Architecture of wellness

There are many rules and guidelines that regulate the built environment. For the most part these rules and guidelines are in place to benefit the wellness of its occupants. The first building code involved protecting cities from completely burning down when a single fire would break out (think London and Chicago). As building codes evolved there became building codes that required fresh air in people’s sleeping quarters, stable construction so that buildings wouldn’t collapse during a minuscule earthquake, enough exits in a building so that everyone inside could exit in case of an emergency, and so on and so forth.

But what’s missing are guidelines on how a building promotes well-being. We spend a majority of our lives inside buildings, so doesn’t it make sense that buildings should be required to make your life better? Of course buildings improve life at a minimal level – they keep us warm when it’s cold outside (and vice versa), they’re fitted with electricity so that we can refrigerate our food, they protect us from bears – but do they improve life?

If you look at our homes and offices, you can easily argue that our built environment promotes a sedentary lifestyle. There’s a balance between providing resources for promoting a healthy lifestyle and the stimulation for motivating people to want a healthy lifestyle. If most suburban homes were within a quarter of a mile of a grocery store, and the path between these homes and the grocery store were designed to focus on the pedestrian (such as not requiring people to cross six lanes of traffic moving at fifty miles per hour, or not walking across acres of parking lot) then it’s safe to say that more people would walk to the store. But our built environments are generally designed to be focused on people traveling by car, so most people decide not to walk over a mile and across six lanes of traffic and parking lots. The same can be said of office buildings making it more convenient (and more accepting) to use the elevator than the stairs, especially in a two or three-story building.

I found the above sign near a pedestrian bridge in Denver that connects Lower Downtown with the Platte Valley neighborhood. I don’t know if the sign was in response to gang warfare between rival tai chi and tae bo classes, or if a group of weightlifters were trying to clean and jerk cars in the adjacent parking lot, but it seems to me that this sign epitomizes the problem with a built environment that is unable to promote a healthier lifestyle. There should be signs in every building that state “Please exercise“.

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One thought on “Architecture of wellness

  1. Mile High Pixie

    I love the idea of a group of yoga enthusiasts facing off against a horde of t’ai chi practitioners West Side Story-style, complete with menacing, rhythmic snapping. I have to wonder what made someone even put up this sign in the first place. Was there just too much joy in the space? Or did Richard Meier come by and get offended that people were actually occupying a pristine modern space and blow a gasket?

    I was amused when I walked through a clinic building for a local HMO recently. They had a sign on a door that said “Free Exercise Machine – This Way.” It was a door to the stairwell. And while that made me laugh, I did wonder why we make stairs–handy as they are–so utterly back-of-house and utilitarian-looking. It’s like we’re saying “Seriously, you shouldn’t use this area unless you’re escaping a fire or a terrorist attack.”

    Reply

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