“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us”, Winston Churchill’s famous quote rings true for so many of our structures. Architecture is an important tool which heals, evolves and spreads cheer. Mental health and stress need to be openly spoken about and designers should take into account how the spaces they create dictate a person’s mental health and happiness. Spaces have the power to influence us. Be it homes, schools, offices, hospitals or public buildings – the mass and void of architecture plays an important role in our lives. For instance, the lack of lounges in dormitories, absence of interaction spaces in schools, no outdoor views of green spaces in hospitals can be detrimental to personal growth and happiness. It is important for designers to not succumb to designing for numbers, rather designing for people, for emotions and memories.
More often than not, architectural discourse revolves around the analysis of site, climate, context and architectural typologies. The aesthetic and the structure is the main tenet of focus, when it should rather be empathy for people. Demography and stakeholders form a rather small part of the research in most spatial endeavors. Yet, 2020 has made it clear that spaces not only need to be functional and beautiful – they also need to be able to heal and revive, to be made stories in and to provide stable mental health and happiness. Let us discuss some examples of healing architecture and make notes about the qualities spaces need to have in future.
1. Maternity waiting village, Malawi | MASS Design Group
Low fertility rate and lack of adequate health care caused a lot of Malawian women to suffer from miscarriages and post natal health issues. MASS Design Group alongside the Malawian government have created the Maternity Waiting village for expectant mothers as a measure to spread awareness and cater to pregnant women with medical and educational facilities. Borrowed from the vernacular concept of villages in Malawi, this waiting village consists of clusters of houses around small courtyards, allowing women to come together, take care of each other and foster interaction between first time and experienced mothers. Spaces for family members of the pregnant women, learning spaces for pre-natal and post-natal care as well as medical check up spaces have been interestingly designed for all seasons. Women have especially benefited from this spatial design as they find opportunities for mutual self-help and medical help.
2. Neo-natal Intensive care unit, Rwinkwavu | MASS Design Group
Another commendable project by MASS Design group is the Rwinkwavu neo-natal intensive care unit. The issue of low fertility rate and poor medical care conditions in Rwanda prompted the design of this hospital. The design language is constructed in a way to make the atmosphere livelier – the post delivery ward is imagined as a living room with large windows and bright colors to accelerate recovery. Outdoor views are championed as a tool for healing with landscapes specially designed to keep relatives outside and occupied, as a measure to prevent overcrowding in the hospital. A welcome move for young mothers and children.
3. Ogimachi House, Japan | Tomoaki Uno Architects
Designed for an older woman coping with stress and health issues, the Ogimachi House cleverly uses the traditional Japanese building technique of Ikatura to join cedar and cypress woods without nails. This whole wood house was planned without any windows on the walls, instead using strategically placed custom designed skylights to fill the spaces with natural light. This not only provided the user with much needed privacy, but the subtle soft wood interiors provided psychological support. This minimalist house was designed keeping her special needs in mind, which helped her recover faster.
4. Vac Library, Hanoi | Farming Architects
The Vac library in Hanoi, Vietnam was designed in a jungle gym style for kids. Set next to a small ‘Koi pond’, the concept is for kids to learn about hydroponics and aquatic life in a fun interactive space. The library also combines climbing and playing with small cubby holes to make reading interesting. These small spatial interventions go a long way in building friendships, unity and love for healthy activities such as reading and bonding with nature. Farming architects also designed this to pavilion of sorts as a improvisational space which could be altered in future to create a dynamic quality in the built and instill love for the library in the kids. A place for the young ones to call their own!
With the sudden demise of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, the discussion over mental health in India has soared yet again. With all that’s been happening in the world over the last few months, it becomes more vital for us to openly talk about issues and deal with collective stress. It is appalling that someone as rich and successful as Sushant Singh Rajput was battling depression, yet it just shows that the issues faced by commoners and especially the poor might be much bigger. We are all trying to cope somehow. Let’s not make it harder for each other.