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By Linda Kafka, WELL AP, CLIPP, CAPS

During the pandemic, many of us began questioning the meaning of home and what they should do for us. We have recognized that our spaces need to be flexible, efficient and adaptable for multitasking, and they need to function well and keep us safe. It is no longer good enough for our homes to look nice; they need to help us feel good, too. Many would agree that homes have evolved from being somewhere to eat and sleep into a place of growth, productivity and reflection.

Numerous studies from well-respected institutions like Johns Hopkins and the Well Building Institute have identified that design choices can affect our well-being, and therefore the urgent need to think about the future begins now. It makes sense for residential designers to begin incorporating wellness into their scope of work. Today, we are experiencing a shift in design as it converges with sciences. Architects and designers alike are leveraging neuroaesthetics, the study of how the mind processes and responds to beauty, and they are using sensory design or evidenced-based design for progressive conditions like dementia. Professionals in the built environment have the potential to think beyond a mere box to solve worldly problems – especially in the present era where the sense of being, thoughtfulness and wellness are primary.

Biophilia Plays a Key Role in Health and Wellness Design
There are numerous ways a design professional can play with space that can help heal its users. First is the incorporation of biophilia and the direct connectivity with nature that hits the neuroreceptors of the brain and helps calm a person down. Biophilia is the theory that people possess an inherent affinity to nature, which developed during the long course of human evolution. In recent years, scientific studies have identified that this affinity to nature is a vital component to our health and well-being, supporting a feeling of relaxation and thus producing higher levels of serotonin. Our experiences with nature reduces stress, improves cognitive function and enhances mood and creativity. Thus, thoughtful, innovative design incorporating biophilia can shape how we feel and what we experience within a physical space. Apart from this, focusing on factors such as natural light, ventilation and playing with the scale and perspective of space can further enhance the appearance.

Some of the best examples of biophilic design can be found in a variety of settings in North America, Europe and Asia. Take a look at 1 Hotels in New York City and Miami, an urban retreat inspired by nature or The Spheres in Seattle with more than 40,000 plants and 4,000 square feet of vegetated surfaces. The Spheres is a working space that offers an abundance of light, greenery and natural environment under a glass dome bringing nature inside. The five-star real estate, lifestyle and sporting resort of Quinta do Lago, Portugal, is tailor made to maximize well-being. In Singapore, the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital used biophilic design, which explicitly tied to its goal of improving health and well-being.

Health Benefits of Universal Design
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than one billion people – about 15% of the global population – live with some type of disability. In most recent years, research has emerged that highlights the importance of promoting health through design for people with disabilities and/or progressive conditions.

Universal design is an important aspect that needs our utmost attention. Surprisingly, US based studies identified that only 1 percent of universal design is currently being used in residential design projects. Since this concept follows the principles of equality, it offers a wide range of solutions for almost everyone on the planet. Whether clients are temporarily or permanently disabled, the designer must look through their eyes to design an empathetic yet sensory space. Universal design expands beyond basic structural access to include design strategies that support physical and mental health. When done correctly, it offers collaborative spaces to foster social cohesion and wellness spaces to promote physical and emotional well-being.

Wellness Design Considers Air, Light, Acoustics and Color
Diving further into the details, sustainable and healthier material specifications beyond being purely aesthetic are essential in terms of healing and wellness. Mainly, contribution toward air quality standards by removing materials with lead and asbestos are known to lead to healthier environments. Abiding by the Public Health standards and maintaining minimum requirements in terms of VOC limits for interior paints, coatings, adhesives, sealants, insulation and even flooring used, a design pro can help foster a clean and healthy environment.

Apart from VOCs, an architect must design a space keeping in mind ample ventilation, humidity control and even a cleanable environment. Mainly, reduce the use of wall-to-wall carpeting and consider using materials that have hard surfaces with easier cleaning abilities.

Another way designer can design for wellness is by considering the aspects of sound light and thermal comfort in the space. Furnishings all play a role in wellness design. In compliance with local or standard requirements, it is necessary that the designer further specifies ergonomic furniture that can offer long-term benefits to its users.
Moreover, the use of color significantly influences well-being. Many designers are aware that there are certain colors and patterns that intrigue a human brain; for instance, reds symbolize anger and energy, while blue symbolizes calm and peace. However, the conversation with clients about their love for the long trending colors of gray and neutrals remain an obstacle for most designers
Undoubtedly, design professionals have a bigger role to play in affecting the health of their clients. After all, they have long been primed to address the health and well-being of building users.
In the end the things that transform a space into a home are not only the personal touches, but ensuring your designs improve the wellness aspects as well.

Now in its third incarnation, the LivABLE Design Summit will take the residential building sector on a sensorial journey. The three-day virtual trade event, which takes place from October 27 to 29, will explore the benefits of creating mindful sensory spaces in the home by merging the worlds of breakthrough science with the power of design. A host of 30+ keynote speakers from around the globe will share their knowledge regarding the profound effect design has, far beyond what the eyes can see. Learn more.