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As one of the founding board members of The Center for Health Design back in 1993, I was part of an early movement to promote the idea that the design of the physical environment can affect health and well-being -- in any type of setting.

Which is why we named the organization The Center for HEALTH Design, not The Center for HEALTHCARE Design. But, as a small organization with limited resources, we quickly realized that it was better to focus on one discipline, and since we were passionate about healthcare, we chose that.

Through research, education, and advocacy, The Center has done much in the past 25 years to validate the idea that the design of the physical environment of healthcare facilities can and does affect outcomes.

But, as the healthcare focus has shifted from treating the sick to keeping people healthy, the bigger question many are asking these days is how does design in general affect public health and well-being?

It's a question that the American Institute of Architects (AIA) is asking -- and taking action.

Design & Health Research Consortium

Last December, the AIA, along with the AIA Foundation and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA), named 11 architecture schools and schools of public health as charter members of the AIA Design & Health Research Consortium.

The goal of the Consortium is to help fund basic research on how design affects public health. It's not funding research, but rather providing institutional support and capacity building for consortium members to promote collaboration through local and national partnerships; enabling the sharing of knowledge and research, and promoting the activities of the consortium to potential funders.

This is a brilliant idea.  You can read more about it and see which schools are participating and what research they plan to pursue.

What's also cool is that the AIA has organized this initiative around six evidence-based approaches that provide a conceptual framework for the physical environment to create access to health opportunities and facilitate positive health behaviors. Listed below, they are more fully described in this document.

  1. Environmental quality
  2. Natural systems
  3. Physical activity
  4. Safety
  5. Sensory environments
  6. Social connectedness

You may be thinking, "What's a health opportunity?" I interpret this to mean non-tangible things that affect our well-being like access to clean air and views of nature, reduced noise, use of color and lighting, etc.

Not Just Architects

Also, architects aren't the only professionals who make design decisions that affect public health.  There's also interior designers, landscape architects, engineers, urban planners, construction managers, and more.

But of course, if you're the AIA with 83,000 member architects, you're going to promote architects.  Which is okay. Because the AIA is engaging the academic community to collaborate on this and move the needle forward for everyone.

And, there's still more we can do to promote health and wellbeing in healthcare settings.

In a recent blog post for Healthcare Design, architect Sheila Cahnman looked at how some of the Urban Land Institute's "Ten Principles for Building Healthy Places" can be applied to healthcare environments. She challenged healthcare architects to look beyond the four walls of the hospital to create healthy places -- which is particularly interesting, since many of us in the future will not be getting our healthcare where we got it in the past.

Someday maybe we won't have healthcare design.  We'll just have health design.

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Walt Groover

7 years ago

Sara, this is an interesting article because it seems to coincide with the paleo life style that my wife, her daughter and son, and I support. It's all about a way of life that prevents most of the health problems so prevalent in our society, versus treating the symptoms of those health problems. My wife RoseMary, and her daughter Erin, have a blog dedicated to paleo...gunghopaleomd.com.
I enjoy your blogs.

Sara Marberry

7 years ago

Well, you learn something new every day! Although I'm a fan of healthy eating, I'd never heard of paleo.

Chris Cloud Bradley

7 years ago

Healthcare Design has evolved from focusing on treatment of disease to improved treatment of disease in collaboration with the evolving concept of wellness. Thus the data base defining the outcome of treatments overtime magnified by the efficacy of wellness vectors. In my mind this is all Healthcare Design. I don't see how Health Design can be distinguished from a holistic approach to wellness.

Sara Marberry

7 years ago

Thanks, Chris, for your comment. Maybe we should call it "Health and Wellness Design?" Some think We're just talking about semantics, but I think its bigger than that.

Dale Anderson

7 years ago

The article is very much in line with the resources and recommendations from the Center for Active Design. Their theory is that if designs focused around healthy lifestyles then the overall health and wellness of the public would be improved. Check out their website at centerforactivedesign.org and you'll find they promote their latest publication as a "guide...that expands on the growing practice of using health evidence to inform design thinking." This clearly seems to align with what The Center for Health Design is thinking as well.

Sara Marberry

7 years ago

I'm familiar with the Center for Active Design's "Active Design Guidelines" (2010), which appear to be the springboard for this organization coming into existence several years ago. Great resource, though. Thanks for pointing it out.

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Sara Marberry, EDAC, is a healthcare design knowledge expert, thought catalyst, and strategic marketing and business development consultant. The author/editor of three books, Sara writes and speaks frequently about industry trends and evidence-based design. She can be reached at sara@saramarberry.com.

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