An urbanising world must include architecture that is designed to enhance well being, but the man-made world of rectangles and straight lines is not known for supporting human health.

A new tower design aims to show that urban buildings, and towers especially, can have a positive effect on human health.

Matthias Olt, associate vice president at architecture firm CallisonRTKL, designed the project to assess construction costs in planning an ultra-luxury hotel and apartment tower. The firm also “wanted to explore architectural components that positively affect physiology,” he said. “What type of architecture triggered sub-conscious responses of ‘luxury?’”

Olt began his career in health care and said he was inspired by the work of environmental psychologist Roger Ulrich. One oft-cited study by Ulrich, published in 1984, determined that hospital patients with a view of nature recovered more quickly than those without such a view. They also required less pain medication during their recuperation.

Similar research continues, Olt noted.

“New research is proving a connection between behavioral psychology and brain science.” he said. “Physiological reactions to changes in the environment can now be measured to validate architectural design decisions.”

Olt used design elements that embrace humans’ attraction to certain colors, textures, and shapes, especially those that mimic the same elements as found in nature.

“Key design elements include views to the outside, ideally of scenes that include nature; sufficient access to daylight and oxygen; and exposure to sinuous, curvilinear geometries,” he noted.

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Design elements can also have a positive effect on mental health.

“There are other, stress-reducing factors that affect psychology and physiology, such as spaces that provide some amount of privacy, the opportunity for solitude and a feeling of security,” Olt said.

In addition, numerous other health markers are positively affected by informed design strategies.

“Tests have shown with overwhelming clarity the power of deliberate design strategies to lower blood pressure, heart rate, stress levels, breathing rates and eye movement, as well as to positively affect brain function, facial expressions, brain waves, and the immune system,” Olt said.

Further positive effects will be beneficial as increasing urbanisation draws more people globally to city living.

“The positive effects of exposure to nature or forms that evoke nature such as fractals have been shown in all aspects of life, from increased focus and learning ability of school children to improved productivity and well-being of office workers,” Olt noted.

Implementing these design strategies on a global scale, however, presents many challenges. Most buildings worldwide are not designed by architects, and few building standards deal with the effects of structures on human health, especially mental health.

“The main challenge is the dissemination of knowledge,” Olt said00″. Many building owners and developers don’t know what to look for in wellness design or what criteria would actually improve wellness.”

Design standards that address the concept of wellness would push the concept forward, while further research is warranted on all aspects of design and wellness.

“In addition, more data and standardized measurement tools would strengthen the position of architecture and design strategies as an effective solution for reducing health risks,” Olt said.