Welcome to Wellness Architecture

With wellness now a part of our diets, workouts, and mindsets, it’s natural that we would start to yearn for it in our living spaces. So perhaps it’s no surprise that wellness is wending its way into architecture, construction, and interior design, retooling our indoor environments for optimum health and happiness.

wellness architecture
Clerestory lighting lets sunlight flood the room.

Americans spend most of their time inside (90 percent of the day, for the majority of us). But being shut in—often in buildings with poor air quality, artificial light, and background noise—can lead to a range of health problems, from migraines to asthma to cardiovascular disease stemming from inactivity and the rampant rates of obesity that correspond to it. The emotional toll can be equally high, with effects like disrupted sleep cycles and decreased sense of well-being.

wellness architecture
Uncluttered decor and a color scheme drawn from nature evoke calm.

Fortunately, interest in designing “well” buildings is burgeoning, an outgrowth of the sustainable architecture movement of the past decade. Fueled by a Millennial desire for well-being at work, office spaces led the way, introducing solutions like nap pods, wholesome snacks, yoga studios, and natural desk lighting. Hotel groups followed suit with guest rooms that incorporated features like aromatherapy, organic mattresses, vitamin C showers, and air purification. Now, residential buildings are catching on, doing everything from incorporating plants that trap fungus and dust to using construction materials that remove harmful chemicals from walls. Some designs simulate the outside inside with greenery, fountains, plentiful windows, earthy hues, and natural materials. Others use circadian lighting (brighter lights during the day and warmer lights at night) and acoustic-sound-masking systems, both of which are designed to promote sound sleep, productivity, and happiness. Some also employ active design, encouraging a healthier lifestyle with builtin movement areas and central staircases. Meanwhile, shared roof decks, gardens, and lounges aim to promote good mental health by countering feelings of isolation.

At the forefront of research into wellness architecture is Mayo Clinic and Delos’s Well Living Lab, a scientific research center that tests the effects of various indoor environments on health and wellness. “By incorporating building features that have been scientifically proven to impact the occupant experience, we have the power to harness the built environment as a healthcare intervention tool,” explains founder Paul Scialla. “We want everyone to benefit from what we learn [about indoor health] and bring it into their lives.”

wellness architecture
Floor-to-ceiling glass blends indoors with outdoors seamlessly.

The lab is designed to be reconfigurable so that scientists can simulate different building environments. Work team members go about their daily routines, while a research team manipulates indoor variables like lighting, sound, heat, and air. The research team collects data on the work team using technology like sensors and wearable devices to find out how changes in the built environment affect members’ wellness.

Delos was also the force behind the pioneering International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), launched in 2013 and responsible for WELL certification, which measures total wellness in buildings. The classification system resembles LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and bases certification on factors like air and water quality, lighting, nutrition, active design, mental wellness, and comfort. Hundreds of buildings have already reached WELL classifications and their ranks are growing, a promising sign for a future where home will be where the health is.

Do-It-Yourself Wellness Strategies

  • Plants give you a connection to nature and have a calming effect. Choose indoor plants that trap harmful toxins and remove them from the air, such as Spider Plant and Bamboo Palm.
  • Change HVAC filters often. Vacuum, wash sheets and towels, and flip mattresses regularly. Dust from high to low so areas you’ve just cleaned don’t get resoiled.
  • Invest in an air purifier, such as Molekule, which breaks down indoor pollutants and chemicals to improve air quality.
  • Try out a dehumidifier and keep humidity levels at 40–50% to thwart mold.
  • Ventilate your space by opening windows and doors as much as possible or incorporating fans with exhaust to the outdoors.
  • For healthy sleep, improvise your own circadian lighting systems by keeping bright  bulbs in the living room and softer lights in the bedroom. Avoid the computer for at least an hour before bedtime and keep electronics out of the bedroom for optimum sleep. Another option: Use a wearable fitness tracker or sleep-tracking app that measures restlessness; adjust factors like light, temperature, and noise before bed to sleep better.
  • Declutter your space, including closets. Use extra space to create a sanctuary for meditation, yoga, or whatever makes you happy.

—By Cassidy Forman

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