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Cubic Houses in Rotterdam

To truly enhance human well-being, building design needs to move beyond optimizing single parameters such as temperature and humidity, to more holistic approaches that take their cues in health-supporting human behaviours. Based on the Five Ways to Well-Being that have recently been established by scientists, let us outline the way architects can consider these aspects in their designs, in order to nudge building users into a healthier way of living.


The design of our built environment affects our health and wellbeing and can have long-term implications for quality of life.

The curious cubic houses of Rotterdam

The World Health Organisation now defines health not as the absence of ill-health but as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.” 


The definition of health has been changing and now includes an awareness of the interrelationships between social and psychological, as well as medical, factors. Recent research has demonstrated connections of key physical design characteristics with the five ways of well-being. (Connect, Keep Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning and Give), which have been associated with positive mental health.


Based on these findings, the following paragraphs reveal how the provision of local urban and domestic resources can impinge on the five healthy behaviours. This supports current theory and research, which shows that a sufficient quantity and quality of diverse environmental, social and physical resources can influence human cognition, which, in turn, can increase the healthy behaviours of the wider population.


One of the most common design areas to benefit from a holistic approach is architecture.


Sure, every home owner wants to solve the problem of a roof over their head and almost every business premises owner or tenant wants to solve the problem of where to put their business but they also want more than that.


Architects’ clients are also concerned with aesthetics (who wants an ugly home or offices which deter clients from stepping through the door?). They’re interested in the layout of space inside a building (most people prefer not to have a kitchen in the bedroom or the boardroom). They want to be certain that their energy consumption is kept to a minimum given that heating or cooling systems will be one of their largest expenses after purchase. These clients may also want things that they don’t need but have the budget for anyway (playrooms, studies, meeting rooms, etc.).


Holistic design approaches in architecture enable architects to account for all of these things. They examine the way that the design will appear aesthetically – in context. They’ll look at neighbouring buildings and open spaces. They’ll consider the position of the sun at different times of day and how light will play on the surface. Then they’ll examine the use of the space and consider what sort of messages the design should project.


Sustainability will be examined from a materials perspective (how long will the structure last?) and from an environmental perspective (how to reduce energy consumption? Solar panels? Structural ordering?) Can materials be recycled when a building is completed?


There may even be spiritual considerations in holistic design. Does this building enrich the lives of the people who will use it and interact with it in other ways? After all, architects who want to be “in demand” with clients are going to want to win awards and a great way to do that is to build structures that do more than just function as a roof over people’s heads.