Updated: Apr 12
Tom Manwell, Founder and Director of Wellstudio Architecture shares with us how homes can be designed to support individual, family and planetary wellbeing.
As a fully qualified architect & director of Wellstudio Architecture, I am interested in how homes can support and enhance the wellbeing of their users. Today, I bring my focus to how homes can help residents thrive and support mental and physical wellbeing.
Wellbeing is a term which has been trending in recent years. But beyond the Instagram feeds there is a huge depth of intellectual thought and research looking at the factors which make up human wellbeing both physically and mentally. Below I will share some of this research and show examples of how it can be translated into the design of homes in order to foster the wellbeing of individuals, families and the planet.
What Is Wellbeing? - Our Sources
There are many ways to look at and categorise the different aspects of wellbeing, including some of the following that we use to inform our work at Wellstudio.
The European Social Survey On Wellbeing
The European Social Survey (ESS) on Wellbeing works with a large European wide data set to understand different types of wellbeing.
Hedonic (happiness) and eudemonic (flourishing) wellbeing, which have been debated by philosophers for centuries, are two important broad categories identified by the ESS, which breaks these down into six distinct categories of wellbeing: evaluative wellbeing, emotional wellbeing, functioning, vitality, community wellbeing and supportive relationships.
We consider these to be a good starting point for any investigation into the subject of wellbeing design. Some aspects relate to the physical body, others to the mind, and others to human connection.
The GoodHome Report
The GoodHome Report explores the elements that make a happy home. This study identifies emotional conditions (mind), material conditions (body) and personal conditions (social) as the areas which need to be supported.
The material conditions mentioned are very similar to those described in the WELL standard (another standard I will explore below). Specific emotional conditions mentioned as key indicators of happiness with one’s home are pride, control, safety, comfort and identity. It is interesting to note that the best homes are seen as ‘sanctuaries’ and that ‘pride’ is a very beneficial but somewhat elusive factor.
The WELL Building Standard
The WELL Building Standard was created in 2014 to help support the creation of buildings which support wellbeing.
The WELL Standard version 2 (WELL v2) has 10 aspects, these are; air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, thermal comfort, sound, mind, materials, community and innovation.
The WELL Building Standard has now been incorporated into numerous successful projects globally from the Good Nature Hotel in Kyoto which incorporates natural materials and biophilic design, to Cundalls London office at One Carter Lane which incorporates recycled Bolon flooring and an active green wall to Sino-Ocean Taihu Milestone 21# apartments in China which incorporate numerous design features to support physical health.
Designing Spaces For Wellbeing
Designing a space which supports individual wellbeing can be seen as the foundation of spatial design for wellbeing. Factors affecting individual wellbeing could be broadly split into two categories, physical and mental.
Physical wellbeing can be described as the wellbeing of the biological systems of the human body. These systems, such as the cardiovascular, muscular, respiratory and digestive, can be maintained well, such as in a person who exercises regularly, doesn’t encounter pollution, eats a healthy diet, and doesn’t drink excessive amounts of alcohol. Or not maintained, resulting in body system problems, inhibited daily functioning, and reduced life expectancy. Designing spaces which have good air quality, clean drinkable water, and access to natural light, support healthy eating, encourage exercise, provide thermal and acoustic comfort, and incorporate nature (biophilic design), are all important considerations.
Mental wellbeing can be described as the mental and emotional wellbeing of a person. Relevant sources here are the ESS aspects of evaluative & emotional wellbeing, as well as the factors mentioned in The Good Home Report (pride, control, safety, comfort and identity). Designing spaces which support the mental wellbeing of individuals is very important. Creating good sanctuaries – protected, private comfortable spaces where residents can relax, unwind and recharge away from others, is essential to supporting them in having the energy to enter spaces and interact with others in a healthy, thriving way.
Designing Spaces For Individual Wellbeing
To support physical and mental wellbeing of individuals, one should design a home which considers our body systems, enables a feeling of “sanctuary,” and incorporates aesthetically pleasing design that elicits ‘pride’ in one’s surroundings.
Designing Spaces For Family Wellbeing
You only need to read Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, to know that we are a deeply social species which evolved in large families or tribes and only survived through cooperation.
Therefore the quality of our human connection with others – whether our partner, our friends, family or wider community and the support and the recognition we receive from them are massively important to our individual happiness and wellbeing.
Designing Spaces For Planetary Wellbeing
Our Planet can be conceptualised as a living organism as per the Gaia theory, which was first formed by scientist James Lovelock in the 1970’s.
The way our species builds and lives on this planet can either work in harmony with its wellbeing or against it. Ultimately if the ecosystems which support our life on this planet fail then our civilisation will also come to an end.
Therefore it is important to consider a space’s environmental impact as well as its ability to connect its users with nature when designing buildings for wellbeing. We have the ability to construct and design buildings with low environmental impacts which can slow and ultimately reverse our current situation of global warming, and help to bring nature (plants, trees and wildlife) back into our living spaces and our cities.
We have the ability to connect users with nature through external and internal planted gardens, urban agriculture and views of trees, green spaces, the sky and water.
Building technologies now exist which enable us to design buildings which do just this. From highly insulated almost airtight structures with intelligent climate control systems (e.g. Passivhaus) to ground and air source heat pumps, super highly insulated walls and windows, photovoltaic panels & wind turbines, low embodied energy super materials such as cross-laminated timber (CLT) or hempcrete, modular construction & off site prefabrication, green roofs, terraces, green walls, and internal biophilic planting, there are a myriad of ways in which we can design spaces to support planetary wellbeing.
Many of these elements have beneficial impacts on individual and family wellbeing in addition to their planetary impact. There is really no excuse these days not to go green and aim for carbon neutrality in particular because enhancing our connection with nature and sustainability in the design of spaces has so many benefits for wellbeing.
Examples From Our Projects:
On Drakefell Road in Telegraph Hill, Wellstudio designed a side & rear extension, basement renovation & roof extension to the client's Victorian terraced house.
The extension was designed to transform the ground floor space, demolishing walls between spaces and extending at the side and rear to provide the clients with a new open plan kitchen, dining & living space. New rooflights and crittall doors facing onto the garden provide increased natural light levels which support the circadian rhythm of the body, increased serotonin levels from sunlight, which support good mood and connection to nature through views of the garden and sky.
Natural materials such as the beech parquet floor, the stone worktop and the characterful, industrial look of the crittall doors provide a sensory experience and connection to nature through a calming visual appearance and pleasing touch which releases oxytocin and supports mental and physical wellbeing. A calming colour scheme throughout supports a feeling of relaxation and harmony aided by further connection to nature through biophilic design.
On Jerningham Road, Wellstudio designed a new side and rear extension for the client's five bedroom Victorian villa on Telegraph Hill.
Wellstudio designed an extension to transform the ground floor living space for the growing family, giving them a new light filled volume at the rear of their house which would enhance their family wellbeing, a space where they could relax, chat, cook, and eat.
The project enhanced the family's connection to each other through a thoughtful arrangement of the different living functions of the space, i.e. placing the kitchen peninsula adjacent to and overlooking the dining table and sofas to allow for conversation and family social interaction. As well as this, there is the ability to open the aluminium sliding doors onto the garden in the summer and allow for outdoor sitting, dining and gardening whilst still visually and audibly connected to the kitchen. This will all aid family togetherness which supports the mental wellbeing of family members.
In Greenvale Road, Eltham, Wellstudio designed a sustainable new three bedroom house to be built on the site of an end of terrace garage.
The new house incorporated an open plan kitchen, living and dining area that allowed the client and his partner to enjoy a better connection with each other, space to entertain, ample natural light, enhanced views into the garden and greater thermal comfort.
The new house was designed to be in keeping with the historical context of the area, as well as meeting the Code for Sustainable Homes Level four standard.
The house incorporated a multitude of sustainable features including roof mounted photovoltaic panels, dual flush W.C.s, highly insulated cavity walls and floors, sustainably sourced materials, energy efficient lighting, rainwater recycling, a composter and cycle parking, all of which by reducing carbon footprint, energy use, water use, and promoting the use of sustainable transport supports planetary wellbeing.
It is clear that designing spaces which support human wellbeing is at the heart of the potential you have when renovating or extending your home. This is exemplified by the inspiring case studies above which show how Wellstudio's spatial design for homes can support individual, community and planetary wellbeing. There is huge potential for the home building industry to continue to learn and transform their spatial design approach in this direction.
As we continue into the 2020’s and beyond, the need for home design with individual, family and planetary wellbeing at its heart becomes both ever clearer and more pressing.
By working together we believe the industry has a once in a generation opportunity to spearhead the birth of a new type of home which does this.