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.
- Environmental quality
- Natural systems
- Physical activity
- Sensory environments
- 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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