While the idea that architectural design plays a critical role in our wellbeing is not new, the transformative qualities of architecture became a hot topic once again during one of the sessions at the recently concluded World Architecture Festival in Singapore. During a discourse titled “The Psychology of Space”, Sadie Morgan, director at de Rijke Marsh Morgan Architects, and Dr. Eve Edelstein, director of the Human Experience Lab at Perkins+Will and Design Health Co-Laboratory at AIA Design + Health Research Consortium, discussed how design can aid in mental and physical wellbeing and offered the audience practical solutions for optimising user experience in built environments.
Linking neurological research to environmental conditions, Edestein shares design strategies that can be applied within built spaces and to specific user groups. She highlights the importance of design for all senses and the impact of well- or poorly-designed built settings on the brain, body and behavior of building users. “Given the many different reactions of our brain, mind and emotions, we need to design while asking questions about the functionality of space,” says Edelstein. “Architects need to create dynamically responsive places so that they can morph and respond to different uses during different times of the day.”
As a neuroscientist and an architect, Edelstein translates her research on the effects of the built environment on mental and psychological conditions into design solutions for various health and educational facilities. Case studies include the University of Stanford Hospital, where multisensory environments were created for children with multiple mental, cognitive and emotional difficulties to invoke positive emotional responses. In other practical applications, Edelstein’s research on specific factors such as light and sound allow her to program buildings for users with particular needs or disabilities.
Similarly, Sadie Morgan’s design approach reveals a keen sensitivity to designing responsive and functional spaces at a residential scale. Morgan’s ground-breaking project, the Sliding House, brought the considerations of light and sound, privacy and comfort, to an individual level, creating a house with radically variable spaces, including a mobile roof and movable wall enclosure that can be manipulated according to “season, weather, or a remote-controlled desire to delight," she explains.
Morgan echoes Edelstein's sensitive approach to design: “Architects should think about environment and people when making places. Architects need to create buildings that communicate an important message about the value of architecture—that it can be beautiful, healthy, sustainable and useful.”