29 Sep Wellbeing Design
Is there really such a thing as the architecture of health and happiness, or is this just wishful thinking?
Wellbeing is fast becoming one of the hottest buzzwords in design. With the release of numerous reports and tools from groups such as the International Well Building Institute, World Green Building Council, and Terrapin Bright Green, it’s been suggested that in 2016 buildings will go from being green to being good for you.
However, is this really the case? While it sounds like a worthy aspiration, can we truly design buildings and places that bring out the best in people? To answer this question, we need to understand wellbeing’s underlying nature, because it’s an elusive quality, one that is different for everyone. It’s in constant flux, rising and subsiding, and there is certainly no ‘one size fits all’ solution for it.
Wellbeing is best thought of, not as a ‘thing’ that can be designed, but as an always adapting, pattern of relationships. Wellbeing requires an ongoing partnership, something that happens in concert between people and place. Some of these partnerships are physical and ecological, such as access to healthy food, and being in nature, while others are social and psychological, such as community and having positive emotions. Wellbeing depends on what happened yesterday, as much as it depends on what is happening in the moment, or could happen in the future. It’s a truly complex quality that can’t be dumbed down into a shopping list of design features that ‘make’ us well.
The analogy I like to use to describe the rich complexity of wellbeing is that it’s like throwing a good party. You can have all the right bits, like a good DJ, good food and an awesome dancefloor, but this is no guarantee it will be a good party. What makes it a good party is not simply the bits and pieces, but the unique ‘concert’ that occurs in the ‘space’ between people and place.
Therefore, suggesting we can design physical buildings that make us well isn’t really telling the full story. It is more a matter of designing ‘space’ — physically, psychologically, socially and ecologically — for the potential of wellbeing to emerge.
Read the full article at The Fifth Estate