Architecture for Health and Well Being

Architecture has been influenced by health crises throughout history. Here is how building design may adapt as we learn from the current crisis.

April 27, 2021
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Architectural Historians believe that health is one of the biggest influences on architecture throughout history. Historian Mohammad Gharipour said “When you consider a more holistic definition of health -it’s physical, mental, social and emotional aspects – you realize how significantly urban designs have been impacted”. Architecture and well-being go hand in hand.

Long before COVID-19, building designs responded to the health concerns of the time. Early Modernist architects embraced glass, clean lines and access to outdoor space – believing that light and air were the best treatments for tuberculosis. However, Gharipour says the idea of designing for well-being stretches back to the very first buildings themselves.

“The ancient Greeks put emphasis on social and emotional health in their designs. The Romans then took urban infrastructure more seriously—for example, by finding ways to deliver healthy water and sanitation to their citizens. It’s an approach you see in the history of most every culture.”

“One of the best examples is hospital design,” he continues. “Hospitals went through major changes during and after crises, as societies realized they needed to enhance the health infrastructure within cities.”

Shifts for the Short Term

How will this health crisis affect current architectural design? Before the current COVID-19 pandemic, the economy was marching along and clients were working hard. Because of long hours and hard work, much design was focused on finding ways to disconnect. Outdoor spaces and trendy common areas were added to offices. Lounge areas with couches and coffee bars were common. The focus now has shifted to more spacing and sanitary safety.

Architecture firms now must focus on the challenges faced by each type of public and private area. At HTW Architects and Engineers, our client base is vast. Our design projects vary from Educational and Commercial to Healthcare and Municipal. Client focus across each design sector is shifting.

In residential design, home offices are becoming a must, with many clients wanting office space that can be accessed without entering the main residence. In office buildings, many companies are focusing on reducing occupancy and large, open areas for meetings. Hotels and Restaurants are doing whatever they can to take advantage of the outdoors with many such establishments adding outdoor dining and gathering space.

New Design Approaches

The approach people take inevitably varies across cultures, as David T’Kint, the Dubai-based partner of global design firm HBA, points out. “Here in the Middle East, residential design often incorporates two separate sections of a house: a private space for close family, and a public space for entertaining, with separate points of access to each. I believe we might start seeing more of this further afield, as people look for greater control of hygiene.”

“When you look at the public spaces in hospitality, one of the first things to come to mind is the lobby,” he says. “Traditionally, the hotel lobby is a grand space, empty except for a reception desk on one side and concierge on the other. Over time, it’s evolved to be a social gathering space. Now, it may become more of a transitional space, with someone there to meet you instead of a reception desk and the technology to check in online.”

Into the Future

At the moment a lot of design is based on temporary solutions to the current crises. This includes partitions and social distancing in existing spaces. There is also a shift in more permanent mechanical design, especially ventilation systems that can effectively bring air in and sanitize circulating air inside the space.

Each business model will have to adapt in it’s own way. But we are hopeful that moving forward, companies will recognize the opportunity to design spaces with long lasting solutions that prioritize health and well-being.