Nature, wellbeing and sense of place in design
Wellbeing, nature, and sense of place have an intimate relationship.
Environments that support wellbeing respond to their natural surroundings, reinforcing or contrasting with them, creating complimentary experiences. They tap the wellbeing assets of the locality while offering the experience of safety, meeting psycho-social and accessibility needs on an individual and community level.
Air quality, natural light, materials and so forth are crucial for wellness. Alongside these, in this design, we are also able to explore organic forms.
This results in novel spacial experiences resulting in 'noticing', 'learning', and fresh sensory engagement which are beneficial for human wellbeing. Organic shape places the focus on story and experiential journey; this relieves the mind from the burdens that geometry and repetitive form places upon it, reducing the spontaneous necessity to recognise patterns and notice errors, which generates stress particularly for some autistic people.
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Although there is use of steel, glass and render, there are also natural and rich textures of slate panels and traditional turf walling. Meaning that although it is possible to escape the sensory exposure that seaside environments can bring, you are not divorced from natural sensory experiences. Such experiences benefit body schema (the sense of your body shape and form which comes in most part from tactility in your surroundings and daily life), also a range in the sensory nature of surroundings helps people to spontaneously meet their sensory needs.
Within the building, the view out toward the sea and sunset is first and foremost -
reinforcing sense of place and circadian rhythm. The staircase, in glass, is set into the window, traveling through the building is an unbroken journey and meeting place between exterior and interior landscapes. The strong steel masts window structure, gives a sense of strength, emphasising safety and protection from the elements, while also suggesting journeying, being aboard ship, industry and productive space. Such narrative within a building, its contrasting spaces and the way they link to one another helps motivate occupants to positively engage - the interior begins a story that people within and without must continue as they respond to the narrative. This is related to the way certain cognitive bias unconsciously effect us, used intelligently they support us to be more confident, socially positive and make healthier decisions.
The structure does not overexpose the people within to the outside world or to generalized social interaction. There are a range of options for inhabiting the building from fully exposed to defensible, to fully defended, safe and cosy corners and private space. These are all hierarchically linked giving the occupants a sense of safe and full environmental mastery relative to their confidence.
The arrangement of spaces crucially allows for grades of social space, levels of control, sense ownership and creation of clear purpose. There are no fully enclosed or internalised spaces, so choices related to how a person inhabits the building are ever -present. The occupants can meet their sensory and social needs spontaneously relative to changing levels of social and environmental confidence. You are never in a position of disorientation or lacking in choice, in terms of navigation options, allowing constant modulation of interaction with others, the landscape and interior. This means positive affective experiences are optimised and needless negative experiences are avoided, stressor levels can be managed through the range of ways the environment can be inhabited.
In terms of social functioning, the ground floor, we designed as semi open plan offering kitchen, living room, dining and general activity space. The upper floor however forms a mezzanine landing containing semi private larger and smaller defensible nooks looking out over the sea. The upper rooms open onto this landing space, this gives a palette of sheltered semi private and fully private spaces on the 1st floor. The ground floor forms the arena for larger activity and social options; be right in the crowd, productive, engaged, or semi sheltered, but near to others. On the 1st floor landing you still have awareness of the ground floor activity, but maintain your own level of privacy, which is naturally controlled by the scale of spaces inhabited, from medium to smaller, more private social groups, pairs or alone time. The double curved ceiling provides an organic and calm atmosphere that enhances and more fully differentiates the identity of these more intimate spaces from the rest of the building. The private rooms are a wide range of sizes providing options for sleeping space and activity. The rooms are separated acoustically, giving peace, without the addition of the physical and psychological barrier which corridor and internalised spaces create. Internalized circulation spaces provide no value while also reducing social and environmental confidence, seperating people from relevant activity, spontaneous sensory based choice, and positive social experience.
Creativity is supported through offering a range of private space to develop ideas without judgement or distraction, then varying levels and styles of social space with opportunity to share and engage with others creatively and socially, then a safe route to take those lessons, experiences and critique back to that freedom brought by private, safe, space.
This multi use building and homely retreat has been decorated internally in a neutral soft grey. Our client wanted a space that would not, of itself, be stimulating through color or bright walls. Rather they plan to select fittings and furnishings to support whatever use as required into the future.
When we Consult, or Design for wellbeing, we are looking at the entirety of the human experience. We study evidence bases across the board from research into the senses, positive psychology, neuroscience, creativity, identity development and so forth. Such study ensures our clients operate their service or design their buildings in the optimum way, leaving them with the knowledge, tools and rationalised model needed for continuous improvement in wellbeing outcomes and lived experience.
This project was completed by our architectural firm, Architectonicus.
We are also happy to work as consultants, sharing our evidence based approach with other Designers, or supporting in house Teams, Leaders, Buildings Managers and Directors.
Our flexible evidence based approach to design for wellbeing and accessibility is called AriaDiCasa™. We provide workshops alongside support with live projects to share this technique and design model.