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Home Design & Architecture for Wellbeing

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

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

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.