by Jerry ElengicalOct 04, 2021
Considering how most of our lives today unfold indoors, in buildings and spaces crafted by human ingenuity, shaped to meet functional and aesthetic needs, it is no surprise that the notion of designing environments that optimise user well-being is rapidly emerging as a core tenet in many architectural endeavours throughout the world. While the incorporation of this ideal has still not reached the optimal level of consistency that is necessary to ensure and safeguard user health across all levels and dimensions, recent developments within the field of contemporary architecture worldwide have showcased avenues for its holistic implementation, to create buildings and cities that “protect, develop, and restore well-being” through evidence-based design.
According to the World Health Organization’s Constitution, which came into force in 1948, ‘health’ is defined as a “state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Taking note of this perspective on the concept of health, the Union Internationale des Architectes (UIA) has chosen “Architecture for well-being” as the theme for this year’s edition of World Architecture Day - celebrated annually since 1985 on the first Monday of October. Following the previous iteration’s theme of a 'Clean environment for a healthy world', the focus now shifts toward directly improving and preserving the “physical, emotional, environmental, financial, and social wellness of all humankind” through conscious design measures that also prioritise sustainability at every turn. Aligning with the UIA Assembly’s designation of 2022 as the “Year of Design for Health,” the selected theme aims to demonstrate how the built environment’s ever-present impact on human well-being is a responsibility that architects must not take lightly in any scenario.
These considerations have become particularly relevant in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, other health disasters, along with the consequences of climate change that have shaken the world over the past few years, illuminating the need to prioritise well-being in architectural endeavours at all scales. In order to urge architects and designers to explore how this wellness-oriented vision for the future of the built environment can be turned into a tangible reality while also inspiring larger discussion on the role architects can play in promoting well-being across the board, the UIA is also hosting a dedicated webinar on this auspicious occasion, uniting reputed architects and experts to engage in dialogues on these topics. On this note, STIR is presenting a curated selection of architectural projects of varying scales and typologies, reflecting this year’s theme, to celebrate this initiative for the health-conscious design.
A subliminal structure that embraces soft energy and healing, as part of a leafy district of Kunigami, in Okinawa, Japan, the Care House of the Wind Chimneys by Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP seeks to care for children with intractable and terminal illnesses as well as their families. Allowing them to unwind, rest, and recharge from their daily lives, the wellness house was commissioned by a non-profitable organisation called Dream for Children with Intractable Diseases and Their Families. The earth-toned, two-storey building rests quaint near the ocean and enjoys a picturesque verdant landscape stretching around it. As the building’s defining element and the source of its moniker, a collection of eight-metre-deep wind chimneys with glassless skylights help to naturally illuminate the palliative care house, sprouting from the ceiling to channel ocean breezes from high up during the day while drawing cool air from the shade of the north garden at night by creating buoyancy-driven ventilation, assisted by low sweeping windows. Through the realisation of this project, which makes use of barrier-free design, winding verdant pathways, contrasts between static and dynamic spaces, as well as a sober interior design scheme centred on earthy finishes and austerity, the architects sought to provide a foundation for their vision of a kinder and more inclusive society.
An urban oasis shaping the future of medical education and research in São Paulo’s Morumbi district, the 44,000 sqm Albert Einstein Education and Research Center designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie and his eponymous Boston-based firm, is said to be the first medical school established by a private hospital in Brazil. Safdie Architects' vision for the project was centred on the idea of creating contextual architecture that contrasts the busy nature of its surroundings. Condensing the building’s programme into a large permeable volume connected to a garden-like core, the laboratories, classrooms and meeting areas within the complex are woven around a vaulted sky-lit garden atrium that evokes the feeling of congregating under a leafy tree. Pivotal to the design is a sweeping 3800 sqm glass roof, designed and engineered in collaboration with German engineering and construction company Seele. Several stepped terraces meandering through the building’s green architecture components serve as both contemplative pockets of respite as well as spaces for impromptu meetings and interactions. Though the building’s interior carries a sense of openness and collaboration, its exterior language is rather introverted. However, what distinguishes the project from its contemporaries is how beautifully nature has been woven within every program area, producing a space that allows its nearly 6300 users to advance medical science education and research in Brazil.
Defining 'home' for a user group that finds it hard to think, remember, and reason, Icelandic firm Urban Arkitektar and Denmark-based Loop Architects have completed the Móberg Nursing Home in Selfoss, Iceland, as a shelter for residents with dementia. Taking a step beyond the typology’s conventional definitions, the architects took the opportunity to emphasise a feeling of 'home' to create a building that is an example of “architecture that heals,” making inhabitants more independent and confident while providing a protective shell for them to find refuge in. Emphasising the notion of human-centric design, the cylindrical structure takes shape as part of its site, set against the serene greenery and mountains of the surrounding context, with balconies throughout its wooden facade design that open up the structure to the surroundings and converse with the outside world. The adoption of a circular plan permitted the central area to become an open courtyard for leisure, as the inward-looking building - which houses 60 units for private accommodation - transforms into a protective boundary wall encircling it.
Conceived by UtA/Unemori teco Associates, the Kitakami Health & Childcare Support Complex is an adaptive reuse conversion of the first two levels of an eight-story commercial building into a multifunctional health and childcare support complex in Kitakami, Japan. Comprising a hall for medical checkups, an indoor playground, an exhibition/lecture hall, consulting and treatment rooms, rental room, and offices, the architects sought to create uncluttered, open spaces that stray from an institutional, 'clinical' interior, where people can visit freely, without having any personal association to any of those specific functions. With a new glass-fronted façade that opens to the street and the community at large and sliding doors that welcome guests into its massive lobby, the building’s facelift allows people to spend time and interact freely, in contrast to the rigidity of the previously closed space. Inside, the nearly 2,000 sqm floor space has been renovated into a vibrant, interactive place filled with light, encouraging interaction while revealing sections of the former structure through transparent interior finishes paired with materials such as warm timber and wire mesh that create a relaxed, tactile ambience. The converted healthcare design champions the community at its heart, rather than indulging in another boring, straight-lined facility, with its public meeting spaces, playground and auxiliary program areas accommodating an interior scheme where health checkups, relaxing activities such as getting a cup of joe, office work, and playtime can exist in tandem.
Designed by Vietnam-based ODDO architects for YHCT Vinmec, the Traditional Clinic SDP, set within an 1100 sqm space inside a mixed utility residential highrise complex in Hanoi, becomes a modern shell for the soul of traditional Vietnamese medicine. Nestled in the dynamicity of South-Eastern Hanoi, witnessing the drastic changes of urbanisation and a growing population, the clinic testifies to a swirl of traditional and modern architecture. The design embraces this diversity and builds upon the new cityscape, functioning on the first and the seventh floor of the building. With a reception area, lounge, drugstore, and medicine rooms, the design’s amalgamation of stone and wood impart a sense of traditional architecture in a contemporary setting. While placing different treatment rooms aiding the needs of musculoskeletal, mental and oriental medicine, the Vietnamese architects have paid attention to integrating ample greenery into the interior design. Even the space on the seventh floor, which is devoid of any direct connection to the outdoors, the idea of reconnecting with nature indoors is explored through fenestrations, indoor plants, and materials including a unique selection of ceramic tiles. Encompassing an experience for all senses, the design of the clinic indulges in presenting spaces to overwhelm visitors. By using the potential of natural herbs and local materials to impart feelings, the spaces here shapeshift from the perspective of healthcare design to a sensorial experience.
Read about the UIA World Congress of Architects 2023 keynote speakers here.