Housing design for a decent life

street scene at twilight with modern medium density apartmentsLiving a “decent life” depends on whether you have the capabilities to have a decent life. This is the proposition of Nobel prize-winning economist and philosopher, Amartya Sen. Doing the things we value, having freedoms and pursuing our goals are all part of having a decent life according to Sen (2009). But lack of money and freedom, and barriers to participation limit the capability for a decent life.

Being unable to live a decent life impacts on socialisation, mental health and general wellbeing. In their article Housing design for socialisation and wellbeing, Lai and Rios discuss direct and indirect factors in housing design that relate to mental health. They have produced a toolkit, Happy Homes: A toolkit for building sociability through multi-family housing design as a result of their research.

The authors drew inspiration from the North Vancouver Active Design Guidelines for their toolkit. They have distilled their research into 10 key principles that relate more to the location and design of the neighbourhood rather than the home itself.

Ten key principles

    1. Doing things together: Provide spaces that increase opportunities for residents to interact and do enjoyable things together.
    2. Exposure: Define private, semi-private, and public spaces to enhance residents’ sense of privacy and control over their exposure to others.
    3. Tenure: Enhance design and policy measures that will allow residents to remain in their community, as social connections and trust are reinforced over time.
    4. Social group size: Social group size affects the quality of social interactions and relationships – use of private, semi-private, and public spaces, as well as the clustering of homes into groups.
    5. Feeling of safety: Environments that feel safe encourage people to build positive relationships with each other.
    6. Participation: Residents participating in the design and management of their living environment allow for social interaction and increased sense of belonging.
    7. Walkability: Neighborhoods with mixed-used spaces that encourage walking increase social interaction.
    8. Nature: Exposure to green spaces and residents participating in the care of green spaces promotes social wellbeing.
    9. Comfort: Pleasant and comfortable environments encourage people to socialize with each other.
    10. Culture and values: Places that reflect people’s identity, culture, and values enhances their attachment to places and increases their sense of belonging.


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