04 Human and environment centric design – a ‘whole planet’ approach

Updated: Jun 16, 2020

In our last post, we introduced the idea of a human and environment centric mentality as the way forward - beyond ‘sustainability’. A 'whole planet' approach that recognizes humans as a part of nature, not separate, will naturally evolve into a frame of mind that prioritizes caretaking of our environment. In his book, The Nature Principle, Richard Louv maintains that “we can truly care for nature and ourselves only if we see ourselves and nature as inseparable, only if we love ourselves as a part of nature, only if we believe that human beings have a right to the gifts of nature, undestroyed.”

© Liv Green, Lake St Claire Tasmania, 2018

In the Daylight and Architecture issue entitled ‘Sleep, Work, Live’, the authors support this notion describing it as a “virtuous circle” whereby “the more people interact with nature in their everyday lives; the healthier they are likely to become and the more sensitized they are likely to be to the protection of nature and its resources.” In the article ‘Forwards to Nature’, Jakob Schoof - Editor of Daylight and Architecture, presents the case for a human-centric approach to combat the environmental issues we are facing. Schoof argues that “environmental protection is doomed to fail if it only focuses on C03 emissions and other abstract key data” stating that “we achieve a healthy relationship with nature wherever we actively practice it.” The case for a whole planet approach recognizes that humans have evolved to live in close contact with nature and therefore, to design for true health and well-being, our buildings and the spaces we inhabit must support this. To do this we need to understand the biological needs of humans. As highlighted within ‘Sleep, Work, Live’ - it is the human body and the processes that take place inside of it that are “the basis for any meaningful, health-related urban and building design.


Now more than ever we are seeing ourselves as a species of nature. We are experiencing the effects of Climate Change and recognizing the need to change our way of life. The events of 2020 and the global COVID-19 crisis has brought health and well-being to the forefront of modern-day life. We are experiencing a shift in the way we live, work and play, questioning how can we change our lifestyles for a better future and how do we design for this?

In response to COVID-19, The Co-founders of the Slowdown launched a podcast series called ‘At a Distance’ (linked below), asking “leading minds” to share their thoughts on the current crisis and the way forward for a better future. Interviewing Michael Murphy, the founding principal and executive director of MASS Design Group, they discussed the link between architecture and public health and the need to “ask more of our built environment.” Murphy highlighted that our priorities and the way we design needs to change: We’ve treated buildings like commodities.. like art objects that should be admired as a beautiful piece of artwork but not necessarily as a living system that affects us every single day”. What has become increasingly clear is that as designers we have a responsibility to prioritise a healthier standard of design. Murphy puts forward the need for a more mindful approach to design calling for a “slow space movement” - drawing a parallel to the ‘slow food’ movement but, for the built environment.

‘Slow space’

So what does a slow space movement look like? It is a slower pace that allows for thoughtful and considered design action as an expression of deep care and consideration for those who will receive and occupy the space. It is a strong respect for the resources being used and the craft at hand: sourcing the best local ingredients, taking the time to learn about them, and weave them together while ensuring little goes to waste. It is simplifying, reducing consumption, and focusing on quality to nourish a healthier way of life.

Whether you term it a slow space movement, responsible design, human-centric or whole planet design - what is important is that we continuously work towards a common good: a healthier standard of design.

Listen: At a Distance Podcast - Michael Murphy on Designing a Healthier Built Environment

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We are a Sydney-based interior architecture and design studio designing environments for people and place.

Cornerstore Design Studio

ABN 84 362 514 061

1/2 Kensington Street, Waterloo, NSW 2017

​All images and content © Cornerstore Design Studio, 2020


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