Top Menu

Architecture and its Effect on Mood and Physical Well-Being


Building materials, lighting, ventilation and the use of space can all affect the mood and physical well-being of building occupants. Design can influence the productivity level of people working in an office. It can improve air quality at home and encourage movement while minimizing the risk of injuries.

People who work in design aren’t necessarily charged with the health of occupants, but they are responsible for design that supports health, safety, and welfare (HSW). That’s why HSW courses are at the heart of continuing education for architects.

According to the AIA, there are six “evidence-based approaches” or fundamentals that support HSW:

  1. Environmental quality
  2. Natural systems
  3. Physical activity
  4. Safety
  5. Sensory environments
  6. Social connectedness

Developed by industry leaders at the 2014 Value of Design summit, these six focus points help designers affect current concerns, such as asthma, obesity, depression and general well-being in a positive way.

Environmental Quality: Minimizing New and Reversing Existing Pollutants

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Tight-as-a-drum buildings were expected to improve energy efficiency. Instead, they became known as “sick” buildings. Occupants were locked in “chemical soup of materials,” says Vivian Loftness, FAIA, at EcoBuilding Pulse.

Now, healthy design recognizes the need for fresh air through ventilation that works in concert with healthier building materials. She and other similar-minded architects call it “environmental surfing.” That is, designing for the unique characteristics of the building location to minimize the risk of exposure to environmental hazards.

According to Inhabitat, green buildings are an unexpected boon for business. Not only are workers healthier in general and more productive with ample natural light, ventilation, and access to the outdoors, there’s less turnover. Schools report better test scores and lower absenteeism.

Natural Systems: Encouraging Health and Recuperation

Design that gives occupants a “sense of control over personal space” contributes to health, as well, says Inhabitat. Shared buildings such as homes and offices that encourage personal control, including climate control by room and access to the outdoors, improve productivity and reduces stress.

Natural ventilation reduces Sick Building Syndrome, and it’s clever now. Whole-house fans or fans with ductwork continually remove indoor pollutants. That’s common practice. Innovative design with movable walls, doors, and windows enable cross-ventilation, too.

Ventilation is also important for mitigating the risk of radon poisoning before it can begin. No location is guaranteed safe from radon, but ventilation built into the design routes it outside before it can enter the building.

As for materials, healthier choices aren’t hard to find anymore. Low- or no-VOC paints either off-gas slightly or not at all. Furniture, carpets and upholstery fabrics with no formaldehyde are commonplace. Appliances that rely on fossil fuels have more efficient design now. Some can be eliminated altogether in favor of electric models and solar power.


Instead of incorporating a home gym, homes are designed to encourage activity everywhere.

 Physical Activity: Promoting Exercise for Better Cardiovascular Health

A space designed specifically for physical activity, such as a home or office gym, is only one way to encourage movement. Architect Magazine says the “deep integration of physical concepts” can inspire a more organic “anatomical engagement.”

Work and life revolve around the sedentary. People watch TV at home and sit at desks at work or in school. Fitness opportunities integrated into design help shake that up, both indoors and outdoors in communities.

Outdoors, ample, convenient and safe parks give people a place to move and play. “Incidental physical activity,” says the Committee on Environmental Health, involves the safe walkability and bike-ability of communities and general neighborhood design.

Indoors, abundant but well-planned natural light affects mood in a way that encourages activity.  Open, clutter-free spaces with intelligent foot traffic paths and easy views and access to the outdoors help encourage people to move more often.

Design for physical activity also helps improve social connectedness. On a much broader scale than one build or a house, community planning can draw people together or separate them. That was one of the major concerns when rebuilding after hurricane Katrina. New Orleans residents have a legendarily strong sense of community. Designers and planners were tasked not just with rebuilding and renovating, but also retaining the characteristics, such as porches and stoops, where people like to gather.

Safety: Minimizing the Risks of Accidents, Injuries, and Crime

The incorporation of ergonomics helps minimize the risk of injury. So do low- or zero-threshold doorways, curbless showers, safe rooms and other physical safety features. Good lighting can reduce eye strain and prevent trips and falls, which are an evergreen, top cause of injuries on the job and at home. Lighting and landscaping design can also minimize the risk of crimes.

Aging in place has brought more attention to good, accessible design that’s safe but doesn’t look or feel institutional. It’s universal design because it’s universally safe, convenient and attractive.

When a home is built with every age and level of physical ability in mind, it feels more comfortable for everyone, not just a person who has limitations. Wider hallways, bedrooms and baths on the main floor, adjustable-height kitchen workstations and door levers instead of knobs are only a few ways to accomplish beautiful accessibility through universal design.

Sensory Environments: Enhancing Well-Being Through the Five Senses

The senses are why people choose a certain fabric for upholstery, paint, and art for the walls and one window design over another and why people are firmly rooted in their preference for Mid-Mod, transitional or traditional homes. The senses are how decor trends evolve. The way a space is designed affects mood because it appeals to (or offends) the senses.

“We see, hear, feel and smell each design element we choose,” says Houzz contributor, Sally Augustin at Forbes.  She believes designers work best when using every design opportunity as a chance to “enrich sensory experiences.”

Health, Safety, and Welfare continuing education courses for architects make up the majority of AIA requirements. Of the 18 credits that architects need each year, 12 of them must be in HSW. PDH Academy can help with that.

When you need Learning Units, check out our courses for architects. They’re available in a convenient online format or correspondence style through the mail.

Comments are closed.