10 Oct 2023
“This approach sees “health and well-being as interdependent; it holds ‘prevention’ as important as ‘cure’, and looks for long-term solutions rather than more immediately attainable treatments”
Over recent years there has been a great shift in the way we view and regard mental health and wellbeing. That is to say we have become more aware of the importance of mental health (especially after the Covid pandemic) and how our environments influence our state of mind and consequently our emotional wellbeing. So, in recognition of World Mental Health Day we have decided to explore the theme of designing for happiness and looking at some brilliant examples of architectural design that have been designed to provide positive and lasting effects on their inhabitants.
We all know how badly design spaces feel like (the constricted office cubicle or the basement apartment that has very little light) but how do you design a space that promotes happiness? Currently there are extensive regulations accessibility, sustainability, safety, performance, etc., but no legislation or guidance of how to design to mental health and wellbeing and we believe that this should change. The buildings and spaces that we design need to address the needs of its occupants in terms of mental health.
It is beyond the scope of this post to cover all the aspects through which design can enhance our mental and emotional wellbeing, but what we will do is to summarise those that best demonstrated by our small selection of projects.
Connecting to Nature: On average, we spend 90% of our lives indoors and our daily routines leave us with very little time to spend outdoors. Numerous studies have demonstrated the serious harm that this detachment from nature has to our emotional, mental, and physical health. Therefore, by designing structures and architecture that embraces nature and encourages a connection to the natural world, we as designers can not only improve psychological and physical wellness but also significantly lessen stress and pain in those who occupy the spaces that we create. No project demonstrates this better than Maggie's Centre, which many of you know was the brilliant concept of Maggie who believed “that with the right support, nobody would lose the joy living in the fear of dying when diagnosed with cancer”.
Colour & Materials: Whilst it is frequently overlooked in design, the emotional feeling we all have towards colour may be linked back to our primordial instincts. A well-established method for reducing tension and anxiety and replacing them with feelings of serenity is colour therapy. When used properly, colour has the power to help us feel happy, calm, and comfortable. Similar to this, different materials can enhance a space's emotional effects by fostering an inviting and healthy environment. Through the use of vibrant colours, House P by MDDM Studio has been specifically created to reflect and intensify the energy of the family living there.
Control, Fulfilment and Autonomy: Design spaces should always be easy to navigate, provide the sense of safety and encourage autonomy. Feeling good and functioning well in a given space is achieved when we engage with our environment, physical activity, learning, having a sense of achievement and fulfilment. “The creation of environments that nurture our well-being is a skilful dance between the understanding of building physics and technology, human interaction and empathetic instinct.” (Sarah Maafi)”. We believe that the Epilepsy care home by Atelier Martel achieves “skilful dance” and dare we say surpasses it.
Community and a sense of belonging: “For most people, positive feelings get their true value only when they are shared with others. Enable connection and create sense of community and belonging by your creations.” Community, human interactions and a sense of belonging are at the very roots of physical and mental wellbeing. A person's wellbeing is greatly impacted by how much human interaction they have with other people as it improves their mental health, lowers their stress levels, and makes them feel more fulfilled. This became undeniably clear during the periods of lockdown all over the world due to the COVID pandemic. Our built environment is a clear reflection of our values and the way in which we express how we feel emotionally and psychologically. This next scheme was thought up by a couple who decided to transform their home into a training and support centre for the local community “due to the lack of accessible well-being facilities within the neighbourhood”.
Lastly…we have included a project that promotes not only mental health and well-being, but rejuvenation, serenity and tranquillity through every aspect of its design. Incorporating light, spaciousness, natural materials, connection to its natural setting, local traditional and rich heritage of the mountains of South Tyrol, the Apfelhotel Torgglerhof. The Hotel is carefully and sensitively designed to relax the mind and body, improve cognition, lessening stress and anxiety.
All projects mentioned above have placed great emphasis on how the spaces created affect the emotional and mental wellbeing of their occupants, displaying a deeper understanding of the connection between our physical environments and emotional state. As architects and designers, we need to think beyond the physical building to the larger implication of the spaces and environments we create, so that as a profession we tackle what is now the second most pressing public health issue in the UK, mental health and well-being.