In this global pandemic, it is becoming clearer, more than ever, that our well-being is directly linked to our spaces we inhabit, given self-isolation and quarantining practices happening globally. Several attributes of indoor spaces are becoming more and more relevant and obvious to those staying at home during this time.
Aesthetics and Interior Design
Linking interior design and well-being is not novel, though designing for cognitive health is becoming more prevalent nowadays. In example, feng shui, a Chinese practice, is founded on the premise of arranging spaces and furniture, to allow energy to flow through your life and spaces, and has been in practice for thousands of years. There is an existing wealth of knowledge existing on feng shui practices, inspiring homeowners to design their spaces in accordance to its principles.
The pandemic has lent itself to milder changes, in comparison to buying new furniture. Small changes to colour schemes have become popular, as homeowners embrace common views of the impact of colours on people; for example, blue is commonly seen as calming, possibly even lowering blood pressure. Similarly, homeowners have embraced the introduction of plants to their spaces, for practical and aesthetic reasons; beyond aesthetics, current worries have led some to embrace growing their own food over the upcoming months, but also health benefits, such as suspected immune system boosts, have inspired some to adopt flora and fauna into their home. The LEED rating system recognizes the importance of the link between health and visual aesthetics, with credits offered for meeting certain requirements regarding views of skies and nature.
In May 2018, the United Nations reported that by 2050, 68% of the world population will be living in cities, and as of that report, 55% of people were living in cities. Cities are renowned for innovation, but also for air quality issues. The Canadian Broadcasting Company, in late 2019, reported that air pollution levels near major roadways in Canadian cities, are too high for the public, based on a University of Toronto study. While indoor air remains ambiguous in whether it is worse or better than outdoor air, city dwellers are more than ever exposed toward various pollutants that can enter homes, some from cooking certain foods. Thus, air filtration systems are becoming more and more important to overall health, with seven million people dying from breathing polluted air annually. Current sustainability practices, like LEED and WELL, have added indoor air quality requirements toward the design of buildings, judging improved air quality as a critical factor in overall human comfort.
With more people working than home than usual, auditory comfort has become more and more critical. This is not novel, as the WELL rating system judges the quality of sound insulation and background noise level. While creaky floors and squeaky doors are often noticeable, there many noises that we have accustomed to: fridges, for example, have the same decibel level as rain. Noticeable sounds are often tied with design roots, like thin drywall allowing for sound to travel far.
Those working from home can attest to the need for appropriate lighting for proper working conditions, to avoid negative health conditions, like eye strain and headaches, and this need for proper lighting becomes more relevant in winter, when seasonal affective disorder comes into play. Improper lighting affects our circadian rhythm, which in turn, controls health aspects like our immune system and sleeping schedules, among others; a disrupted sleeping schedule leads to further health problems, such as negative effects on brain function and body fat levels. Similarly, blue light from numerous electronic devices can also disrupt circadian rhythms. Understanding the importance of lighting, the WELL rating system requires designers to provide light exposure that allows for circadian health to be maintained.
Paving the Way for Healthy Design
The above properties are often taken for granted, until negative conditions are made noticeable by demand, such as trying to sleep by a highway. Older buildings are not necessarily adhering to these principles; simply, in example, old creaky floors are common, thus lowering the auditory comfort of a building. Trends in global building practices are acknowledging these important attributes of indoor space, such as the LEED and WELL systems. As we navigate the current shift to work-from-home arrangements, these factors will become increasingly important with respect to economical considerations for new homeowners, workplace efficiency and most importantly, human health.