We think hard about what we put in and on our bodies, but what about our buildings?
Say hello to wellness architecture.
According to the Global Wellness Institute, architects are now creating buildings with health in mind. In other words, buildings that make us healthier and happier — literally.
It makes sense. We spend up to 90 percent of our time indoors, so the spaces where we live, work and relax have an impact on our well-being: how we feel, eat and even sleep at night.
What does a healthy building look like?
The trend is based on the Well Building Standard, a checklist of seven categories: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mental health. Developed by Delos and the International Well Building Institute, these are the blueprints for a healthy building — and they’re strict, to say the least.
As IWBI CEO Rick Fedrizzi tells SheKnows, Well is a “holistic approach to how buildings can enhance our health and well-being instead of compromising it, which far too often is the case.”
Supporters of the trend call it "enlightened design" — it’s about getting rid of those interior design elements that cause stress and replacing them with health boosters.
Take lighting, for example. Light drives the body’s circadian rhythm, which triggers the hormones we need at certain times of the day, such as cortisol for energy, or melatonin for sleep. So, Fedrizzi says lighting has a profound effect on wellbeing.
“During the day, brighter white lights can inform our body that it is daytime, therefore increasing productivity and alertness, which is great for a student that needs to be studying. At night, warm lamps with a lower blue component can provide illumination for visual purposes while also preparing the body for rest,” he says.
Wellness architecture also takes into account things like air and water supply, plus behavioral cues. For instance, Fedrizzi says the Well Standard requires “active design, such as centralized staircases to encourage physical activity, as well as access to nutritional information and healthy food options.”
In doing so, he says Well spaces improve the nutrition, fitness, moods, sleep patterns and performance of the people living in them.
And people are buying into it. There are now 350 Well-certified spaces worldwide, and the conversation is flowing, with The New York Times reporting that hospital design, known for its poor lighting and lack of privacy, may be slowing down patients’ recovery time.
Fedrizzi hopes that within a decade, wellness architecture will become “the new normal.”
How to make your home healthier
Not building from the ground up? No worries. There are plenty of ways to make your existing home healthier:
- Use appropriate light sources (e.g. no bright bulbs in the bedroom)
- Open blinds/curtains for natural light
- Buy indoor plants — they have a calming effect and filter toxins from the air
- Install living walls
- Open windows and doors for airflow
- Switch to a standing desk
- Use solar power
- Opt for natural, nontoxic materials and textures, such as marble and wood
- Decorate with earthy, calming colors
- Choose chairs that support good posture
- Invest in appliances to encourage you to cook at home, like juicers and food processors
- Go for organic and upcycled products when you can
- Open up areas so you can see and interact with other people
- Set aside a space for meditating, exercising or just chilling
Is this the only approach to modern architecture?
Some architects and designers consider functional and aesthetic needs to be just as important as well-being. Sydney-based architect Alex Roth says he creates spaces that reflect clients’ unique personalities, desires and lifestyles. By tapping into these quirks, he designs spaces that make the people using them feel at ease.
“Building a relationship with a client allows me to work out what it is that they value most in their lives, and how to create a design which encompasses these values,” he tells SheKnows.
As for the checklist, he says light, comfort and nourishment are essential, while fitness and mindfulness differ from client to client: “Because they are so unique to every person, I think they are important in design, but not a necessity in all spaces.”