Stefan wrote his thesis in 2009 titled “Healing by Architecture” and it focused on how architecture can contribute to wellness and the healing. In particular the process of healing for people in health institutions such as a hospital or hospice. The architectural proposition for the thesis was:
Can architecture contribute to healing?
This question reaches the essence of architecture and its core purpose of maintaining and improving the human condition.
By researching different theories and architectural precedents in healthcare design, I aim to identify what factors can actually trigger recovery for patients in a healthcare environment, and what is the real correlation between health and the built environment.
Recently we’ve been discussing this concept, but in the context of your everyday home. We wondered why wait until you have to experience an institution to have this considered in the design of a building? Why not consider these things for daily life? These concepts and theories are often reserved for hospitals, hospices or luxurious wellness resorts. However we believe that these ideas can be used in the residential home. Not just for the ill or wealthy, but for the regular person living life day-to-day to enhance wellness and quality of life.
Homes, health and happiness
Homes can take away health and happiness, or they can contribute to health and happiness. A real example that a friend recently told me about was the issue she had with living in a mouldy home. Her young son was suffering health problems and and it wasn’t clear what the cause was. Then they discovered mould spores were hidden in the ceiling and the spores were being pumped through the house via the home ventilation system. The way the house was designed and built really fell short of providing the minimum of what was needed to ensure the health of its occupants.
We’re interested in not only providing the bare minimum for a healthy home to not take away from your existing state of well-being, but in a more aspirational sense. To design homes that consciously and methodically contribute to wellness. Studies show that in today’s society we spend 90% of our time indoors. A statistic that I found a bit shocking, but one that reinforces the need to improve our homes as sanctuaries.
So can architecture contribute to wellness and healing?
To jump the conclusion of the thesis the answer is YES!
Thanks to the development of ‘Evidence-Based Design’ during the 1980’s, we can finally empirically prove the correlation between architecture and healing. This methodology compares the effects of various spatial factors providing indisputable evidence that architecture does contribute to healing , creating either a positive or negative influence among its inhabitants. (Swaan, 280)
Like Evidence Based Medicine, Evidence Based Design analyses not only clinical outcomes, but also staff satisfaction and retention. It looks at a building design not only as a physical space, but includes the total sensory environment of sight, sound, touch and smell. (Swaan, 283)
The key discovery in Stefan’s thesis was, in order to promote health and well-being within the built environment, you have to design to avoid stress. Stress exacerbates symptoms of patients in institutional settings. So most of the evidence based design research is focused on stress reducing factors. In our fast-paced, device-filled, modern-world, every day stress is a serious health issue. We believe it is very important to consider these ideas and concepts of stress reduction in our home design process.
Stefan’s project based thesis was to design a hospice to cater to the specific needs of Māori and Pacific Island people. The objective of the building and its setting is to reduce stress so that illness symptoms are minimised. The goal was to help people enjoy, as much as they could, their final moments on earth.
Ulrich in his research identifies sufficient credible data to suggest that stress reduction can be achieved by the designer’s understanding of three main factors. Promote social support, provide sense of control including privacy, and finally provide access to nature and positive distraction. (Swaan 285)
What are key factors to consider in your space for wellness?
Visual distraction and connection to nature. Blurred boundaries between the outdoors and indoors. Not just through sight but also through the five senses to promote the human experience with nature by integrating natural textures, forms, and patterns.
Natural light, dynamic and diffused light. The goal is to connect as much as possible to natural light via windows or skylights to reinforce the natural rhythms of day and night. This design consideration helps to regulate your bodies natural circadian patterns.
Ambience in the audio environment, sound privacy and again connection to nature and natural sounds where possible to improve well being.
Thermal comfort and a sense of control over your environment to provide warmth and cooling as and when needed.
5. Air quality
The air we breathe is one of our most vital necessities of life. How a building ‘breathes’ and how it will impact on your respiratory system is so important to your health.
6. Visual biomorphic forms and patterns
This biophilic design principle often appears as repeating patterns, or naturally-occurring shapes in the form of nature-inspired wall designs or flooring configurations. Again it reinforces our connection to nature which improves our well-being.
Proximity to water and views of water are proven to have many wellbeing benefits including reduced stress, lower heart rate and blood pressure, increased feelings of tranquility, positive emotional responsiveness, improved concentration and perception, and memory restoration.
8. Sense of control
Privacy and a sense of safety, shelter and security. In essence it can be said that our home is there to provide this base human need for shelter in the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This gives us a sense of control over our environment to feel autonomous in our space.
9. Social Connection
Spaces that allow for meaningful social interaction and connection to others again provides that important human need to feel connected and loved by others.
10. Sustainable and healthy building materials and methods
Use of natural and locally sourced building materials is so important for human health and also the health of our planet.
How does this all apply to the architecture of wellness in the residential home?
In all of Stefan’s design work he takes these wellness design principles into consideration, either consciously or unconsciously. They are beautiful ideas and also something built into his design ethos and his way of looking at the world. Stefan’s goal is to foster wellness through the medium of architecture . He believes that architecture has an important place in society to protect and enhance living. To create an environment in which the person experiencing the space feels in flow with their purpose, lifestyle and energy. Architecture is meant to enhance and improve the activity that happens in that space. Stefan wants to create places with soul, a place that feels alive and makes you feel at peace, at ease and loved.
In the up and coming blog posts we’ll be discussing our wellness architecture design principles in more detail.
References and further reading
Read Stefan’s full thesis: https://conceptarch.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Beconcini-Thesis-FINAL.docx.pdf