The Intersection of Classical Architecture and Well-being: Designing Spaces for a Healthier Life
Architecture has a profound impact on our well-being. The buildings we live, work, and learn in can either promote or hinder our health and happiness. In recent years, there has been a growing movement in architecture toward design for well-being. This emerging field, known as "wellness architecture," takes a holistic approach to design, considering the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs of the people who will use the space.
What the recent trend toward wellness in design fails to acknowledge, is that the Classical Architectural Tradition already contains solutions to create health and human centric spaces.
There are many ways that classical architecture promotes well-being. Here are a few examples:
Natural light and ventilation: Classical Architecture favors regular operable fenestration with sizing appropriate to the climate. Exposure to natural light and fresh air has been shown to improve mood, reduce stress, and boost productivity.
Court and Garden: Landscaping as an extension of the built environment is a subject previously discussed on this blog. Contemporary architects would call this Biophilic design. However, the concept of a single composition including structures and gardens comes from antiquity. Using the tools of modern science, biophilic design has been shown to reduce stress, improve focus, and increase feelings of connection to nature.
Sustainable design: Passive sustainable design practices, such as southern exposure, deep overhangs for shading, and site selection for protection from prevailing winds are just a few of the strategies being rediscovered by contemporary architects which have their roots in classical architecture. When we live in classical buildings that are environmentally conscious by design, we can participate in stewardship of the planet while also remaining connected to tradition.
Durability and Re-Use: One of the key tenets of classical architecture is building for durability. The still-standing temples of the ancient Greeks and Romans speak for themselves. To build for durability means to select materials and construction methodologies that allow a building to last long enough to be available for use after its initial purpose has become irrelevant. Re-using an existing building for a new purpose is significantly more environmentally conservative than building a new building due to the concept of embodied energy. Perhaps a new LEED platinum office building might consume less energy per year than a retrofitted 100 year old brick office building. However, the energetic cost of the steel glass and plastics needed to create the new building create a near inescapable debt of energy by comparison to the energetic cost to prepare a structure that already exists for a new use. Combined with the relative non-durability of contemporary construction methodologies, new buildings mostly fail to make up for any efficiency gains their design may create, by failing to last long enough to recapture the energetic cost of the materials needed to create them.
Wellness architecture is more than just a trend, it is an acknowledgement of the needs of humans and the world around them in the built environment, and it has its roots in the beginnings of architecture itself. The classical tradition has always promoted practices and strategies that promote wellness and environmental consciousness. By considering the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being of the people who will occupy a space, the classical tradition informs healthy buildings for a vibrant and salubrious culture.
The benefits of environmentally conscious and passively efficient architecture have been significantly explored and documented by modern science. Some of those benefits include:
Increased productivity: Studies have shown that people who work in well-designed buildings are more productive.
Reduced stress: Buildings can help to reduce stress levels by providing access to natural light, fresh air, and green spaces.
Improved health: Buildings can help to improve physical health by providing spaces for exercise and relaxation.
Increased creativity: Buildings can help to promote creativity by providing stimulating and inspiring environments.
Enhanced social interaction: Humanistic design can help to foster social interaction by providing spaces for people to gather and connect.
As we continue to create the built environment, we should consider the ways in which the classical tradition can help us create spaces that promote health and productivity.