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July 29, 2018

The place of Wellness in sustainable and affordable housing, Part 2

There is a large and fragmented body of works on the theory and practice of housing design and its relationship with wellness in different fields of study, from sustainability and affordability to interior design and practices of FengShui[1]. My research also coincided with the recent ‘2018 Australian Housing awards’, in which the award themes were focused on typical but important categories, such as housing sustainability and affordability. The topic of wellness was not one of the main categories, but was considered indirectly under other topics, particularly sustainability, which as a giant theme often covers a vague territory. Designing for a sustainable lifestyle in housing should go beyond environmental efficiency measures and incorporates design features that improve the health and wellbeing of the residents[2].
Majority of research in studying the relationship between housing architecture and mental/physical wellness seems to be revolving around general features, such as access to green areas, level of noise, view from the apartments, safety, access to amenities and social interaction[3]. While these measure are influential factors in the mental and physical wellbeing of the residents, they suggest a surface understanding of the relationship between space quality and wellness. Furthermore, the outcomes are often too general and lack specificity in their design language and hence, not fully applicable in practice.

Nightingale 1, Winner of sustainability award in ‘2018 Australian Housing Awards’

Nightingale 1, Winner of sustainability award in ‘2018 Australian Housing Awards’ by Breathe Architecture, Image: Peter Clarke, ArchitectureAU

Having not been able to find a more holistic body of work in regards to the links between house design and latest findings in mind/body wellness, I looked up less official (non-academic) online sources. It was interesting to find a wide range of websites and weblogs suggesting practical tips on how to improve the quality of space in relation to mind/body wellness. The suggested tips often consist of practical adjustments in the interior design and setting of the houses, which every householder could potentially apply in their homes. The tips vary from practices of Feng shui and the impact of sacred elements (water, fire, wood, metal and earth) to positioning of furniture and plants and the power of de-cluttering. They are mostly practical but effective steps in creating a happy and healthy home environment, which I have tried some of them in my apartment and have experienced the positive flow of energy. The advantage of these sources is their more updated references to the latest findings on wellness, especially mindfulness and the advantageous of physical movement and meditation.


Feng Shui For Your Living Room: The Top Do’s & Don’ts by Marion Gordon,

The impact of recent findings about the benefits of mindfulness and movement has not been directly translated in the practice of architecture and housing design. Concepts such as embodiment and the notion of the ‘knowing body’, developed by scholars such as Pallasma [4], encouraged many designers to experiment with a kind of architecture that engages the physical body and the senses. However, the increasing awareness about the benefits of physical movement and mindfulness calls for researchers and practitioners to further investigate this in the area of architectural design, particularly in the spaces of our homes. This would also introduce numerous possibilities for developing design strategies in the ongoing multi-residential development that go beyond ‘tick the box’ criteria, such as inclusion of green spaces, communal space, play area or gym facilities.

The 8 House by BIG architects, redefining inside/outside boundary and encouraging movement through the building,

Considering the multitude of resources on the theory and practice of housing and wellness (health), the existing scatteredness of the body of works seems to be normal. In fact the attempt to theorize a rigid set of design principals for improving wellness could be too limiting for designers to explore new territories. However, it is important to update our knowledge about the present state of developments in the area of wellness and housing and to explore potential possibilities. Conscious integration of physical and mental practices of wellness could be incorporated in the design of interior and shared spaces through features such as planning layout, formal configuration, orientation, connectivity and boundary between inside and outside. Such integration promotes a flexible interior, which could inspire mindful rituals and activities, such as bodily movement, eating, meditating and spending family time. Moreover it leads to a more socially interactive space and encourages the sharing of communal spaces by blurring the boundary between inside and outside and redefining the shared space as an extension of the interior. This will ultimately expand the size limits in affordable housing and contribute to a socially sustainable lifestyle.
[1] This is part 2 of the writing series on ‘integrating Home, Work and wellness’ with a focus on the theme of ‘wellness’ in architecture (with part 1 focusing on the forms of workspaces).
[2] Prochorskaite, Agne, et al. “Housing Stakeholder Preferences for the “Soft” Features of Sustainable and Healthy Housing Design in the UK.” International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health 13, (2017) no. 1
[3] Evans, Gary W., Nancy M. Wells, and Annie Moch. “Housing and mental health: a review of the evidence and a methodological and conceptual critique.” Journal Of Social Issues no. 3 (2003): 475.
[4] Pallasmaa, Juhani. The eyes of the skin : architecture and the senses. n.p.: Chichester, West Sussex : Wiley, 2012.