Designing a living experience for well-being

Modern development of apartments

Perhaps more than any other aspects of life, COVID has changed our experience of home and of work; in fact for many the two have become synonymous as they have taken place in the same living space.

For many then and some now, gone was the chance to have a change of scene and to see new faces and a chat in the staff kitchen each day; the number of hours spent at home has more than doubled.

Linked to spending more time in the same place, doing more things in the same space and of course in having to share some of that space, there have been very obvious mental stresses and strains.

The good news is that it is not the first time architects and planners have thought about such things, but we will certainly see more emphasis placed on this aspect of design in future I feel, now that more of us are particularly conscious of or home space.

Well-being was certainly one of the emerging themes at the Property Week 2019 conference. Not only are residents aware of these things, so are some architects and developers and it is interesting to hear what they are thinking about when we are choosing our own house share space or re-developing property as a shared co-living place.

Well-being offers value

In a recent Financial Times article, which focused mainly on new student accommodation, Ben Channon, Head of Well-being at Assael Architecture, outlined the key things to think about in creating well-being in a community – of course many of these things are relevant to everybody who shares a home.

He says “The space we are in, the environment around us, the neighbourhood we live in, all have an impact on our state of mind”. So what should we focus on?

One fundamental issue is daylight, the absence of which affects circadian rhythms and can cause seasonal affective disorder in some. In this respect the height of ceilings and size of windows can have a big impact on the health of occupants. Fortunately many older buildings used for conversions have such features, but they also lose heat, so there is a trade-off.

Colour schemes are also important. If we live and work in the same space, how can we use warm colours in rooms to make us feel relaxed and secure, at the same time as have a work area that has brighter blue light to keep us alert and productive?

Plants, personal effects and your own furnishings can also help to make a place feel more like ‘your own’ as well as help to physically improve the environment.

And one thing important to us all, but perhaps in a different way to students, is our ‘sleep quality’; that can have a big impact on our well-being each day and over time. Sleep quality is related to more than just the location of the room in relation to noise and social areas, “its also about ‘sleep hygiene’ that can be improved by effective curtains to block out light in the early morning, comfortable full-size beds with quality mattresses, and temperature controls”, says Ben.

What about people?

Perhaps the most important aspect of well-being is mentioned by another contributor Ben Morley, of True Student, who manage specialist student accommodation in five cities in the UK. He focuses very much on the social aspects of well-being.

Whilst student providers seem to favour playground slides in public areas (maybe for the marketing), Ben does mention things more relevant to older groups too.

“Cooking together is an obvious thing people love to do, making their favourite dish. It’s a great space and a great icebreaker.” he says, although it is less likely that smaller or older groups would necessarily want to have a series of activities including yoga and guest chefs in attendance, especially as these sorts of things drive up cost. Student accommodation typically has full time events managers, organising events to help new students get to know others – who knows, maybe larger developments for inter-generational and mature residents will emerge?

One factor seen as important is that of a resident manager, available to deal with all manner of issues that may arise. This is something more than the concierge or security offered by some new developments, instead linked more to pastoral care and dealing with the resident’s well-being, not just building maintenance.

“Managers of shared accommodation need to think about the total living experience rather than just the built structure”

Which bring us to the big idea circulating in property circles, that developers and managers of shared accommodation need to think about the total living experience rather than just the built structure.

That has always been the case in a ‘home’, so it is good to see developers thinking of this. But we can also apply the same thinking in welcoming tenants / housemates to share our own homes. How can we make them and us feel comfortable in a shared space? A shared space we may have to spend much more time in together than before.

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