The American Institute of Architects (AIA) recognizes the impact of building design on human health. It has suggested six evidence-based strategies such as ease of movement, sensory stimulation, and the promotion of social connectedness for architects to improve health and well-being.1
Considering that people can spend as much as 90% of the day indoors, better sustainable design geared towards human health and well-being is never more important.
A commonly-known issue we face with being indoors is the quality of air. It goes beyond circulated air and constant air conditioning which is drying. Our health is also negatively impacted by the chemicals used in building and furniture materials. Sick Building Syndrome includes a variety of ailments from headaches, dry cough, and even personality changes.
We intuitively bring nature indoors with plants and other elements such as natural lighting. Plants promote oxygenation and air purification and buffer against stress. ☞Here is a list of animal-friendly air-purifying plants.
The impact architecture has on a person’s mood is huge. Arguably these are the fundamentals of architecture: not how it looks, but how we feel it, through the way it allows us to act, behave, think, and reflect….architecture may not have a direct relationship with our mood that is measurable. It may be complex, subjective, and happen over time and with use.
Dr Melanie Dodd
Programme Diretor of Spatial Practices at Central St Martins Art School3
Exposure to natural light, especially from 6AM to 10AM, regulates our circadian rhythms (aka body clock) and the production of melatonin, essential for the sleep cycle and hence rejuvenation and regeneration. Artificial lighting is inadequate in providing the spectrum necessary for good health.
For those living with little or no sunlight in the winter, the effects such as depression are commonly known. Research on circadian-effective area of a space, for example, can identify “biologically-dark” zones. If a person works with a regular schedule in these areas, he is likely to suffer from disrupted circadian rhythms2.
Commercial building and interior design increasingly includes more natural light and integrated landscaping. Some examples include the ParkRoyal Hotel and Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Singapore.
6 Ways to Add Natural Elements
Having plants indoors is an easy way to add natural elements to a space. They can especially enliven an otherwise sterile office environment. Plants help reduce stress and noise levels, while improving air quality and friendliness and cheerfulness of a space.
A small potted plant, along with an Orgonite, placed by a computer help mitigate electromagnetic radiation that has unhealthy effect on the living organism.
What was important was that everybody could see a plant from their desk. If you are working in an environment where there’s something to get you psychologically engaged you are happier and you work better.
Dr Chris Knight, psyhologist4
A Room With a Room
While having a window in a space is moving in the right direction for better health, quality and quantity of light may not exist throughout the space and some people may still suffer from disrupted circadian rhythms. Using an area-based circadian daylight metric to improve design can increase entrainment and better health.
A view of trees, rivers, and mountains is ideal, especially if we can take regular breaks in them. If not available, perhaps install high-resolution landscape photography on the walls. Depending on the feng shui assessment, an indoor water element such as a fountain can add a natural element while creating a peaceful aura and soft calming sounds.
Choose colours to evoke different states of mood. In the book Healing with Colour and Light, Theo Gimbel shares the power of colour and describes for example how in the Waldorf school in Göttingen, Germany, the colour scheme in the classroom subtly shifts toward yellow (for mental stimulation) to reflect each stage of development. Class 1 is pink/red, Class 2 is pink/orange, and Class 3 is orange/red, while Class 7 is yellow/green and Class 8 for the teenagers is pale green to balance their thoughts.
Warm colours stimulate and cool colours calm. Using colours for healing in hospital settings can have a profound effect, such as turquoise for healing and magenta to invite change.
Sometimes natural elements such as sunlight or a view of nature may not be possible. Incorporating designs with patterns and textures found in nature also has a positive affect. This is the simplest and most easily applied use of biomimicry. Take a look at the Instagram account of Jungalow for her beautiful nature-inspired patterns.
Understanding different biological systems and habitats can lead to better designs that harmonize with nature and work smarter such as more environmentally-friendly ways to heat and cool a space. Here are 3 design trends in biomimicry and a look at natural ventilation by Doaa Ismail Ismail Attia, a Lecturer of Interior Design and Furniture, Faculty of Applied Arts, Benha University.
Offgassing is a real thing. This comes from the chemicals such as formaldehyde (the stuff for mummification) used in furniture, building materials, and finishes. These volatile organic compounds (VOC) affect both our health directly and indirectly through indoor air quality. Many low- and non-VOC products such as paints are available on the market. Understanding what we choose for our environment is important. Buying vintage is one way to ensure all the offgassing is complete.
Other suggestions include swapping out plastics and use as much glass and stainless steel for your containers, use rugs on hard floors instead of wall-to-wall carpeting, make your own cleaning solutions with vinegar, baking soda, and essential oils, wear slippers or go barefoot and leave outdoor shoes outdoors, use dehumidifiers and air filters to minimize conditions for mould growth and to improve the quality of indoor air, and shut off the wifi router as much as possible and for sure, at night while you sleep.
A mind adrift in a sea of its own making is far more interesting than a mind following a trail of hyperlinks….From from laziness, proper idleness is the soul’s home base….The idle mind is awake but unconstrained, free to slip untethered from idea to idea or meander from potential theory to potential truth.
Nikeala Marie Peters, The Kinfold Home
It’s been found that equitable buildings with access increases comfort and use and improves mental health.5 Equitable spaces means removing barriers to entry as well as within a space. Creating a space that invites conversation and interaction such as multi-use and multi-age builds community.
Designer Nikolas Bentel created these “chalk drawers” that render different shapes, lines and patterns.
1 The three most common workplace stressors – light, acoustics, and temperature – can be resolved with the six strategies. Six design decisions that will entice clients and improve health by Matt Welker, Assoc. American Institute of Architects, October 12, 2016 link to article extracted May 15 2018.
2 When it comes to design, what is a healthy dose of daylight? by Kyle Konis. The American Institute of Architects. July 13, 2017. link to article extracted May 15 2018.
3 As quoted in How Architecture Uses Space, Light, and Material to Affect Your Mood by Kashmira Gander for Independent. April 19 2016.
4Plants in offices increase happiness and productivity Guardian. August 31 2014. link to article extracted may 18 2018.
5Before you design, listen: it could save lives by Brendan McLean. The American Institute of Architects. April 28, 2017. link to article extracted May 15 2018.