The Intersection of Health & Design

Opinion

July 2020

With recent times, wellbeing has increasingly become the central focus for everyone; with a priority to reduce and eliminate disease. Voxell are drawn to the innate ability of architecture to act as an engine for healing and change. There is now a centralised focus on health and sanitation, specifically to mitigate the risk of diseases such as COVID-19. It's become increasingly apparent that we, as architects and a society as a whole, must adapt the way we design to meet these needs.

The fundamental values that shape wellbeing in a city have a trickle-down effect and determine the way people behave. Because of this, designers must recognise the recent shift in values and meet the corresponding needs. Designers should be addressing immediate trends, including increased demand for automation and the integration of virtual and physical worlds.

There are some common trends emerging on how we can address health and sanitation from a design perspective. Some of these include:

Increased automation

Automation has been steadily increasing for a long time but COVID-19 has sped up the development of this technology exponentially and the demand continues to skyrocket. Automated technology will be increasingly incorporated into all areas of design and will be crucial in enhancing our wellbeing, for example, by eliminating unnecessary contact with surfaces and interaction with people.

Other examples of automation that are already in use and becoming more and more common include Smartphones that integrate with lighting control, building ventilation, elevator keypads, and even, in some cases, replacing your hotel room key. Your phone won’t just be used to pay for your groceries anymore; it will be used to eliminate any unnecessary touch. Facial recognition, voice activation, and motion sensing will be utilised more often including motion sensor lighting, which not only removes the need to touch light switches that host bacteria but also decreases energy consumption, offering a greener alternative.  

We are already seeing the implementation of many of these automation examples on a large scale, such as the Zaha Hadid architects headquarters for the Bee’ah waste management company in Sharjah, UAE. The building is founded on the principle of ‘contactless pathways’ removing almost all touch!

Photo: render by MIR ©Zaha Hadid Architects

Zaha Hadid architects headquarters for Bee'ah waste management Sharjah, UAE.

Integration of virtual and physical spaces

Socialisation is now seen as a threat to our wellbeing and densely populated cities have in cases been villainised duringCOVID-19. As a result, conversations are leaning towards the idea of decentralisation and the ways that we can physically distance people from one another while protecting everyone’s mental health and need for socialisation. COVID-19 has given us the perfect opportunity to reassess assumptions about the way we live and interact in cities and our offices.

The integration of virtual and physical spaces through health-conscious design will be essential to maintain a sense of connection regardless of physical distance, where remote workers and virtual meetings are now commonplace optimising the integration of virtual and physical space will be key. Most importantly ensuring the lighting and acoustics are able to meet the needs of both the physical and virtual worlds. A meeting room must be able to host a Zoom conference one day and a physical meeting the next. An office needs to be designed with careful attention to acoustics to cater for multiple calls occurring at the same time. There have been numerous reinventions of office design throughout history, what will come next?

Design for the future with a nod to the past

Over the years our wellbeing has been examined through more of an individual lens, particularly when it comes to design. Focusing on encouraging healthy lifestyle choices and our built environments have been shaped accordingly through what is known as ‘active building design’. Because we are now facing a global pandemic, we can learn from previous basic principles of reducing the spread of disease.

In 1854, the clear connection between the built environment and public health was made apparent in the midst of the Cholera pandemic when removing the handle on a single water pump helped end the outbreak in that area of London. This is a well-known example of how infrastructure planning directly impacts public health and is useful to reflect upon as we face the challenge of redesigning built environments to improve our wellbeing through health-conscious design in the face of COVID-19.

It’s essential that we maintain a long term vision with a holistic approach. Although health and sanitation are currently the central focus, designs must consider other major threats to our wellbeing including, obesity, climate crisis, and mental health. Our future designs must not only minimise the risk of disease through sanitation, but they must also improve our overall wellbeing.

In 2020, we are able to harness the power of rapidly evolving technological advancements to eliminate the need for touch and integrate our physical and virtual spaces. Voxell recognises that wellbeing must be the core focus at every stage of the design phase and for every project from urban development through to residential design. Voxell recognises the direct impact we have on the wellbeing of those who use the buildings we design and we’re committed to ensuring that we design buildings that enhance our wellbeing into the future.

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