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Health by design

How architects and researchers can improve our health

Peter Heijmen

on 23 November 2011

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Transcript of Health by design

Buildings can influence people's health. They do so in many ways, and designers can use this to improve our lives. This concept is nothing new. One of the primary
functions of buildings has always been to protect
people's health and to create an environment where
people can function to the best of their abilities.

A useful metaphor calls clothes our second skin... and buildings the third.

The skins act as filters and create conditions that are best fit for our health. They keep out the irregular and extreme influences from outside. Like rain, noise and wild animals.
But keeping out is not all. Like the first skin, and like clothing, buildings can help us profit from the outside world and get the best things in. Like sunlight, oxygen and views. And they shape an indoor environment where we can do what is important to us in the best possible way. Biology has taught us a lot about our biological skin, clothing manufacturers have developed clothes that are comfortable, warm, and... beautiful ! Research on the ways in which buildings contribute to our health is ongoing. Just look at where research has brought us in clothing ! Well, changing tastes have made a lot of difference as well, of course. And in the same 250 years, research and changing tastes in architecture did this ! Now, what can buildings really do to influence our health for the better ? Let's look at three levels : Physically healthy environments are the start. Now, don't think this is evident. A lot of our buildings are not able to offer us the healthy climate that we expect. And not just old buildings are problematic...

Look at schools. If there are too many people who feel responsible, a researcher or designer may be the one to take the initiative. Not only do buildings influence physical health, they also make us feel healthy or not by allowing us to live to our capacities. Or sometimes they don't. This is the difference between an enabling environment and a disabling one. But, it's not just that. A building's layout may be disabling too.
Is it surprising if my grandmother cannot find her room in this corridor? Did anyone think of people when they designed this? This is a home for six people with dementia, where they will not get lost, can move around freely, feel at home and stay independent longer. The next step would be to create an environment that actually helps people get healthier. Control of one's own environment is one of the factors that seems to make a difference. Like being able to open a window. Researchers could make sure their work is usable.

Designers could use the existing research more.

Especially at the very start of the design process, when the biggest decisions are made. Studies show that lack of fresh air takes away our ability to learn. Or, put the other way, children could learn even better if they had fresh air in the classroom. There is quite some research into the relationships between building characteristics and patient recovery. Putting the user first in designing healthy environments, researchers and designers could contribute to the evolution of a succesful third skin. Improving Health
by Design
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