Photo: Thekla Ehling
Designing for well-being and health includes a plethora of opportunities and a range of criteria. The strategy is that designs are good enough to meet the quantitative health measures but are also adaptable to and integrated with a broader set of principles to support well-being. There is a potential risk that in an attempt to design the technically ‘perfect’ environment, we risk reducing the importance of the stimuli that encourage occupants to be active, aware and engaged.
Designs should ‘nudge’ users into positive behaviours, not by making them comfortable and controlling their environment excessively closely, but by providing a range of suitable stimuli for behaviour change. An extreme example of this is the design for the Bioscleave House by Gins and Arakawa, intended to “strengthen life by challenging it ... to stimulate physiological and psychological renewal by creating living environments that would be intentionally uncomfortable."¹⁰ It achieves this by, amongst other things, changing floor-to-ceiling heights, distinct use of colour, uneven and sloping floor surfaces, and uncomfortable door sizes. This intentionally disorientating approach demonstrates an extreme approach, but a moderate and pragmatic orchestration of architecture to promote well-being is clearly viable.
One of the opportunities of architecture is that, through the design of form, space and materiality, it can order our relationships with each other and our environment by creating interactive settings for life. It can do this in such a way as to provide opportunities to improve our sense of well-being, enrich our lives, make our lives healthier and more pleasurable. For example, the shaft of sunlight in a recessed window seat that creates a moment of warmth and calm, combined with a glimpse of nature, soft and acoustically absorbent seat materials, and the tactile delight of the smooth grip to adjust a wooden shutter.
Our well-being is intimately linked with such moments of delight. To an extent, such stimuli happen all the time, often without being recognised or designed, but when they are orchestrated throughout a building, the effect is cumulative. One study shows, for example, that a holistic approach to the design of schools and offices can boost performance. Likewise, it showed that holistic hospital design can even facilitate better healing. A poor building has few such moments of delight and leaves our lives impoverished, whereas a successful piece of architecture is one where there is an accumulation of many moments of delight that support the five ways of well-being.
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