Building Health At Home
Home design may not be the purview of healthcare architects, but as a nexus in a spectrum of spaces that contribute to health and well-being we should start paying more attention to where and how people live, especially as healthcare broadens its focus from treating sickness and disease to whole-body health.
I discussed this topic as part of a panel discussion on health and the home at this year’s South by Southwest Festival with David Rhew, chief medical officer and head of healthcare and fitness at Samsung Electronics, and Dr. Scott Kaiser, a gerontologist and chief innovation officer with the Motion Picture Television Fund. (Pictured here, left to right: Dr. Scott Kaiser, Angela Mazzi, Dr. David Rhew, Stuart Karten.) Stuart Karten of Karten Design moderated the panel, which explored how space generates health.
Here are three takeaways:
1. Starting with salutogenesis
We know the built environment impacts health and well-being. When we design to foster salutogenesis, or health-generating environments, we empower people to be their best selves. Salutogenesis takes several forms, including biophilia, which is the concept that human bodies resonate with the natural world.
For example, research shows that children with ADHD see a reduction in symptoms when they spend time in nature. An environment featuring plant walls, lots of windows, and natural materials and patterns found in nature help bring this concept into a space.
Self-efficacy, or empowerment to change from unhealthy to healthy habits, is another form of salutogenesis. Change is hard; most people revert to old habits after they see a doctor. Through a process called normalization, they rationalize their diminishing quality of life and accept it.
For example, an overweight 30-year-old man with diabetes and hypertension could reduce or even eliminate these diseases if he had better diet and exercise. However, a stressful job reduces time for exercise and increases the likelihood of ordering take-out.
His home could help him replace these bad habits by giving him the connectivity to support and a sense of control to feel he can make progress towards his goals, like an atmospheric dining room with screens that project images of a sidewalk café, or neighborhood bistro. This setting can also be shared with others, allowing a series of individuals who live alone to share a common dining experience as well as support one another in making healthy food choices.
Additionally, raised planter beds in a yard make it easy for a person to grow their own produce and a well-designed kitchen with lots of counter space makes it easier to cook.
Coordinating a wearable device with smart elements such as refrigerators that monitor the type of food stored, when and by whom it is eaten, or whether or not too much time was spent being sedentary can track progress and keep with motivation.
This device can also be coordinated with mobile healthcare providers, such as nutritionists or physical therapists, who can then respond when certain behaviors trigger an alert.
2. Leveraging technology
Our body is regulated by our endocrine system, which releases various hormones during the day based on light receptors in our skin. In nature, the color and intensity of light changes throughout the day and by season. Spending too much time in artificial environments interrupts the light cues the body needs, affecting mood, digestion, and the amount and quality of sleep.
Color-balanced fixtures that change based on time of day and year, ample natural light, shades that block light pollution at night, and HVAC systems attuned to biometrics that automatically adjust the temperature according to our needs all promote health.
3. Going universal
We need to stop designing homes to the lowest common denominator. Universal design solutions such as 3-foot-wide doors and 4-foot-wide corridors and bathrooms that have curbless showers and enough space to accommodate a wheelchair turning radius should become the norm.
Design solutions can be layered—a single home could have all of the features described and be lived in by an individual or family at any stage of life. Most health issues start long before a person decides to seek care.
Designing homes to support wellness may just be the next frontier for health systems.
Angela Mazzi, AIA, ACHA, EDAC is a senior medical planner and senior associate at GBBN Architects (Cincinnati). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.