How Can Architecture Encourage Health and Wellness?

Healthier homes have always been in style, but now they’ve become an imperative. Even before the pandemic, we spent 90 percent of our lives indoors and 65 percent of that inside our homes

While genetics are indicators of health outcomes, they don’t tell the whole story. Long-term happiness and wellbeing increasingly correlate to other factors, including the impact of our environments—communities, homes, and workplaces. The built environment has a tremendous impact on our feelings of contentment and comfort. Healthy environments in which to live, work, and thrive are key drivers of new home sales and remodeling projects. Builders can enjoy differentiation from the resale market and competing communities through architecture and design that support physical, mental, and emotional health. Here are some important design considerations when building homes that prioritize health and wellness. 

Improved Daily Routines

Home design considerations can naturally coincide with circadian rhythms or sleep-wake cycles for more restful sleep and to create environments that encourage healthier choices. 

Peaceful Bedrooms

We spend a third of our lives sleeping and trying to get to sleep, approximately 26 years on average! Incorporate elements that help homeowners get at least seven hours of restful sleep, like better soundproofing, an attached sitting area or retreat, and soft lighting with built-in automation that adjusts depending on the time of day. Design bedrooms to promote healthier circadian rhythms by making them face east, which allows the morning sun to act as a natural alarm clock.

Better soundproofing and a place to relax and unwind from the day can help promote rest and relaxation. This primary suite features both a fireplace (pictured) and a private outdoor room.

Natural Light and Noise Pollution

Access to natural light is a key driver of healthier sleep-wake cycles. Home design should work in harmony with the day’s rhythms while creating comfort. Natural light, temperature, and noise control are just as important to a home as the roof or foundation. Windows make the most impact on all of these elements, both in form and function. The size, placement, and type of windows and shades bring in the good stuff – natural light, while keeping out the bad – street and neighborhood noise.

Kitchens that Inspire Healthier Habits

Kitchen layouts that are designed around functional zones make room for everyone and allow for better meal preparation. It’s easier to reach for healthier foods when everything’s organized and within reach, so offer ample kitchen storage in cabinets, shelving, drawers, and the pantry. Butler’s pantries and larders are making a comeback and offer even more space for fresh produce and a juicing or smoothie station. Built-in areas for recycling and composting are also a big plus. 

This kitchen offers plenty of storage options to help homeowners make healthier choices by keeping everything well-organized and within reach.

Spaces that Foster Work/Life Harmony

Multi-functional and flexible spaces are big selling points, but what if the buyer wants to keep the kitchen table sacred? Private rooms with closing doors are a must for those who plan to continue working from home. That said, it may be time to rethink the home office placement in the floor plan. Many builder home plans include the office toward the front of the home off the entryway, but recent data suggests buyers prefer it in a quieter location toward the back of the home. 

Speaking of quiet locations, consider including a digital detox space for homeowners to escape from the electronic overload of daily life. This space can take on many shapes and sizes, from a small nook to a dedicated room. The idea is to design a quiet space that promotes health and wellness by disconnecting from screens and creates a desirable spot for activities such as reading, meditation, or yoga.

Healthy Indoor Environments

Homeowners want their homes to be safe, clean, and free of dust, dirt, and germs. Healthier home interiors start outside at the structure’s envelope and continue into the home’s layout, functionality, and design details. 

Mudrooms and Drop Zones

It’s time to sing the praises of these gatekeeper-style spaces! Shoes and outerwear can track in germs, dirt, and pollutants. A mudroom or drop zone in a floor plan creates a natural repository for these items to keep them away from the great room and kitchen. Clutter-free homes reduce stress and create a sense of wellbeing—offer optional built-ins and shelving in these spaces to help families stay organized.

Including a mudroom or owners entry is a good way to promote health and wellness through architecture. These gatekeeper spaces help homeowners stay organized and keep dirt and germs out.
The owners entry – or mudroom – is a wonderful feature to help homeowners stay organized and keep from tracking dirt and germs into the home.

Keeping it Clean

Homebuyers are looking for durable and stylish features that resist contamination and are easy to clean. Think about incorporating non-porous countertops, moisture-resistant flooring, and touchless faucets, thermostats, and lighting.

Fresh Air

Indoor air quality is always important, and it’s especially top of mind for many buyers right now. It often requires some education on the builder’s part to communicate the value and differences between air ventilation, filtration, and purification in the homes. Moreover, many people are unaware of just how unhealthy air can be inside the home! Most of today’s new homes are constructed to be as airtight as possible, but with that comes the need for improved ventilation and humidity control to keep moisture at acceptable levels. 

One great way to improve ventilation is by including an energy recovery ventilator, often called an ERV. ERVs are a smart way to bring fresh air inside the home while maintaining healthy indoor air quality. Take it one step further by having an interconnected system that can detect toxins in the air, and trigger the ventilation system to run independently to flush it out. A final note: these systems won’t be worth much if they aren’t properly maintained. Be sure to educate homeowners on the importance of qualified maintenance and service people for homes with high performing ventilation systems.

Active Design

More than 60 percent of U.S. adults don’t get the daily exercise they need. This takes a physical and mental toll, as less active lifestyles have a cascading effect and lead to bad habits and worse long-term health outcomes. Thus, builders and architects have a unique opportunity to create homes and communities that promote and encourage active lifestyles to help combat this concerning trend. 

Self-care Spaces

Even as state restrictions ease and gyms and fitness centers reopen, expect to see sustained homebuyer interest in dedicated rooms for physical activity in the home. Bonus rooms and lofts can transform into home gyms and yoga or pilates studios. A private deck or retreat off the primary suite can serve as a meditation space. Give buyers a place to go in the home to take a deserved break from their daily demands. 

Promote health and wellness through architecture by including space for a home gym, yoga studio, or meditation room.
A spare bedroom can easily be turned into a home gym, yoga studio, or meditation room.

Communities that Inspire Activity

Extend opportunities for physical activity and connected living to the outdoors. Connect neighbors and friends through physical activities, events, and shared interests. In master-planned communities, de-centralize outdoor fitness and social areas throughout each neighborhood:

  • Lakefront or water-themed lifestyles
  • Exercise-focused amenities like bike trails, free bike rentals, and outdoor bike maintenance centers
  • Open spaces and venues for community campouts, concerts in the park, and festivals 
  • Creative kids play spaces like life-sized dollhouses, dinosaur parks, and outdoor rec room games.

You don’t have to build in a master plan to encourage fitness and social connection. In smaller communities, consider pocket parks, meandering walking paths, and smaller gathering spaces or social nodes to get buyers off their couches and outdoors. 

The new community center at Southshore is designed to promote health and wellness for residents.
The new community center at Southshore has a special pool dedicated for kids to play in.

Urban Renaissance

While the pandemic caused many families to move from cities to the suburbs, there has not been a mass migration. As the country’s vaccine rollout continues, many cities are experiencing a rebirth, and people are still drawn to walkable neighborhoods and convenient access to public transportation, recreation, restaurants, and shopping. Consider adding higher density products to your portfolio, like missing middle housing and urban infill or adaptive reuse projects. 

Connection to Nature

Humans benefit from access to nature. Harsh indoor lighting, dark interiors, and lack of fresh air are detrimental to our health and wellbeing. Blur the boundary between indoors and outdoors through space planning and architecture that encourages health and wellness. 

  • Floor-to-ceiling windows with automated shades that adjust lighting throughout the day
  • Moving glass walls that open to outdoor living spaces
  • Covered or enclosed patios that can be enjoyed year-round
  • Biophilic design that incorporates natural and organic materials and themes inside the home. 
This condo gets a dose of nature through oversized sliding glass doors that open up the living area to the outside.

Outcomes Over Products

Certifications, material data sheets, and feature lists have traditionally been part of builders’ marketing communications. And while these things are helpful, today’s buyers are more focused on outcomes. Distinguish your neighborhoods through architecture, community planning, and buyer education that emphasize healthier lifestyles and long-term wellbeing.

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