Architectures of Health and Happiness – The Gains of Collaborative Design
The global pandemic has changed the way we inhabit, use, and view our cities. In a matter of months, there has been a seismic shift in how we think about their impact on how we live, work, and come together. Happiness and wellbeing in the city have never been more topical. We now understand that healthy and sustainable cities are not only about infrastructure, air quality, modes of transport and other tangible qualities, but also about community support, diversity, cultural life, and rich experiences.
Aristotle famously understood the city as a microcosm of wellbeing. Within it, connection, opportunity and cultural life worked together towards the common goal of happiness. Today, around 55 percent of the world’s population now lives in urban environments. This is expected to reach almost 70 percent by 2050. However, while cities are deeply influenced by happiness rankings, they remain places where many societal problems manifest.
The pursuit of happiness is something most of us share, though it is often difficult to identify what it is, or how it is obtained and maintained. We may look to our relationships, professional careers, religions, or material possessions to find it, but there are also less visible variables at play. It is evident, for example, that disconnection from nature comes at a huge cost. Research has found that loud noises, artificial light, pollution, security issues, and overcrowding can negatively affect the body’s stress response and immune systems, as well as emotional and mental states. Molecularbiology plays a major role in determining our wellbeing and yet must of us remain unaware of what processes are actually occurring in our bodies on this level. The foods we ingest and digest can be the difference between a good and bad day. It has also been scientifically proven that architecture can drastically influence our moods and feelings of safety.
The range in opinion regarding health and happiness, and how to best attain them, is often met with controversy. In a world where divergent and paradoxical ideologies are constantly declaring that their way is the only way, it can be helpful to remember that happiness is itself a malleable concept. The journey towards it could therefore benefit from an open, interdisciplinary and holistic approach that works collaboratively to reduce blind spots.
In recent years, architects, planners and scientists have sought to do just this, addressing the challenges of city life and fostering happiness by bringing nature back into our cities. One well known example is biophilic design, which supports both psychological and physiological outcomes of city living, making cities happier places to inhabit. Nonetheless, it is clear that happiness in our cities today is dependent on more than just design solutions. How do we go about creating places to accommodate some of the most difficult physical and psychological experiences of human life?
Organised as part of Therme Art’s ongoing partnership with the British Council, Architectures of Health and Happiness explored the role of wellbeing and health in city planning and architecture, and the challenges in creating welcoming and inclusive spaces for all. Featuring individuals working across science, art and architecture, the event championed a macro, holistic approach to urban wellbeing. In this approach, food consumption, biophilic design, and contemporary art all have roles to play in the creation of healthier, more diverse, and more resilient cities. Architectures of Health and Happiness tried to define this city in greater detail.
1. How can we transform happiness from an individual question into a political one that can be manifested in architecture?
2. What makes us happy?
3. What functions of urban life are currently detracting from wellbeing?
4. Why is generative dialogue and action between practitioners from diverse fields so essential to the creation of the Wellbeing City?
5. How does resilience connect to community and wellbeing?
6. How do you think about happiness in relation to your own practice?
7. How can acceptance and education empowerment provide creative and sustainable solutions for urban life?
8. What positive design frameworks can we integrate into architecture and community building?
Jayden Ali, Founding Director, JA Projects Maria Adebowale-Schwarte, CEO, Foundation of Future London Ken Arnold, Creative Director, Wellcome Mak Gilchrist, Founding Director, The Edible Bus Stop Sian Griffiths, Emeritus Professor, Chinese University of Hong Kong Oliver Heath, Biophilic Designer Carolyn Steel, Author of Hungry City and Sitopia
Sevra Davis (Director of Architecture, British Council) Mikolaj Sekutowicz (CEO and Curator, Therme Art)
Wellbeing Culture Forum
The Wellbeing Culture Forum is a series of discussions in virtual environments catalysed by the present pandemic. Gathering experts from diverse fields, the series fosters the necessary collaboration and knowledge transfer to realise a vision of the city and its cultural activity in symbiosis with the natural world, generating a holistic approach towards the health of humanity. The series was initiated by Therme Art and curated by Mikolaj Sekutowicz, who is co-hosting each panel discussion together with various partners and partner institutions from the private and public sector.
The Wellbeing Culture Forumhosts diverse conversations about culture which are designed to create ‘insights for action’ culminating in the creation of a Wellbeing City Manifesto. This will be made freely available worldwide, for individuals and organisations to implement and influence positive cultural change.
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