Together with ConverseArchitects I went on an exciting quest to discover the possibilities for making better and healthier houses. I chose to work with ConverseArchitects since they have a rich history of researching new residential forms, happiness and health.For my research I used a case study that concerns the redevelopment of and old estate in the Netherlands. This case study was designed by ConverseArchitects in coopration with ECHO urban design. The redevelopment of this estate is called Buurtgoed and the principles of this project are inspired by Blue Zones.
Blue Zones are areas in the world where people live statistically longer and healthier lives then elsewhere in the world. By studying the living environment and the behaviour of its residents I hoped to understand the factors that play a key role in the unique demographic stats of these zones.
Research shows that the people in these Blue Zones all share a similar way of living. By moving a lot, having a purpose, belonging to a community and having a special diet the inhabitants of these areas grow significantly older than their counterparts.
What does it mean to be healthy?
For a long period of time health was often associated with the absence of diseases or infirmities. However this image of the term shifted with the introduction of antibiotics in the early ‘30 and advanced medical care later in the 20th century. Due to these new developments the life expectancy of humans increased, while at the same time urban densification pushed the number of diseases to new hights.
Eventually the new medical developments led to an era in which people with diseases or infirmities were no longer excluded from living a long and happy life.
By researching and comparing different formulations of health from among others: the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, the World Health Organization and the Institute for Positive Health, I have tried to unveil the true meaning of health.
While all the institutes I researched describe health In their own way, they all agree that the fundamentals of health consist of three aspects:
• Physical health
• Mental health
• Social wellbeingHealthy Living
With the fundamentals of Health in mind I was eager to study how healthy the current housing stock is in the Netherlands.
To preserve the quality of the Dutch housing stock, the government has compiled a building code known as Bouwbesluit. This code describes minimum demands which are necessary to provide a habitat free from negative effects for its residents.
The Bouwbesluit features chapters which focus on the technical building regulations from the standpoint of health. The minimum demands in these chapters are aimed at preventing any negative effects, regarding health, for residents.
In addition to the Bouwbesluit, the Netherlands also knows various independent instances that assess and verify the healthiness of building projects, such as BREAAM-NL, WELL and Active House NL.
To define the healthiness of the Dutch houses I compared the criteria and demands from the Bouwbesluit and the various health institutions with the three health fundamentals which were found in the previous chapter.
These comparisons showed that physical health is well represented within the current demands from both the government as well as the independent instances. At the same time it’s clear that mental health and social wellbeing leave room for improvement.
The demands that are imposed by the institutions above focus on prevention, but if we want to create a healthy living space that affects people’s health, wellbeing and happiness, the emphasis should be on the enhancement of this space.
By researching different elements of engineering and architecture I came up with five factors that can effectively affect the health, wellbeing and happiness of residents. These factors are:
Based on the factors for healthy living I designed guidelines that could help me, or other designers, with the elaboration of a potential H.O.M.E.
These guidelines encourage designers and architects to approach every room inside a residence individually. This is because every room in a residence has a unique function which requires specific circumstances. Besides the function of a room, the designer or architect should also consider the usage and the behaviour of the residents.
Eventually I would put my guidelines to the test by designing my own case study within Buurtgoed. Besides the application of the guidelines I also applied a biophilic design strategy. This resulted in a case study that is located in the middle of the existing nature landscape. The choice for this specific location would make it easier to capitalize on the guidelines for visual and acoustic comfort.
In the end I was able to fully integrate my design in the existing landscape since I chose to reuse the foundation of the current buildings. This restriction challenged me to rethink the orientation of every individual room and also led to a very interesting shape for the residence. The residence is split into two parts. One side is designated for bedrooms, the other side is used for rooms with a social or active function. This distribution of rooms made it possible to really dig into the different function and usage of every room.
Example: By designing bedrooms with windows orientated on the east I was able to capitalize on the circadian rhythm of humans. Simultaneously this window orientation provides a view and fresh air which affects the overall quality of life.
H.O.M.E is a theoretical model for designing residences which help the improvement of mental health and wellbeing, two relevant topics in our everyday life. For my graduation project I was able to design a house – using the H.O.M.E principles – in a nature rich environment. Since not every site contains the same features it becomes a question whether its possible to design a H.O.M.E on just any location.
The next step for me would be to go out there and put H.O.M.E to the test. Only by integrating my guidelines into a design its becomes possible to determine whether H.O.M.E works as a practical model. By teaming up with ConverseArchitects for the upcoming year I challenge myself to develop and improve my research. Step by step we’re getting closer. So stay tuned…