It’s a well-known fact that our health and happiness is closely linked to our environment. Our surroundings can have drastic impacts on everything from psychological wellbeing to physical health. This reaches all the way from geographical location to immediate surroundings – such as the buildings and structures we resided in every day.
As Alain de Botton, famous British writer and modern Philosopher, writes in his book The Architecture of Happiness, “great buildings are like mirrors that reflect our greatest aspirations and speak visions of happiness”.
So, if buildings can have such an impact on us, do architects, designers and engineers owe it to society to take health and happiness into account from the very beginning of building design? And if so, how can they do that? Here are some great ways to encourage better health and happiness through simple design aspects.
Promote natural light and views of the outdoors
As David Orr, author of the book Design on the Edge: The Making of a High-Performance Building, notes, “Modern designers filled the world with buildings and developments divorced from their context, existing as if in some alien realm disconnected from ecology … and place.” Listeners of the most recent Space podcast with Stephen Choi might recognise this as similar to what Stephen posits: that is, that buildings should be more like flowers, grounded and in context with the natural world around them.
An easy way to encourage this is through the promotion of outdoor views, and natural light. Not only does daylighting has a number of essential health benefits, like regulation of the circadian rhythm, they can also increase efficiency and productivity – perfect if you’re designing an office building! Further, it also saves on energy and cost consumption, because you’ll use less artificial light and electricity.
Bring the outdoors, indoors
Whether you’re designing an office building or a home, one of the best things you can do for future occupiers is to implement the trending indoor/outdoor concept that makes use of a seamless blend of, you guessed it, indoor and outdoor living. Generally, these sorts of designs utilise greenery such asn indoor plants, a green wall and alfresco spaces.
One of the easiest ways to get started with this design aspect is the installation of indoor plants. Having enough foliage indoors can promote numerous health benefits, from cleaning the air from toxic pollutants and encouraging less stress, to improving an individual’s mental health by encouraging positivity and relaxation. These sorts of spaces also encourage energy efficiency and greener living, the perfect way to promote sustainability.
Enhance the space to be more psychologically pleasant
Often, people think architecture is simply a matter of character and structure, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s a deeper level to buildings, and they can actually impact heavily on our psychology. A building can be overly stimulating through the use of extremely bright colours or complex patterns, creating high levels of stress in inhabitants, or overly relaxing through soothing tones and soft design. Architecture has even been theorised to be connected to our unconscious, meaning the very cognition of the architect designing the building could encourage the outcome.
Encourage movement and wonder
You know by now that exercise and physical movement is a big component of health and happiness. And you’re also likely aware that these days, people just don’t have time to dedicate to much exercise – in fact, you may well be one of those people. So, how can a building design encourage exercise, in turn promoting wellness? The Bullitt Center in Seattle is a perfect example of this.
Affectionately referred to as “the greenest commercial building in the world”, a key element to the beauty of this building can be found as soon as you walk in. Rather than a typical bank of elevators being the first thing visitors come across, they’re instead greeted by a beautiful set of stairs, with the elevators hidden around behind them. The stairs contain views of downtown Seattle and Puget Sound and encourage visitors to walk up them, taking in the world around them, conversing with one another, and getting some exercise while they’re at it. Cost effective and considerate to people’s health? That’s a design I like.
Regardless of how you go about doing it, as architectures and designers, it’s up to us to sculpt the world around us. Putting health and happiness at the forefront of our design decisions can start a domino effect that leads to an increase in everything from sustainability to occupant wellness.
If you’re looking for a way to implement design ideas like this, but aren’t sure where to begin, have a listen to the most recent Spaces podcast with guest Stephen Choi. His Living Building Challenge is the perfect introduction to creating sustainable, healthy buildings.