It all started 10,000 years ago when hunter-gatherers settled down into settlements. As their lifestyle changed, they shifted from hunting for food to growing crops. Further developments led to trade and commerce, and many years later, the Industrial Revolution came into the picture. As these settlements became big cities, the focus has deviated to urban development instead of human development. Somewhere beneath the tall skyscrapers, human evolution was lost. This has left us with two options: increasing the number of green spaces in homes and cities or building green towns from scratch.
It all starts with developing the spaces at an individual and community level. Factors relating to lifestyle, social context, diet, and physical activity affect health outcomes. Earlier, solving the problem of the effects of a built environment was subjected only to healthcare centers and nursing homes. But due to the rising need to enhance mental health, designers have started to ponder upon framing spaces at the individual level. Loneliness, low social status, adult life after prenatal or early life adversity, lack of natural environment, and less bodily fit states such as obesity or fatigue are some factors considered to make a ‘friendly’ built environment.
On an individual level, residential crowding (the number of people per room) and external noise factors can pose a problem for the people living in the house. The personal space of a home helps a person relax after a day’s stress. Colors, layouts, textures, and artworks can uplift a person’s mood, productivity, and creativity. We like to live in spaces that create happiness and intimacy with our loved ones. Wind, daylight, creating a sense of vastness using colors, or even making small, comfortable niches create an environment that reduces stress, anxiety, and depression.
In 2021, photographer Andy Billman exhibited a photography series ‘Daylight Robbery,’ exhibiting the shots of bricked-up windows. It had a tremendous effect on the person living in that house. The commencement of the ‘Window tax’ in the 1600s was calculated based on the number of windows an apartment had, resulting in bricking up windows. The people that suffered were usually poor tenants. Either they had to pay higher rents for open windows, which they probably could not afford, or they had to compromise living in dark spaces, deprived of windows. People condemned the window tax as it proved to be harmful to the health of the poor. Lack of daylight and fresh air were the vital factors for this. The photographer wanted to depict the irony of how people often overlook the futile attempts of the tenants for not being able to pay for daylight and air, which are supposed to be free of cost. Although, the only thing people notice is the symmetry and beauty of the tenements with bricked-up windows over the dark side of the story.
Human beings often like to be amidst nature to escape the big city life. Whether it be the sounds of waves or the gusting winds from the top of a hill, we all love the sounds nature creates. Designing supporting soundscapes can bring out the essence of the natural environment. To create an environment where sounds such as outdoor traffic sounds cannot overpower sounds such as the chirping of birds and other natural sounds. A crucial component of the living environment is the sonic environment. It is a collection of physical sounds, and a soundscape combines such sounds. The urge to create soundscapes in healthcare centers and nursing homes is increasing as the days pass due to their substantial healing capacity.
There have been studies in Japan’s woodlands on mental restorativeness and lifestyle, quality of life, resilience, and stress-coping. People usually take a road towards a forest setting every once in a while to get rid of stressors. The study covered the grounds of physiological parameters such as pulse rate and the blood pressure difference between the forest and urban settings. Eventually, the inference was that a short stay in a forest setting could improve stress coping ability, resilience, and a higher psychological restorative effect. The implication of this study was to encourage making greener spaces in urban settings. It even proves how significant changes in settings could lead to equally substantial bodily changes. Research has been one of the best ways to ascertain any topic with evidence. It has also become known that urban open spaces are associated with a better renal function of adult residents in the new Taipei city.
We could see how social injustice takes away the luxury of light and air. People were locked inside their respective houses and could not go out and appreciate the outdoor spaces. Public spaces can contribute to children’s development and enhance community life. Since there is a constant loss of ‘nature’ globally, many cities have put their foot forward to ‘rewilding’ their green spaces. Architectural firms like BIG and WYX Architecture + Design have designed prototypes for a greener approach to a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood. It is an extensive step towards creating parks with ‘nature’ as a focus, sporting activities, reading spaces, and game areas. Even today, we fight an adequate number of wars, mental health being the major one. It took a pandemic to appreciate the essence of life.
This competitive world often takes a toll on a person’s mind and body. Human beings keep running through the infinite wheel of time, which eventually is exhausting. In this situation, architecture can play a considerable role in creating an ambiance that could help a person break this cycle from this hectic, fast-paced life for a moment. It is arduous to fathom how a built environment could be related to health. How can a person be affected by the spaces around him? And how are we supposed to cope with it? There has been an extensive need to create an environment for healing minds in the past few years. Designers have been working on making ‘healthy’ spaces that could keep the people living in them physically and mentally happy.
- Healing spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being by Dr. Esther Sternberg