Ninety per cent of our lives are spent inside buildings, yet we are only more aware of the impacts of external environmental conditions on our health than how much a building affects our wellbeing. Architecture has the potential to impact lives. The spatial design has the power to create the “wow” factors or recall an old memory of what the place has given at that moment. Empowered spaces subconsciously touch the human being and guide the human behaviour to replenish the human soul. Spaces create an impact on every psychological behaviour of a human being, and hence creative design measures are crucial considerations in the social and psychological aspects.
A fundamental aspect of maintaining positive wellbeing is reducing stress levels. Recent research has pointed out that visible connections with nature have created a positive impact on an individual’s stress levels. Concerning this aspect, numerous studies looked at the effect of different landscapes on health and wellbeing; it was found that natural landscapes had an increasing level of positive effect when compared to urban landscapes. The wellbeing of occupants increases by 15 per cent when natural elements are incorporated into the surroundings proving that biophilic designs positively impact human lives. With nature providing us with such health benefits, it’s the architects, planners and designers who leverage their designs that prompt a more ethical relationship to nature.
It’s common to associate feeling good with being able to accomplish more. Proving this, numerous researches have confirmed the relationship between wellbeing and productivity. Architectural designs that provide a connection with nature increase productivity positively. Choice of colours such as blue, green and yellow link with high levels of productivity. Hence ensuring the presence of natural features such as green space, natural light, water elements predict greater levels of productivity. For instance, in Germany, the use of stone elements contributed to a greater level of productivity. In Australia, the use of wood is strongly linked to increased productivity in workplaces. In places like the UK, the Netherlands and the Philippines, it was the presence of indoor plants that improved productivity, while in India and Indonesia, it was green office colours that were positively associated with productivity.
One of the world’s greatest collaborations is that of Louis Kahn and Jonas Salk for producing the architecturally renowned Salk Institute, a homage to science set in concrete, teak and marble that continues to serve as an inspiration and workplace for innovative leaders in biological science. The pozzolanic concrete that Kahn used to construct in this institute was first formulated by the ancient Romans. The “River of Life” water feature at the Salk denotes a steady stream of discoveries into the greater body of knowledge.
Another project that demonstrates design excellence and social impact are the Friendship Hospital in Bangladesh. The hospital uses water as a central design theme, and hence the project is organized along a canal that cuts through the site, separating the inpatient outpatient area and providing healthcare services to the local rural communities of Satkhira. The local people find the hospital refreshing and quite free from disturbance. Odile Decq, Chair of the RIBA International Prize Grand Jury, states, “Friendship hospital embodies an architecture of humanity and protection that reflects the Friendship NGOs philanthropic mission to provide dignity and hopes to communities through social innovation. This hospital is a celebration of a building dedicated to humans.”
Maintaining the biodiversity of the city and urban ecology is the Skanderbeg Square which is a set of contextualized interventions, inviting public and semi-public neighbouring functions to spread into the exterior space. The main idea was to enrich the project with citizen contributions and ideas from agents located closest to the square. The square is now the biggest pedestrian zone in all of the Balkans, with the spaces being used for a wide range of purposes like morning prayers, evening concerts and occasional markets for local farmers.
“Traffic-free zone” pedestrian area, built in a flat pyramid-shape.
Another example that demonstrates architectural impact is the Braided Valley. The aim was to create a corridor that would offer the inhabitants an opportunity to travel quickly and move with ease while they enjoy some natural settings of very high environmental quality. Also known as the Twisted Valley, the area is a braided network of paths and footbridges that have transformed the River Vinalopo into a linear park that connects the neighbourhoods and natural spaces.
The Centre for Creative Learning at Francis Holland School is an intelligent design that maximizes efficient and effective space, meeting the social and psychological needs of the user. Headmistress, Lucy Elphinstone, said, “I am delighted to see the realization of our new Centre for Creative Learning and Centre for Creative Enterprise. It is so exciting to see new spaces emerging within our school for our girls to develop their imagination, intellect and wellbeing”. The centre has a contoured garden that sits above a library with distinct spaces for formal learning as well as a comfortable area for students to sit and read.
“We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us,” said Winston Churchill in 1943. But we have built structures not just impact the surrounding environment but continue to make a huge impact in our lives. We can see that architecture greatly affects society, mainly in the cultural and natural aspects, as the cultural heritage changes from city to city, and so does the climate. But on a more personal level, architecture has different impacts on the occupants starting from the spatial layout to the material distribution; it impacts the wellbeing and productivity of people. From these different examples discussed above, we can conclude that a successful design is not just about how our buildings can shape us but about giving people a sense of control over their surroundings.
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