Architecture is about perception – in two different senses. Although it is always an expression of a general perceived zeitgeist, it also influences the individual psychological state. Architectural psychology studies the interdependencies that play out here, including the way colours are perceived, the impact of floor plans, and approaches to urban planning. The current focus is on designing physical settings with health in mind – a concept known as “healing architecture”.
(Foto: Cor Gaasbeek auf Pixabay)
Healing architecture: from hospitals to health rooms
The standards required of medical care are increasing. Previously, hospital architecture was primarily designed with the functional aspects of patient care in mind. Nowadays, however, holistic aspects of wellbeing are playing an ever greater role. The name for this approach, which combines physical recovery with psychological recovery, is healing architecture.
Today’s designs for healthcare spaces need to consider the way that people perceive these kinds of spaces. This applies equally to patients, relatives and staff. If the overall atmosphere is positive, this can speed up recovery and improve motivation levels among doctors and care personnel. The atmosphere is affected by external stimuli such as light and noise, as well as whether an individual room or an entire building feels cramped or spacious. These factors have an intensified impact on us when we are in the sensitive stages of an illness. Unusual rooms or spaces that are deemed to feel unpleasant are more likely to trigger a stress reaction in children and older people. By contrast, pleasant and calm oases reduce stress levels and promote healing.
Green terraces on an office building (Photo: A K on Unsplash)
Architectural psychology in urban planning
Healing architecture takes a holistic approach that considers every aspect: interior design and building design, as well as the way the building fits in with the surroundings. Placing healthcare buildings in central locations rather than keeping them separate and at the edge of urban areas results in greater levels of social acceptance and breaks down people’s taboos and fears. This facilitates what can truly be called a healthy approach to illness.
The arguments in favour of focusing on the human psyche are also applicable beyond hospital architecture. Workspaces and office blocks are another example of where, previously, functionality was often the main design focus. More green roof terraces and relaxing outdoor areas are now being integrated, in order to improve the work-life balance. A preventive approach to urbanism would bring human needs back to the centre of urban planning – ensuring that the provision of social spaces also extends to more vulnerable members of society and refraining from building unapproachable prestige projects. The good news is that the process of taking back public spaces is already in full swing.
Hygienic design for private homes
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the trend towards hygiene and cleanliness has also extended into the home environment. We are increasingly desiring a safe place of retreat. When designing an oasis of wellbeing in our own homes, our perception of colour , light and space are of great importance. But alongside these psychological aspects, technological solutions are growing in popularity. For example, air filter and water filter systems that are integrated into a smart home system enable us to monitor the quality of the air and water in our homes more accurately than ever before.
We have also seen the resurgence of traditional passage rooms and hygiene rooms. The entrance area is becoming an important liminal space between the home and the outside world. Western hallways and mudrooms are the counterparts of Genkan entrance spaces in Japan, where outdoor footwear and coats are removed before entering the living space in socks or special slippers. This space is often symbolically demarcated by a step, which provides a psychological threshold to cross in order to enter the safe haven of the home environment.
In Japan, at the threshold of the living area, people swap their outdoor footwear for slippers – to make arriving at home a comfortable experience and to improve hygiene. (Photo: C Technical on Pexels)
Furniture for healthy living
It has long been an important criterion when choosing furniture for children and it is becoming increasingly important to adults, too: the absence of harmful substances in general, including solvents in paints and softeners in plastics. But hygienic design for interiors is now going one step further, with disinfection robots that use UV light to remove germs from the air and from surfaces. The technology is already being used in hospitals and, owing to shrinking production costs, it could soon be of interest to businesses and private households.
In private homes, hygienic functionality needs to blend in seamlessly with the rest of the furnishings. For bathtubs , for example, copper is popular again due to its anti-bacterial properties. For mattresses and upholstered furniture, hygienic fabrics such as the supple and breathable Mind Foam material are being increasingly used in order to prevent back and neck problems. In furniture design, functionality is now about more than flexible armrests or extending tabletops. It also explicitly includes qualities that promote good health.
Healing architecture for new cities
The combination of hygiene and a pleasant atmosphere will define tomorrow’s home living trends. Although the coronavirus pandemic did spark innovation in this area, there had already been demands for “human” spatial concepts: from improving sealed-up city centres through to developing new, positive concepts for entire institutions and residential districts. Healing architecture approaches are most typically used at hospitals and care homes. But the focus on people, social interaction and mental health remains a challenge for all of tomorrow's architecture.
The furnishing industry already has its eye on this trend. Here you can find a selection of furniture designs for promoting the health of the end consumer .