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October 28, 2018

Why is movement an important measure of health in Residential design? Part 3

In Part II of my blog series on Home, Wellness and Work, I was trying to delve deeper into the understanding of movement and its importance in residential and especially small-size apartment design. In this part, I’m sharing the outcome of my research on the reason why movement should be incorporated as an important measure of physical and mental health in affordable housing design. There seems to be a growing need for first, a more in depth understanding of movement in architecture and second, a more systematic design study of how to enhance physical movement inside and outside apartment buildings. Once the significance becomes recognized by the developers and government, then it would be an easier and more straightforward process to develop design methods for activating movement.
Fewer studies have investigated different scales and typologies of movement in architecture. Hardy (2011)[1] identifies two different types of movement; the ‘represented’ movement, associated with the formal characteristics of the building that creates an illusion of movement, and the ‘contained’, which is the movement of the eye, mind and the imagined body. The ‘contained’ movement could entail different scales and pace of movement, such as walking as well as more still or static movements in body position or posture, which I would call ‘motion’. Since, in architecture we often compare everything with the scales of the buildings, we sometimes undermine the significance of the changes that occur at a human-scale. However, ‘motions’ become more important in the design of small size apartments, where there is not much space for literal physical maneuvering.
Majority of studies on improving the design elements for improving movement has been undertaken in relation to housing for elderly or people with limited physical abilities. Research studies, including the Australian Health survey have long demonstrated the beneficial effects of Physical activity and movement for health benefits and improving life expectancy. Despite all these benefits there has not been that many studies in regards to understanding of movement as a measure of health in designing residential or other typologies of architecture practice. This is while the research[2] suggests that movement in the type of walking, posture movement (such as Yoga) and basically the awareness of body sensation, considerably reduces arousal and stress levels.


An affordable housing development in Hobart for the elderly and people with disabilities by Cumulus

A rich concept that could open up the path for a more focused study on movement and health in housing design is Mindfulness. Mindfulness involves the awareness and consciousness about the present body experience and offers therapeutic impacts on stress reduction and improvement of life quality. The concept is increasingly receiving attention in the field of wellness but not sufficiently discussed in architecture theory or practice. Movement is in the center of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR) to induce a state of awareness[3]. This is while living in multi-residential apartments, particularly on higher levels, is associated with anxiety and difficulty in developing social networks[4].
It is important to recognize the importance of movement particularly in affordable housing design and rethink design regulations, building codes and planning policies. This could have a transformative impact on the living quality of low-income earners and their wellbeing. In one of my previous blogs on adaptable design in small apartments, I talked about the potentials within the design of small size apartments for a physically and socially active buildings. The benefits of being able to move in my home, which is a studio apartment, struck me when I didn’t have time to travel to Yoga studios and had to start my yoga practice at home.  The open plan of the studio and the in-built and adjustable furniture let me maneuver physically in the space. This has given me a ‘good’ feeling about the inside of my apartment but the movement is not continuous outside and through the building and has limited the potentials in using the shared spaces.

I believe that the recognition of the importance of movement should be an inclusive design study, either in “luxury” or affordable housing. However, the growing need and interest in affordable housing seems to be demanding more attention for developing innovative approaches for activating motions and movement in the private and shared spaces. Technology could be an important tool for speeding up the development and testing of different design layouts (Testfit is a handy tool for those who are interested). This could also provide a reference point for developers and government for generating design regulations and planning policies and promoting more mindful movement in residential development.

[1] Hardy, Adam, (2011) The expression of movement in architecture, The Journal of Architecture, 16:4, 471-497, DOI: 10.1080/13602365.2011.598698.
[2] Mills, N., and J. Allen. 2000. “Mindfulness of Movement as a Coping Strategy in Multiple Sclerosis.” GENERAL HOSPITAL PSYCHIATRY.
[3] Robert-McComb, Jacalyn J., Andrew Cisneros, Anna Tacón, Rutika Panike, Reid Norman, Xu-Ping Qian, and John McGlone. 2015.“The Effects of Mindfulness-Based Movement on Parameters of Stress.” International Journal of Yoga Therapy 25, no. 1
[4] 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.