What is wellness architecture?
Wellness architecture is the principle of designing buildings with a focus on the impact they have on the wellbeing of the people that live or work in them, and finding ways to create spaces which make people feel better when they inhabit them.There are many ways this can be achieved, and factors range from the seemingly small and insignificant to the grandiose.
As we become increasingly aware of the impact built environments have on our planet, there is a growing interest in how these environments impact us, and most significantly, our wellbeing. ‘Wellness architecture’ isn’t a new phrase, but as technology and research develop and our understanding deepens, will architects become the flagbearers for a global wellness revolution?
A New World of Wellness
In recent years, wellness has become a household term. A huge number of us are now increasingly aware of the that factors play a part on our health and wellbeing, and how the lifestyle choices we make affect how we feel both physically and psychologically. From clean eating to mindfulness, we are in the midst of a cultural wellness upheaval.
One area traditionally less talked about, but that is now gaining traction, is wellness architecture. Research has concluded that, on average, we spend an astonishing 93% of our lives indoors - and the designs of the buildings we inhabit play a significant part on our wellbeing.
Architects are increasingly incorporating principles of wellness into their designs, and this is leading to competition between firms - thegoal: whocan design the most healthy, ecologically considerate and sustainable buildings? The prize: the possibility of a world where our constructed environments actually contribute to and galvanise our wellbeing.
Why is this important?
Where to begin? In its essence, our wellbeing affects everything about us - from our performance at work, to our relationships, our personality and mood, and even our lifespan. Considering how much time we spend indoors, poorly designed environments can wreak havoc on our wellness, even for those who lead a healthy lifestyle.
There’s an argument that architects have a significant amount of responsibility here. Architecture is traditionally associated (perhaps unfairly) with extravagance, bravado and aesthetic. The archetypal architect (try saying that with a mouthful of cornflakes) cares only about appearances, and being at the cutting edge of design. This is of course not true of most architects - and we’ve worked with plenty - but there is a certain commonplace impression which needs to be challenged.
As we become more aware of the impact built civilisation is having on our planet, with looming threats of climate change and global warming now ever present, we need to build in a more considerate way. Our buildings need to factor in the impact they have on the world, and the people who live in them - not just convenience and profit. Gone are the days of asbestos - we’re moving into an age of clean interiors and ‘healthy’ buildings.
Physically healthy spaces
There are numerous ways building design can affect wellness, but a few hold more significance than others. The International Well Building Standard (which disappointingly has little to nothing to do with building wells) has determined 7 key principles of a ‘well’ building. These centre on air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind.
Air and light quality are crucial when it comes to wellness. Through working with glass, we have a keen understanding of how important natural light is on wellness (so much so that we even developed the Photon Space entirely around this principle) - and many architects are now factoring in natural light as a fundamentalconsideration in their designs.
Similarly, air quality is hugely important. From simply including toxin-removing plants, to using the most innovative new concepts (such as algae-based biofuel cells) in incredible ‘living buildings’, architects are finding ways to clean up the air in their designs, thus boosting the wellness of building users - respiratory and other medical issues are no longer worsened simply by spending time indoors.
Spaces which encourage wellness
It’s important that the spaces we build aren’t just healthy in their own right, but also encourage overall wellness and healthy activities. The WELL initiative includes fitness, water and nourishment in their guidelines for good reason - even if the design is healthy, if people are just living unhealthily inside these spaces, then all other measures that have been taken are rendered redundant.
By including gyms, high-tech water filtration and cleansing technology, and even spaces for fresh food to grow or be stored, it’s possible for architects to create environments that aren’t just wellness havens in their design - but that actively encourage healthy lifestyles.
This is particularly applicable when it comes to psychological wellness too; the aesthetic and interior design of a building plays a big part in the mood of its inhabitants. Trends like the Danish ‘Hygge’ (pronounced ‘hoo-gah’, and unfortunately declared the most annoying word of 2016) have inspired architects to design homes and buildings which ‘feel’ pleasant. Cosy, balanced and harmonious designs can all contribute to how happy and comfortable inhabitants feel - which in turn can have a big impact on their wellbeing.
The future, or just a fad?
As with countless other ‘a la mode’ design principles, it might be tempting to see this move towards wellness architecture as just a passing trend. Just like flares and furbies, wellness architecture could be revoked to the annals of yesteryear.
There are plenty of signs which suggest this new set of principles might be here to stay, however. As new research is undertaken, and new scientifically-backed evidence emerges, it becomes clear that wellness architecture offers a multitude of very real benefits.
This research is only showing signs of growing too - the 2017 Global Wellness Report featured an entire section on wellness architecture, in which it referenced newly emerging research labs, such as the Mayo Clinic’s ‘well living lab’, which tests how architecture and design impact real people, in order to make scientifically-valid recommendations for future developments.
We spend a lot of time working with architects, and there’s a real spirit of innovation that permeates the industry. Those working in architecture and design are always striving to find new ways to innovate, improve and develop designs and technologies to make the world a better place.
Wellness architecture seems like it could be the next step on our journey to a healthy, balanced and fulfilling experience of life.