News Flash: Built Environment Affects Health!
“A growing body of research indicates that health is determined by the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age. Policies and programs that historically have not been recognized as related to health are now thought or known to have important health consequences.”
So, there you have it, a blue-ribbon panel has confirmed that your environment influences your health. With apologies to the committee, whose report was really about how to research the effects of environment on health, here's my Building Design Top Ten list. No researchers were harmed in the making of this list. It is based solely on anecdotal evidence.
Top Ten Building Design Factors that Influence Health
It makes us happy in countless ways.
A view of outdoors.
We all hate being cooped up in an interior room. There must be a health reason for that.
It's not just about the temperature. We need fresh air, filtration, adequate air circulation. We also want all of that equipment to be quiet, unobtrusive, easy to fix, and state-of-the-art.
Lounges, nooks, and spaces for chance meetings: these foster relationships that encourage innovation. The added benefit is that social interaction is good for us.
Health laws require certain parts of a building to be finished with washable surfaces. But in other areas “dust catchers” can cause respiratory problems – and if they're not reachable, the dust problem can get pretty ugly after five or six years.
Who needs to stress out because they can't find their way around a building? We don't want to feel like rats in a maze.
Safety and security
It can be bad for your health to slip on a wet floor, or to get accosted in a stairwell. While we're on the subject: if you de-emphasize the elevators and celebrate the stairs, people will use them.
Energy and Water Efficiency
Buildings account for 70% of the world's electricity consumption. Enough said.
It's particularly great if you don't have to drive!
This is the committee: http://www8.nationalacademies.org/cp/CommitteeView.aspx?key=49158 This is a summary of the report: http://www.healthcare.gov/prevention/nphpphc/advisorygrp/hia-brief-report-10032011.pdf
Blueprint for Bastrop
I spent the last two days in Bastrop, Texas, participating in an “urban design” workshop. It is counterintuitive, this idea of urban design in a small town that consists of mostly suburb-style subdivisions. But to a design professional, the term refers to the way all the physical elements of an area relate to each other, and has nothing to do with the size of the city.
My professional organization, the American Institute of Architects, sponsors these workshops. They bring experts come from all over the country to meet with local residents, study the locale, and make recommendations.
The trend in urban planning is to encourage development of “walkable neighborhoods.” Bastrop has a lively, though small, downtown area, but beyond those few blocks it is just as much a driving city as the rest of our great state. To increase walkability, the team suggested creating a “Main Street” atmosphere along Chestnut Street, with a nice sidewalk flanked by ground level retail and a level or two of other uses above. An “Arts and Creative Zone” could cater to companies who make movies, or chocolate, or computer games, or paintings. Liberal use of small, properly designed landscaped would slow down stormwater and mitigate pollution, - as opposed to the current strategy of enormous, ugly rectangular engineered things surrounded by fences. Side streets could provide access to parking behind the buildings, alleviating the perception of “parking problems.”
I've been through Bastrop dozens of times, but never been able to figure out how to get downtown; so I totally agreed with the idea of installing a major landscape element to mark the path and lure traffic from Highway 71.
To accomplish any of this, the city will need to revamp its zoning code. Bastrop, like many other comunities, has zoning that is geared towards standard suburban-style development. It does not allow for the type of density of buildings and variety of uses that would make an interesting, economically viable downtown. Instead they were urged to develop its own “Form Based Code.” More on that another day.