Beyond meeting the human need for shelter or being visually fascinating, good architecture has the ability to save lives according to the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

The AIA has developed an interactive infographic entitled Designing Communities, Shaping Health that demonstrates design elements in the built environment that directly affect the physical and mental health of its inhabitants.

“As an architect, your decisions can affect the mental and physical health of everyone that comes into contact with your work,” explained the AIA.

aia interactive

Interactive infographic highlights design hotspots

Click on the image to view the larger version.

The infographic, designed by Link Studio, features eight “design hotspots” within an illustration that appears to depict the ground floor of a commercial building.

The design hotspots are interactive and by clicking over areas such as the floor to ceiling windows, the entrance or a staircase, the illustrations reveal information and statistics about ways design responds to health.

Clicking on the staircase, for example, informs users about vertical and horizontal circulation and talks about possibilities such as including foliage along stairs and daylighting. It also communicates the benefits of taking the stairs and the importance of a “well-integrated and designed staircase,” which encourages physical activity by the buildings’ inhabitants.

Vertical and horizontal circulation

Vertical and horizontal circulation

Furthermore, it outlines research from a Harvard study that found “men who climbed at least 20 floors per week had a 20 per cent lower risk of stroke or death from all causes.”

Clicking on the couch in the lobby, meanwhile reveals information on material selection and specification. For example, it discusses the toxicity of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in materials and their ability to trigger respiratory health problems or worsen allergies.

The illustrated glass entrance discusses doors and windows, the importance of natural light and its ability to raise productivity levels in building users, while the window views were also credited for their ability to visually connect people to views of nature offering “positive benefits related to health and healing.”

Zoning Details

Zoning details

Beyond holistic benefits, the chart covers on-site food production along with the health impacts and possibilities in the mechanical, electrical and plumbing and facility operations and management sections of the built environment.

It also features a graphic which encourages “post-occupancy plans, as well as publicly displayed signs and workplace programs” in design environments to educate the public “on how architecture and design can positively affect physical, mental, and social well-being over the life of a building.”

Natural light improves productivity

Natural light improves productivity

The infographic also makes several references to New York’s Active Design Guidelines and the US’ LEED rating system for their ability to recognise architecture and interiors that have been designed to ameliorate the well-being of its inhabitants.

While life-saving architecture is usually aligned with buildings that are earthquake proof or built from resistant materials, in this infographic, the AIA has demonstrated design details that are sometimes unknown to the user that can actually make a difference, such as architecture that supports the ageing population, spaces that encourage physical activity and materials that can minimise allergy flare-ups.

Many designers are even combining medical research when creating products or designing spaces to deliver the healthiest possible environments.

Greening staircases

Greening staircases

In New York, healthy living real estate pioneer Delos has developed what are believed to be the city’s healthiest apartment buildings. Inside, holistic designs including posture supportive flooring, Vitamin C infused shower water to reduce residual chlorine, and oxygenated planters and vertical gardens for clean air.

In Australia, a study by Lynee Armitage and Ann Murugan of Bond University further supports the AIA’s vision that design does indeed impact or enrich lives.

Armitage and Murugan went to the commercial market to conduct a survey of 351 employees who occupy 10 green office buildings (Green Star-rated in accordance to the Green Building Council of Australia) and 159 employee respondents occupying 11 non-green office buildings.

Benefits of on-site food production

Benefits of on-site food production

The findings revealed, “employees in green workplace environments consider themselves to be happier and healthier than employees in non-green workplace environments.”

“Human beings require certain environmental conditions in order to function well both physically and psychologically,” the study showed. “If we assume that access to natural light, views to the outside, clean air and individual controllability are part of people’s essential needs, it would thus explain why these attributes contribute to happiness and health in such a big way for the people working in green office environments.”