Sustainability

Health and Architecture in the Home and Office: Space and Layout

Many people may not give it much thought, but the space and layout of a building can have a significant impact on our health. Studies have shown that all manner of decisions from the colour to the location of amenities in a building can affect our moods and well-being. For this reason, architects and designers need to consider how their choices in mapping out a floor plan will affect the people who move around it.

One important consideration for designers is the designation of purely recreational space. Oftentimes too much emphasis is put on the layout of workspaces, and as a consequence areas reserved specifically for relaxing and socializing are ignored. A 2018 ‘healthy office’ study by the CBRE showed that when office workers were given time and space to rest, practice yoga and meditate, their productivity increased by 16%. Additionally, after taking these relaxing steps, 66% of the participants reported feeling more energized, 63% happier and 53% healthier, showing how making time for rest can actually improve output.

Other factors that influence how the design of a space affects health include: the use of colour, ceiling height and linearity of form. Colour in particular can have a significant impact on performance – a 2009 study in Science magazine by Ravi Mehta shows that seeing red enhances performance on detail-oriented tasks while seeing blue can improve performance on creative tasks. Similarly, ceiling height and form can also affect mental wellbeing. Participants in a 2013 study conducted by Oshin Vartaniana et al. perceived curvilinear forms to be more beautiful and more calming than rectilinear ones. Additionally, Joan Meyers-Levy and Juliet Zhu's ‘The Influence of Ceiling Height’ shows that lower ceilings are conducive to focused work while high ceilings promote creativity and more abstract thinking.

The location of amenities in a building also plays a role in its occupants’ health, specifically their physical health. To encourage movement and activity, amenities such as toilets and kitchens should be located at a distance from workspaces. This is especially effective when they are placed on different floors, as it prompts people to travel up and down stairs regularly, and provides a quick and effective form of exercise. However, special consideration needs to be given for workers with impaired mobility and accessible bathrooms should be present on all floors.

Key points for architects and designers:

  • INCLUDE SPACES TO RELAX AND SOCIALIZE IN AN OFFICE
  • CONSIDER PSYCHOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS OF COLOUR
  • DESIGN CEILING HEIGHT AND WALL FORM WITH TYPE OF WORK IN MIND
  • USE LAYOUT TO ENCOURAGE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

The central twist of UNStudio’s Arnhem Central Station provides users with a clear route through the building, smoothly directing people to different parts of the masterplan. This not only helps control the flow of traffic but also subconsciously improves health – a 2017 BBC article by Michael Bond discusses how poorly navigable spaces can easily produce stress and in some cases lead to anxiety. The curvilinear design also affects improves mood, in keeping with findings of the aforementioned study by Vartaniana et al.

© Hufton + Crow

UNStudio Team: Luke Parkhurst, Filippo Lodi, Bart Chompff, Marisa Cortright, Sean Henson