IMPACT OF BUILT ENVIRONMENT IN IMPROVING MENTAL HEALTH
INTRODUCTION "Architecture is a small piece of this human equation, but for those of us who practice it, we believe in its potential to make a difference, to enlighten and to enrich the human experience, to penetrate the barriers of misunderstanding and provide a beautiful context for life's drama. “ -
Frank Gehry in his 1989 Pritzker Prize Ceremony Speech
The Built environment has a powerful impact on our bodies, fitness and well-being. The environment that surrounds us has influenced our behaviors and actions as well as the evolution of our species since the dawn of time. We are inextricably woven into the fabric of our environments in a way that we affect it as much as the environment affects us. In the post-war years, as the discoveries in medicine moved on, the focus shifted to psychological problems. The ‘Architect’ who once concerned with the prevention of tuberculosis became obsessed with psychological problems. The main impulse of architectural research was to prove that design can positively affect the physical and psychological health of the people. Ever since, technology has evolved much more rapidly than the human psych and a shift towards design for psychological needs is imperative. Hence, architecture needs to step-up to supplement the needs of the mind. Through my paper, I am trying to explore the impact of architecture on people and the built environment. A corollary to this research also explored in this paper, “Can architects address stigma against mental disorders especially in Indian societies?”
ARCH 726 Theories in Design Health | Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Michigan
THEORIES OF THE HUMAN-ENVIRONMENT RELATIONSHIP (Kopec) To lay out the basis for the paper, I would like to outline the scope by explaining some of the theories I investigated to arrive at the conclusion that, â€˜Build environment influences human psychology and altering our day to day exposures with the environment can reduces mental stressesâ€™.
Integration or integral theory (Gifford) Integrators are stimuli that trigger specific behaviors (Chein). Robert Gifford, says that a combination of design features will influence people to behave and act in the most appropriate manners. It is the environment that incorporates a global environment, instigators, goal objects, noxients, supports, constraints and directors. According to the theory, people and environment are separate entities that constantly interact. It states that most humans constantly mold the environment to suit their needs, regardless of long term consequences.
Figure 1 The environment in a Casino
ARCH 726 Theories in Design Health | Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Michigan
Swati Goel The term â€˜Casinoâ€™ triggers images characterized globally as flashing lights, money, gamble, clatter and people. Casino environments are equipped with many built-in supports and instigators to entice people to gamble and keep them attracted to the place, which is why it seems addictive. Like this response, is the response triggered by a library environment or hospitals. People behave differently the moment they enter a hospital or library. They are more conscious and respectful of the surroundings and the working of the space. It is the effect of the space over behavior.
Behavior setting theory (Barker) Behavior settings theory was developed by Roger Barker to explain small scale social systems as well as the study of behavior in its natural environment. It proposes that behavior must be studied in its natural context. These could be small scale social systems likes schools, night clubs etc. Indian temples dictate is a strict etiquette that the followers are expected to follow.
Figure 2 Behavior setting in small scale social systems
ARCH 726 Theories in Design Health | Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Michigan
Swati Goel Most behavior settings are public environments that contain 3 components namely physical, social and environmental setting. Architects set a space for a specific behavior and through operant conditioning we learn at an early age the behaviors expected of us. Therefore, different settings and situations prompt us to behave in specific manners. These theories lay the basis of Human-Environment relationships. In the Indian context, traditional community resources, including temple healing practices, are widely used in managing mental illnesses. According to the legend of the temple, and an idea widely held among the people who come for help, it is the experience of residing in the temple for a period, rather than therapy provided by a healer, that brings relief from mental illnesses. (R Raguram) The engagement with god is considered the most pristine and pious relationship. Since temples are the places of worship, the behavior setting in a temple is rigid and obeyed.
Figure 3 Operant conditioning reinforces desired behaviors in people Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nycstreets/9681479154
Architectural determinism Behavior setting brings us to the concept of architectural determinism which is the idea that people can adapt to any arrangement of space and that behavior in an environment is caused entirely by the characteristics of the designed environment. This approach to design is debatable and takes away the natural setting of design and behaviors.
Figure 4 Ford Foundation Headquarter in New York Source: https://www.cooperhewitt.org/event/members-tour-fordfoundation-11-12-2014/
An explanatory example is the Ford foundation headquarters in New York and the inside garden; a feature implemented to keep the employees indoors. As per Drexler (Scott) , architect Roche said people soon ‘acclimatized’ to the garden created inside the glass box. But the environment thus created is artificial, disconnecting people from the surroundings and enclosing them in the artificial ‘nature’ created in the courtyard of the building. “The Outside-In building” (Scott) expresses a natural but controlled atmosphere. The effect it created was beautiful with a year-round spring inside the office area. But the effect this has on the mind of the occupants is deceiving. It was referred to as “a crystal palace for visible man”, a subject for whom privacy is less important than being noticed. A feature of the Achiever’s society (Han) of the 21st century.
MENTAL HEALTH AND THE CONNECTION TO ARCHITECTURE In burnout society, Han says that,” Today’s society is no longer Foucault’s disciplinary world of hospitals, madhouses, prisons, barracks and factories. It has long been replaced by another regime, namely a society of fitness studios, office towers, banks, airports, shopping malls and genetic laboratories. Twenty-firstcentury society is no longer a disciplinary society, but rather an achievement society.” (Han) Disciplinary society is a society of negativity which creates madmen and criminals, while the 21 st century society is the achiever’s society. Achievement society is in the process of discarding negativity which creates depressives and losers. Phobias and anxiety came to be seen as the mental condition of modern life (Vidler). Also, Alain Ehrenberg in Weariness of the Self: Diagnosing the history of depression in the Contemporary age states that depression is the pathological expression of the late-modern human being’s failure to become himself. Yet, depression also follows from increasing fragmentation and atomization of life in the society. It is the pressure to achieve that is causing depression in the achievement society. It may be said that the achievement society is determined by neurons. Neurological illnesses such as depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), borderline personality disorder(BPD) and the Burnout syndrome. These are infarctions that follow from excess of positivity. Architects design for people and around people. A successful design should cater to the needs to its occupants. However, the need to de-stress is not being addressed by design. The theories discussed above explore how people behave in different settings, both designed and undersigned. The challenge is to understand the ‘Need to design for the stressed mind’.
Scientific Management and Functionalism Industrial revolution brought about Taylorism in the society. It is a production efficiency methodology that breaks every action, job, or task into small and simple segments which can be easily analyzed and taught. Taylorism advanced into Scientific Management, the concept of maximizing the effacement of the worker by management, implemented by Frank Gilbreth (Gainty). It started as a method of sweating more work from the laborers, which led to mechanization. This led to the loss of individuality and talent. Loss of craft led to loss of skill; initiating an era of dependency on machines.
Swati Goel Like the scientific managers, the modernist architects claimed the right to organize life at the factory as well as the home (Guillén). Architect is mentioned as an artist becoming a specialist in organization while a building is the organization of social, technical, economic and mental factors. Houses and buildings became ‘social condensers’ which would instill new social habits into their dwellers.
Figure 5 Effects of Scientific management and functionalism Source: https://www.ck12.org/geometry/If-ThenStatements/lesson/If-Then-Statements-GEOM/
Scientific management proved highly effective in increasing productivity and maximizing the output making us more efficient. This led to functionalism, where the roles of function, action and consciousness were confused. The contemporary architect was unable to integrate material and function to achieve optimization in a functional world. Another thing that emerged out of this movement was that man is no greater than his role, which today is the satisfaction of his physical needs and desires by collaboration in the productive organization of the society (Pawley). It was crucial that architects thought about designing for minds as well as the body’s comfort because as Reyner Banham puts it, spatial design is shrinking. The environment bubble is a “Transportable standardof-living package” a mobile habitat environmentally friendly, equipped by solar panels, for a hippy yet hyper-technological nomad youth.
Swati Goel Physical labor has long been replaced by technology, and our minds are being put to more use than ever. Our lifestyles were unable to cope with the redundancies of the body. One might debate that functionalism led to less physical effort, putting all the stress on human mind which it was not ready for. Technology makes life easy but at the same time it is making our bodies redundant.
MENTAL HEALTH AND STIGMA IN INDIA “India is a museum of cults and customs, creeds and cultures, faiths and tongues, racial types and social systems”. -
Radha Kumud Mukherjee
More than 50 million people in India suffer from a mental illness. In 2011, India recorded the highest rate of major depression in the world at 36 per cent. According to doctors, roughly 10% of India’s population suffers from depression. Public stigma and multidimensional poverty linked to severe mental illnesses are pervasive and intertwined. Not too long ago, mental health was a topic that never made it to the discussion-table; and if it needed mention, it was only spoken about, rather uncomfortably, in hushed tones. Even though people knew there was some issue that needed to be addressed, sweeping it under the rug seemed a more feasible option than seeking medical care and earning the coveted title of being ‘mad’. Factors like social stigma, community’s belief, discrimination, rejection, self-image, family and peer pressure inhibit people from seeking timely therapeutic help. People resort to temples and other centers of worship which has been successful to a certain degree by bringing discipline and routine into the lives of the patients suffering with mental illnesses (R Raguram). but mostly leads to a failed system of devotion. Temples encourage exorcism to treat patients suffering with mental illnesses. This system is more a question of beliefs and stigma than design. The challenge however is to explore environments that can prevent or reduce the onset of common mental disorders like depression and anxiety.
Figure 6 Disability proportion among subjects with mental disorders (%) in India in 2016 Source (National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences)
Figure 6 maps the most prevalent mental disabilities across 10 states in India, amongst which, major depressive disorder(MDD) affects family, social and work life the most in comparison to other disorders and is also the most prevalent and ignored disorder. MDD affects the day to day actions of the people and decreases the ability to lead a normal life which is a vicious circle of distress. It affect our family lives and social life the maximum. Qualitative analysis revealed that depressive symptoms were perceived as socially disadvantageous as these may affect marriage and social status. According to the NMHS study, almost all mental disorders were high in the urban as well as rural areas which led me to believe that it is a phenomenon affecting the masses and needs to be addressed more actively. People need to be made aware of these conditions and help should be provided. For example, in rural India, it is quite common to see people taking their children to temples and faith-healers rather than hospitals and doctors; even more so in cases when the issue is related to mental health.
THEORY OF BIOLOGICAL REALISM Thus keeping these factors in mind it is important to shift towards designing for the mind. This need once understood was acted upon by various architects. The architect was now seen just as a doctor but as a shrink, the house not just a medical device for the prevention of disease but for providing psychological comfort, what Richard Neutra called as ‘Nervous Health’. He developed the term ‘bio-realism’ meaning the inherent and inseparable relationship between man and nature.
Figure 7 Beard House Source: (Barbara La) page 38
According to Neutra, the architect is a physiotherapist and an economist; he can certainly support vitality and health, without which each individual life and each living in togetherness becomes corrupt. (Neutra, Building with Nature) Neutra integrated the biological and psychological sciences into an applied architectural program, therefore distinguishing his career from other modernists. He called his original perspective ‘Biorealism’. It assumed that environments, good or bad, made an impact on the human race. It was necessary to counteract a negative environment and ensure the survival of humankind. (Neutra, Life and Human Habitat) As a scientific discipline, it ensured verifiably healthy design.
Swati Goel It is interesting and important that Neutra referred to the architect as a ‘guardian’ of the human race. He often compared architects to those in other service careers, such as clinicians, physiotherapists, psychiatrists, family practitioners, pharmacists, and scientists. “The architect must deepen and target his empathy,” he wrote, “by becoming more intimately aware of such sensory detail, imagining what his client’s experiences will be like in the setting he is creating.” (Neutra, Nature Near 38) In this way, he made it clear that architects must use physiological and psychological research as the tools of their trade, and they have the utmost duty to the client, not the architecture itself. He also said that our living space should not be separated too much or too long from the green world of the organic. He saw nature as essential to the survival of the human race.
Figure 8 High rise versus living with nature
Therefore, it may be said that, high rise living takes people away from the casual, everyday society that occurs on the sidewalks, streets, gardens and porches. It leaves people alone in their apartments. The forced isolation then causes individual breakdowns.
BUILT ENVIRONMENT IN 21ST CENTURY Rather than improving life, multitasking, "user-friendly" technology, and the culture of convenience are producing disorders that range from depression to attention deficit disorder to borderline personality disorder. Byung-Chul Han interprets the spreading malaise as an inability to manage negative experiences in an age characterized by excessive positivity and the universal availability of people and goods.
Figure 9 Diagrams for the architect's mind Source: https://www.boredpanda.com/architectual-mental-illness-illustrationsarchiatric-federico-babina/
These diagrams are the architectural representation of mental disorders. It is a good attempt to understand through diagrams how the mind works. Since drawings are an effective medium for architects, it makes it easy to understand how the mind is put under pressure in the 21st century achieverâ€™s society. Mental disorders depicted through the diagram of a house also show how architecture is intrinsic and inseparable from the issues of the society. These diagrams also initiate the discourse about the need of architecture for addressing sensitive issues of mental health and stigma in our societies.
Google Headquarters, Zurich, Switzerland Placing priority on health centric design is taking precedence in various design interventions. Googleâ€™s office at Zurich is an interesting example of combining work with activity. Work is a major part of our lives. The achievement society is generating excessive tiredness and exhaustion. Creating such dynamic environments reduces stress and increases contentment. Googleâ€™s EMEA Engineering Hub in Zurich, Switzerland, is a great example of a modern workspace design, by being incredibly innovative, flexible and tailored for the needs and culture of the company and its employees. It cultivates an energized and inspiring work environment that is relaxed but focused, and buzzing with activities. A lot of research went into its design which revealed a need for optimal working environments. The spaces are designed to be beyond functional also focusing on the personalities making work fun and enjoyable. The personal net area of workspace has been reduced to gain more communal and meeting areas. Hence the work areas are designed with high degree of space efficiency allowing for transparency and optimal daylight. It incorporates not only the practical requirements but also the emotional requirements of its employees. The research for design was guided by a psychologist which allowed the architect to focus on the values and motivational factors of the employees.
Figure 10 Google Engineering hub in Zurich, Floor 1 Source: http://www.camenzindevolution.com/Office/Google/Google-HubZurich
Figure 11 Pictures of Zurich office Source: https://www.boredpanda.com/the-best-place-to-work-google-and-their-office-inzurich/
Bharat Bhawan, Bhopal, India Another approach to address mental health through design is though Inclusive design. Architect Charles Correa worked with ‘design as environments’. He had the rare capacity to give physical form to something as intangible as ‘culture’ or ‘society’ – and his work is therefore critical: aesthetically; sociologically; and culturally.
“Certainly, architecture is concerned with much more than just its physical attributes. It is a many-layered thing. Beneath and beyond the strata of function and structure, materials and texture, lie the deepest and most compulsive layers of all.” -
Figure 12 Plan of Bharat Bhawan Source: https://www.archdaily.com/791942/ad-classics-bharat-bhavan-charles-correa
The design is rooted in the vernacular design of India using courtyard and fluid transitional spaces. It is built into a hillside which slopes down towards a lake, while a series of terraces and courtyards define the complex. The route through the terraces encourages movement down the site’s natural gradient, with the courtyards providing spaces for rest and relaxation. The flight of stairs between the terraces reference to the Ghats; steps found in Indian cities which lead down to a body of holy water, just as the steps guide the pedestrian to the lakeside. The spaces thus created are open to sky and inclusive. Bharat Bhavan is an example of modern architecture that allows for every user to feel welcome in the shaded and ‘homely’ spaces thus created. The courtyards create communal public space, with the steps around their peripheries providing articulated seating for residents to meet and socialize. Through his design he was able to reconcile modernity with tradition.
India Habitat Center, New Delhi, India Architect Joseph Allen Stein worked with Neutra and the design philosophy trickles down in his works in Indian context. In this design he brings together Nature and architecture in a massive building to create harmony and health. Stein explores inclusive design by bringing in elements of nature into office design creating spaces that welcome the community as well.
Figure 13 Courtyard in IHC in New Delhi Source: http://www.archiestudio.in/masters_gallery/joseph_allen_stein
Though of an imposing nature, the building complex manages to blend in with its surroundings through its natural embellishments. In keeping with its habitat theme, the whole complex has been generously provided with natural greenery that emerges from and merges into its surroundings to provide an undiluted experience of open nature. He emphasizes the importance of tangible harmony of buildings in nature. He brought grace in modern architecture by the settings of nature in which he created them. His designs in India are a great example of Bio-realism and how nature can be incorporated in design.
Ford Foundation Building, New Delhi, India (1968) Another design by Joseph Allen Stein, the Ford Foundation building in New Delhi is far more modest than the one in New York. Recognizing the modest nature of Mahatma Gandhiâ€™s living style and continuing influence, Stein conceived an oasis of unpretentious structures amid grassy open spaces, placid pools, and paved walkaways. It gives the feeling of informality and coming down to meet the earth. (http://www.laffsociety.org/News.asp?PostID=674) The architecture of the building invokes the feeling of inclusivity. The building is used for official purposes and uses a good combination of open versus closed to counter the difficult weather in India. It is also a good example of vernacular design, a quality common in most post-modern architecture in India. The design unlike New York, houses a garden designed in a traditional Mughal style, which is located outside the building with cascading fountains in a way that it connects to the surroundings. Both buildings were constructed at the same time but the difference in design strategies is contrasting.
Figure 14 Outdoor greens of Ford foundation Building in Delhi Source http://www.laffsociety.org/News.asp?PostID=674
CONCLUSION The design of Ford Building and The India Habitat Centre by Joseph Allen Stein make a remarkable statement towards inclusive design and contribution towards creating a ‘healthy’ built environment. The designs focus towards bringing in nature while maintaining the contact with its surroundings (unlike the Ford Headquarters in New York). In words of Neutra, Connection to nature is imperative for mental development. Since an average human being spends 8-9 hours of a typical 16-hour day in offices, it makes a lot of difference to connect them to the environment therefore reducing stress. Exercise is one of the most effective ways to improve your mental health. Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety, ADHD, and more. It also relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better, and boosts overall mood. Exercise is a powerful depression fighter for several reasons. Most importantly, it promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. Hence it will be interesting to incorporate strategies like the Google Zurich office to increase participation of the body along with the mind. It allows in bringing activity into day to day life thus reducing stress. It has been proved that Industrial revolution added more pressure on the mind rendering the body lazy. Thus, increasing movement during the day will reduce the amount of stress induced. While we change our routines to reduce stress, we must acknowledge that people, objects, ideas are all tied by a loose string. Architects need to realize their role in the society and question some of the things “UNSAID” before. The designs need to be inclusive. The connect to the environment needs to be maximized not just to reduce stress, but to allow people with mental disorders to feel welcome. Studies show that open spaces and interaction with nature have a positive influence on mental health. Architect’s designs need to be a combination of all these factors. Architects have been trying different combinations at designing for the mind, but there has been no absolute solution. The problem is a very subjective and complex. It needs to be addressed through inclusive design where not just people with different capabilities come together, but also nature plays an important role in propagating health and wellness.
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