It would seem that green spaces are only part of the story when it comes to urban design and health. Beautiful buildings also rate highly according to a study in the UK. However, beautiful landscapes need to be enjoyed by the whole population. But we still have architects thinking of children, disability inclusion, and ageing as a ‘tacked on’ afterthought or special add-on feature. Architecture and health go together.
Obvious ramps and rails detract from the look of the building for everyone. People who need them don’t like the look either. Beauty is lost when a place excludes and is inaccessible.
The Sourceable article by Steve Hansenexplains how beautiful architecture positively affects health. Based on research findings, green space did not always gain top spot with residents in urban areas. Being green does not necessarily make it “scenic”. The research involved participants viewing photographs of open space and buildings and rating them as scenic or un-scenic. The conclusion is that “scenic-ness” is more important to health than just being green.
Architecture built to heal
Hospitals and and health facilities are supposed to make us well, but are they designed with healing in mind? Michael Murphy’s TED talk critiques the design of spaces for healing. He asks, “if hospitals are making people sicker, where are the architects and designers to help us build and design hospitals that allow us to heal?” Michael’s talk begins with how his father’s illness caused him to study architecture.
Watch the 15 minute video in the link below. A transcript is also available:
There are five key areas for healthy housing and accessibility is one of them.The WHO guidelines on housing and health and accessibility takes into consideration ageing populations and people with functional impairments. It recommends an “adequate proportion of housing stock should be accessible.
In the remarks section it argues that living in an accessible home improves both independence and health outcomes. Although the guidelinesargue for a proportion of housing stock it has put the issue on the agenda. It shows it is as important as all other factors. However, the notion of proportion can lead some agencies to think that means specialised and segregated housing. It is worth noting that the lead author of this section is an Australian, Professor Peter Phibbs.
The other key areas are crowding, indoor cold, indoor heat, and home safety. For more detail there is an additional document showing method and results of the systematic review that underpinned this section of the Guidelines – Web Annex F. and includes interventions such as home modifications and assistive technology.
Because the majority of our homes are designed as if we are never going to grow old, most of us will need to modify our home as we age. That’s if you want to stay put, which is what most older people say is their preference. An easy to read and nicely presented report from Centre for Ageing Better in the UK gives an excellent overview of how home modification improves quality of life, mental health and overall independence. All good reasons for universally designing our homes from the start for the whole of our lives so modifications aren’t needed or are at least easier to do. Dwellings might be a “product” to property developers but for the rest of us a “home” is the pivot point for living our lives.
A great quote from a study participant to reflect upon, “You don’t get taught, at any point in your life, how to become an older person. It just sort of happens, you know…”. So waiting for consumers to ask for universal design isn’t going to work.
Hospitals can be distressing places at the best of times. If you have dementia or other cognitive condition it can be a frightening and disorienting place whether a patient or a visitor. Stressed patients stay longer and need more medication. Taking a universal design approach can provide a better experience.
Academic research and consumer input underpins this comprehensive guide to designing dementia-friendly hospitals from a universal design approach. In Ireland, where the guide was developed, they estimate almost one third of patients have dementia and as the population ages this will increase. Of course, dementia friendly design using a UD approach is good and inclusive for everyone. The guidelines are available to read online using Issuu software.
Below is a short video that provides an overview of the design factors that need to be considered in creating a dementia friendly hospital.
There is also a media release that provides an overview of the development of the guidelines and the project partners.
Ever wondered what the long term effects of a home modification are? A longitudinal study from the UK shows that household improvements in social housing can reduce risk of hospital stays, particularly in older people. While the study picks up major improvements in chest and heart health, it also found that falls and burns were reduced too. Over the ten years of the study, they found that homes that were modified and upgraded correlated with reduced hospital events. That means savings in the health budget or beds freed up for other patients. Obviously it is better for occupants too. It is not clear how poor the condition of the housing was prior to the upgrade or modification relative to Australian housing. This is an academic paper outlining the methods and comparing to other studies, but the discussion and conclusions give you the take-home message – health and the quality and design of housing quality are related and should be integrated in policy-making and planning.
One key finding was: “Using up to a decade of household improvements linked to individual level data, we found that social housing quality improvements were associated with substantial reductions in emergency hospital admissions for cardiovascular conditions, respiratory conditions, and fall and burn injuries.”
The title of the study is, “Emergency hospital admissions associated with a non-randomised housing intervention meeting national housing quality standards: a longitudinal data linkage study”. Sarah Rodgers et al. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Compressed urban footprints might be related to higher rates of depression. Drawing a long bow here? Maybe not. In, Mind over matter: The restorative impact of perceived open space, the authors argue that the loss of natural open space could be having a detrimental affect on mental health: “By 2050 three out of four people will live in urban environments.This premium on open space will reduce vital access to the healing effects of undisturbed nature”. The article by David Navarrete and Bill Witherspoon discusses some of the neuroscience about enclosed spaces, lack of natural light and other factors and how they relate to our perceptions of the world around us. There are references for further reading at the end of the article. The article was posted on the Conscious Cities website.