Firstly, to set the parameters we are working with we need to define what ‘health’ means and how we measure it.
In our research the resonating definition of human health was presented by Richard Louv within his book, ‘The Nature Principle’:
“Health isn’t just the absence of illness or pain, it’s also physical, emotional, mental, intellectual and spiritual fitness – in short, it’s about the job of being alive”. Stephen Kellert, the Yale Professor who helped refine and popularize E.O. Wilson’s Biophilia hypothesis suggests that talking about fitness, helps us move the discussion from pathology to potential.
As a broader term that encompasses the environment, ‘health’ can be recognized most simply as the state of being in “a good condition”, often expressed as “in good health”.
In addition to this, ‘well-being’ is described as “the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.”
Whilst a state of ‘health’ could be defined by the innate biological and evolutionary needs that we require for survival, ‘well-being’ could be seen as the ‘nice-to-haves’: the non-essential but highly-beneficial aspects that contribute to an optimal state of being.
Given these definitions how can we take this ‘health’-focused approach to design?
To gauge an understanding of what good health is for humans we need to:
Understand the biology of the human body, how it functions and how to design to best support this: - Acknowledge how we have evolved as a speciesofnature. - Recognize how our modern way of life impacts our biological needs.
Understand the societal aspects that contribute to well-being and what humans need as a social species: - Look at how communities and cultures have sustained over time. - Aim to strengthen the social ties of our communities and cultures now.
With this understanding, the question then becomes: how do we design to encourage healthy living at home, at work, and at play?
Frankly, the most environmental approach we could take would be to not build at all. To do very little by way of construction, leaving our landscapes and natural habitats as they are. However, we have to be realistic about our needs as a species – for shelter, food, and community.
To meet these needs this can and should be done in the least damaging way possible taking careful and considered action in design. These actions can include:
Implementing a sensitive design approach that complements the natural environment.
Harvesting resources that can be restored.
Designing for variation: considering climate, season, and daily variability.
And above all - doing less:
Taking a reductionist approach - doing as little as is required to make a space great.
With these practices in mind, the design philosophy should be to either take a long term approach and build to last, or conversely, to do the opposite by building to leave no trace: to re-locate, recycle or biodegrade.