Catalin Crina from Ben Adams Architects reflects on how mental health and wellbeing has jumped to the top of design agendas as a crucial component of creating great spaces to live, work and thrive in modern cities.
Mental health and wellbeing has jumped to the top of our design agenda as a crucial component of creating great spaces to live, work and thrive in modern cities. In the wake of the pandemic this couldn’t be more important. Bolstered by established AEC industry frameworks from WELL and the BCO, and by the inclusion of health and wellbeing chapters in sustainability targets set by the RIBA 2030 challenge and Architects Declare; designing with wellness in mind is key to creating resilient cities. We enfold these principles within each design in an effort to create spaces that enrich us, because we believe our relationship with the buildings we inhabit is fundamentally symbiotic.
We applied these principles to the Fjord Building
, a project which comprises the sensitive refurbishment of the old Swan House to create 20,471 sqft of unique, contemporary offices over five floors in King’s Cross. The building is located in what was once an industrial trading powerhouse as the main hub for the Norwegian timber and ice trade. As a practice, we look at how design contributes to physical and mental wellbeing in this workplace and how the use of space in combination with the right amount of light and carefully chosen materials can help create the perfect scenery for work and creativity to blossom in.
We know that a strong sense of coherence in our environment is linked to better mental health through the impact it has on how we navigate through buildings. This positive feedback loop is fed by designing internal and external environments that remain comprehensible and manageable while providing moments of joy and surprise.
By exposing the existing ceiling and structure, we create more airy, open space and bring back the industrial charm of the building. The resulting space is generous and flexible with great views, allowing the building to adapt to today’s needs while celebrating its rich history.
Material choices are of paramount importance in the role they play in how we perceive space around us. Carefully curated materials encourage engagement through our various senses and the opportunity for an immersive experience.
A new timber canopy, soft landscaping and updated signage provides a distinctive and welcoming entrance. A neutral palette with light grey polished concrete and plaster, whitewashed ash, natural oak, and birch panelling are chosen for their delicate texture and soft grain. Pale colours reflect and illuminate, maximising the amount of light available while warm textile accents and soft furnishings create an inviting ambience.
The buildings we inhabit influence our thinking and actions, provide motivation, boost performance and improve our concentration. On the flipside, poorly designed spaces can trigger negative emotions, anxiety and stress. Considering that we spend over 90% of our lives inside, the way we design buildings has a greater impact on our health and wellbeing than ever before.
We bring an awareness of the impact of mindful design to all the projects we work on. Studies highlight the cost of mental illness each year due to lack of productivity and we use these to enhance our understanding of just how impactful a thoughtful building can be, by supporting healthy productivity and wellbeing, and reducing the impact that can be caused by poor design and execution.
There is no universal recipe to be applied throughout the built environment, and architects play a significant part in collaborating with developers and building users to create amazing spaces that bring genuinely positive contributions to our physical and mental wellbeing.
- Allen, Joseph G. & Macomber, John D. “Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity.” Harvard University Press. 2020.
- Daykin, N., Byrne, E., Soteriou, T., & O’Connor, S. (2008). Review: The impact of art, design and environment in mental healthcare: a systematic review of the literature. The Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health, 128(2), 85–94. https://doi.org/10.1177/1466424007087806
- Householder, Tonia. “Architecture concepts can boost mental health.” The Des Moines Register. April 22, 2016. www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/abetteriowa/2016/04/22/architecture-concepts-can-boost-mental-health/83341812.