DECADE: Building for wellbeing and health – are we building equally well?

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In 2015 A&DS celebrated 10 years and following a series of 10 events on 10 key topics a publication of reflections was published at the end on 2015. Throughout 2016 – the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design – we are-re-publishing extracts from the publication on each topic. This extract looks at the built environment and health under the heading – Building for wellbeing and health – are we building equally well?

Our concept of health has changed. Health used to be seen simply as the absence of physical illness, and medicine was aimed at removing the problems – the bacteria, the virus, the cause. But with many of us living longer, and with long-term physical and mental conditions, health is now about helping us to improve and maintain our own feeling of wellbeing throughout our lives.

In parallel, how we look at the health – the wellness – of our built environments is also changing. Just 20 years ago, we needed legislation to tell us to design buildings to give access to people who did not fit into the narrow ergonomic norms used at that point. At the same time, we discovered ‘sick-building syndrome’ – we were designing buildings that made us ill!

In the last decade, the principle of designing for physical access has become mainstream, although the practice of doing that well is still evolving. Other barriers to access such as those faced by people with sensory impairments or cognitive impairments, like dementia, have started to be tackled. As with medicine, we’ve been looking at removing the problems.

But the designed environment, both building and landscape, can do much more: it can support our health and help our feeling of wellbeing.

Schools designed for children with special educational needs are crafted to create spaces that enliven the experience of the hypo-sensitive, and calm the experience of the hyper-sensitive; techniques we could transfer to areas where people may be anxious or confused.

In this event, we explored the idea that what we design, and how we engage people in the process, can improve health and our feeling of wellbeing – from reducing asthma through the building fabric, through promoting exercise and movement, to communities taking back stewardship of sites and using them for social interaction and exercise, improving mental and physical wellbeing.

A&DS will continue to share the experiences of communities and practitioners to ensure that we put health at the heart of our considerations, and that we truly build for a society to be equally well.

Heather Chapple, A&DS

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