effectively process scenes from the natural world. But the urban jungle poses a greater challenge for the brain, because of the repetitive patterns it contains.
Mathematician Jean-Baptiste Joseph Fourier showed that we can think of scenes as being made up of striped patterns, of different sizes, orientations and positions, all added together. These patterns are called Fourier components.
In nature, as a general rule, components with low spatial frequency (large stripes) have a high contrast and components with high frequency (small stripes) have a lower contrast. We can call this simple relationship between spatial frequency and contrast a “rule of nature.” Put simply, scenes from nature have stripes that tend to cancel each other out, so that when added together no stripes appear in the image.
But this is not the case with scenes from the urban environment. Urban scenes break the rule of nature: they tend to feature regular, repetitive patterns, due to the common use of design features such as windows, staircases and railings. Regular patterns of this kind are rarely found in nature.
Because the repetitive patterns of urban architecture break the rule of nature, it is more difficult for the human brain to process them efficiently. And because urban landscapes are not as easy to process, they are less comfortable to look at.