The convergence of architectural, interior and technology design is fostering healthier and more sustainable spaces
At COP27 in Egypt, the annual summit where the world comes together to address its collective climate goals, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned. “Our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible. We are on a highway to climate he with our foot still on the accelerator.”
This statement hearkens us back to the energy crisis of the 1970s, a period when the globe faced a shortage of oil and heavily inflated prices, leading to the early green building movement that put a focus on making homes more airtight with reduced outdoor air ventilation to improve energy efficiency. These inadequate levels of ventilation failed to preserve the health of occupants and these unhealthy conditions marked by headaches and respiratory issues led to a growing phenomenon called Sick Building Syndrome.
With a growing number of scientists and researchers warning us that the global climate fight will either be won or lost in this crucial decade, how do we balance sustainability with occupant health so that one does not compromise the other? How do we optimize spaces tor both?
Bi Reed, a renowned authority on sustainability defines regenerative architecture as “…a conservation or high performance approach focused on reducing our impact and a living system understanding focused on learning how to engage nature as a co-equal partner. By doing so, the potential for green design moves beyond sustaining the environment to one that can regenerate its health ⎯ as well as our own.”
Since we spend approximately 90 percent of our lives indoors, these indoor must be both supportive of our health as well as climate-smart. So how do we define health and well being? The constitution of WHO, adopted over seven decades ago, states, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmary.”
To create spaces that improve the human condition, we need to take a deeper look into how indoor spaces affect us. The field of neuroscience documented by the study of neuroaesthetics and medicine reveals the physical and emotional health benefits of beauty, nature and fine design.
Denver-based architect Don Ruggles ⎯ whose career spans five decades representing more than 1,000 projects ⎯ postulates that beauty in architecture and design can make a profound difference in our lives, including the elevation of our heath. He suggests that we can strive to improve the well-being of societies and the individuals everywhere by implementing a new approach. We should refocus the direction of architecture, design and art to include the quality of beauty as a fundamental, overarching theme in the built environment. Beautiful architecture is also sustainable, as it is work preserving over many generations.
In the same way an architect or interior designer would strive to create homes for people that deliver on all tenets of human condition, custom integrators can turn homes that were once mindless structures into intuitive structures that integrate devices, products and systems to deliver functionality that transforms a home into a system that operates much like the human body. These homes can never match the intricate workings of the human body, but technology allows for biomimicry at a fundamental level.
A whole house network and automation are akin to our central nervous system, whose role is to control the body’s functions and relay messages back and forth between the brain and the body. We interact with our homes through our five senses. Designing homes that complement that natural world and its systems and processes will lead to the elevation of the health of people in these homes while reducing the negative impact of our activities on the environment.
Lighting and motorized shades not only allow people to be more in sync with their circadian rhythms ⎯ which enhances productivity, comfort, sleep cycles and more ⎯ but these solutions also offer privacy, increase engird efficiency and product valuable art and furnishings.
The HVAC system acts as the home’s respiratory system, altering out pollutants, bringing in outdoor vent when needed, providing optimal humidity levels and ensuring good overall indoor air quality. Without a high-performing whole-house filter, occupants themselves become the filter. These IAQ systems will allow families to adapt to ever-growing exposure to respiratory viruses and novel strains. The plumbing system mirrors our alimentary tract, delivering a clean supply of water for consumption and an outlet for waste to be removed.
The World Wildlife Federation revealed that we eat or breathe in about 2,000 tiny plastic particles each week, most of which are ingested from bottled and tap water. Other studies show alarming levels of forever chemicals. arsenic and lead, being found in tap water samples across the U.S. Therefore, it is more vital than ever to have a high-performing water purification system to protect peoples health.
The immune system is the body’s security system that protects it against bacteria, viruses, parasites and other foreign invaders. A security system that is functioning around the clock will provide peace of mind and reduce stress levels.
When we consider the circulatory system, our blood carries life-sustaining elements that nourish every cell and organ in our body. It also removes waste. People make up the heart of a home, so designing homes that reduce high stress levels and contribute to positively is critical in helping people navigate through a post-Covid world that is filled with uncertainty.
Each system is powerful even in isolation, but an integrated system that takes modern architecture and design and places nature at the center of the design process is crucial in addressing the global climate and health crisis.
Combing modern technologies with ancient architectural wisdom allows us to witness a new dawn for homes that are capable of regenerating both human and planetary health. The way that we build and design homes can have a tremendous impact on people and be a source for health and well-being, as opposed to extraction and degeneration. Creating more of these spaces will require architects, interior designers, custom integrators and other stakeholders to step up, reconnect with nature and forge a path of prosperity for future generations.