With each passing year, our views on and understanding of architectural design continue to evolve. Architecture involves so much more than the physical components of buildings; it involves the livelihood of those who occupy these buildings and, by extension, human happiness and health must be considered when designing any building intended to be occupied by human beings.
With the recent outbreak of the coronavirus, there has been an increased focus within the architectural community on how the spaces being created might affect public health moving forward. Furthermore, according to the EPA, the average person spends 87 percent of their time indoors (along with 6 percent in a car and only 7 percent outdoors). Whether we like it or not, the dynamics of our indoor spaces can have a tremendous impact on our well-being.
Keeping these things in mind, it is important to take a look at how smart architectural choices can have an impact on our everyday lives. Beyond aesthetics and property values, we need to think about how the choices being made as architects can create more enriching lives. These intangible details, the details that can even increase human life expectancy, are yet another way that architects can use their buildings to make a lasting difference.
In this article, we will discuss just a few of the ways smart architectural design can improve public health. By realizing the impact each design choice can have, it will be easier to understand the importance of architecture and gain a much more comprehensive perspective.
1. Improved Air Quality
As one of the most vital necessities for life, having access to quality air at all times is obviously very important. Though it may not seem obvious at first, architects can actually have a tremendous influence on how air is circulated throughout any given building. Open floor plans with high ceilings, for example, will make circulating clean air significantly easier. These decisions can help remove the likelihood of contracting diseases, whether from people or other sources. Additionally, access to clean air may also help increase productivity.
2. Increased Exposure to Sunlight
A study published by the National Institute of Health concludes that workers who have access to windows in their office are much more likely to develop healthy sleep patterns which, in turn, can then produce a variety of additional health benefits (happiness, alertness, focus, etc.). Other studies suggest that increased exposure to sunlight can also help decrease the likelihood of becoming depressed. Additionally, natural light adds universal aesthetic benefits as well.
3. Better Access to Outdoor Spaces
The International school of architecture was largely focused on tall, glass buildings that emphasized right angles and repetitive floors. While, in theory, this design style may allow for the most “efficient” use of space, it by no means results in the most human-centric use of space. Having easy access to outdoors, even if for just a few minutes at a time, can help people feel , which can create positive outcomes in both office buildings and commercial storefronts.more relaxed and able to work for longer. It also helps decrease feelings of being “trapped”
4. Access to Necessities
Beyond having access to the outdoors, there are many other necessities that human beings need as well. Bathrooms, drinking fountains, refrigerators, and other essentials are all needed for us to remain healthy throughout the day. Over time, people that do not have easy access to these things—perhaps needing to go to another floor or walk an excessive amount—will likely not listen to their body’s natural needs. As you might expect, this can slowly amount to various health issues. In response, an architect will need to be strategic when deciding where these things should be.
5. Incorporating Plants
Having plants around, whether indoors or outdoors, can produce a variety of benefits, including cleaner air. Additionally, as Susan McQuillan M.S., RDN explains, the very presence of plants can reduce stress, reduce depression and can also increase productivity, focus, and even memory. Keeping this in mind, many architects will now attempt to incorporate small gardens throughout the buildings they design (particularly in the lobby) and, to save space, may also include a large—and beautiful—vertical garden as well.
6. Protection from Natural Disasters
When an architect designs a building, they will need to find ways to ensure that building maintains its value for many years to come. In many cases, this means incorporating basic safety features that can help protect from natural disasters. Depending on where the specific building is located, having features to protect it (and the people inside) from hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, excessive snow, and other possible disasters will all be very important.
7. Increased Mobility
A well-designed building will carefully balance accessibility (making it easy to get things and get places) with opportunities for mobility throughout the day. In response to rising obesity rates, many major buildings now make it easy for a person to walk around when needed. Without making the building inaccessible for people with disabilities, Apple Park, located in Cupertino, California, is an excellent example of a building that has a high level of “walkability.” Additionally, the building has a high window-to-workspace ratio, along with ample greenery on the park’s interior.
8. Mental Well-Being
The broader human architecture movement has caused us to reevaluate the way a building can impact a person’s mental well-being. Common mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, can be tremendously influenced by the setting a person is experiencing at any given time. When designing a building, architects now actively consider how their choices will influence the feelings and being of the people who inhabit them. Combining livability, environmental compatibility, and aesthetic beauty can all result in a building that is truly ideal.
In 2020, architects are asking themselves more questions than ever before. Will this building make people happy? Will this building keep people healthy? How can we balance all of these goals while still working cooperatively with our clients? By taking the time to design a building with human needs in mind, modern architecture can create much more desirable outcomes.