Programming for Health and Wellbeing in Architecture
Updated: Dec 8, 2021
F&T's Vernon Woodworth, Life Safety & Code Consultant, recently authored a book, Programming for Health and Wellbeing in Architecture, that was published by Routledge. Vernon and others discuss a new approach to architectural programming that includes sustainability, neuroscience and human factors. Hear more from Vernon about his new book below.
There is a saying, “You learn more as a teacher than as a student”. I wasn’t looking to learn so much as to keep a toe in the world of Academia when I volunteered to teach at the Boston Architectural College. I was assigned to teach Architectural Programming and Human Factors in a course with my own area of focus, Building Codes, meaning that nevertheless considerable learning was in order. In fact it was a challenge to stay one assignment ahead of my class. I quickly resorted to enlisting guest speakers, many of whom agreeably showed up semester after semester with sometimes passionate, sometimes humorous, always fascinating presentations on school programming and the findings of neuroscience, regenerative design, biophilia, biometrics, urban design, universal design, and the principles of one-planet living. I discovered that by listening to the same presentation multiple times I was always picking up something new. Through this process and the reading assignments I gradually became more immersed in my topics, and began to see important connections, as well as gaps in traditional practice.
There are several excellent books on the Programming process, but their treatment of the principles of sustainability is largely superficial, and the relevant findings of neuroscience regarding our reactions to our environment are too new to be discussed. Setting out to correct these lacunae, I enlisted several of my volunteer lecturers to propose chapter ideas for a book proposal. As the project evolved others came on board. With the essential assistance of Pamela de Oliveira-Smith and Keely Menezes 19 essays were edited into a coherent format with Introduction and Conclusion by yours truly. Like my class format, I had discovered that saying a few words at the beginning and the end while turning over the important content to others worked wonders.
With the volume now available from Routledge (https://www.routledge.com/Programming-for-Health-and-Wellbeing-in-Architecture/Menezes-Oliveira-Smith-Woodworth/p/book/9780367758868) I can give credit where credit is due while simultaneously (and modestly) extolling said content. The chapters are organized thematically as follows:
Laura Regrut IIDA, ISID and Davis Harte PhD open the book with a survey of theoretical concepts informing health and wellbeing in buildings. I did write a chapter on Biophilia and Human Health, the substance of which was largely gained from communication with Jie Yin PhD, from the Harvard Chan School of Public Health. Don Ruggles AIA, whose award-winning documentary entitled “Built Beautiful” has just been picked up for distribution by Hollywood, contributed an essay entitled “Beauty Is…”. Davis Harte also wrote an important chapter on “Stress”, the key factor in systems health, from our central nervous systems to the multiple systems that make up the biosphere.
Keely Menezes MPH juggled editing and coordinating responsibilities with her final thesis in the Master of Public Health program at Tufts while also contributing a chapter on “Programming for People”. Robin Puttock AIA of the Catholic University of America opined on “Empathetic Programming to Foster Inclusion”. Laura Wernick FAIA and Principal at HMFH Architects collaborated with Erika Eitland MPH, ScD of Perkins + Will for a chapter on “Programming for Effective Learning”. Robin weighed in again with co-author Angela Loder PhD to discuss “WELL Certification on a University Campus”.
Robert Tullis AIA expounded on “Placemaking: Programming Urbanism for Human Engagement”. Justin Hollander PhD, Ann Sussman AIA, Frank Suurenbroek PhD, Gideon Spanjar PhD, and Mengfei Wang described their monitoring of subjects walking in Boston and Amsterdam in a chapter entitled “Programming for the Subliminal Brain: Biometric Tools Reveal Architecture’s Biological Impacts” (Ann and Justin have also co-authored several books on this subject). My chapter came next, avoiding completely the topics listed in the book’ title, reporting instead on the AIA’s plans to mobilize the profession towards a future of performance-based codes (“The Future of Codes and the Architecture Profession”).
I had the good fortune to work with Phil Loheed AIA of DP+ Design and the Earthos Institute before his passing on the chapter “Programming in the Biosphere”. Bill Reed AIA (Regenesis Group Inc., Integrative Design Collaborative) allowed me to pour several jugs of his old wine into a new bottle entitled “Regenerative Development and Design: Nature and Healing”. Jim Newman, John Gravelin and Ellie Hoyt of Linnean Solutions collaborated on “Programming for Human Health in a Challenged Environment”. And Lawrence Chan FAIA (Chan Krieger, Chan Urban Design) drew upon his experience with Boston’s Greenway and master planning of a new city in Malaysia to discuss “The Post-Pandemic City”.
Straying once again from the stated agenda, my chapter “Programming and Commissioning: A Bookend Approach to Evidence-based Design” makes the case that measuring outcomes is as important as stating goals. Gregory Crawford took time off from master-minding an eco-village in Portugal to write “Life-enhancing Habitats: Biophilia, Patterns and Wholeness”. Robert Horsburgh Jr. MD (Faculty, BU School of Public Health) played clean-up with “Evaluating the Success of Architectural Design”.
It is a testament to the authors that any of these chapters can stand independent of the others. However common themes unite the contributions into a forceful argument for refocusing our design process onto the goals of human health (including the health of social systems) and environmental health, by establishing goals at a project’s outset and measuring outcomes to verify results. Architects such as Richard Neutra and Frank Lloyd Wright have written about health as a dimension of the architectural environment’s impact. Organizations such as Terrapin Bright Green and the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture (ANFA) have advanced our understanding of neuroscience and biophilia with regard to cognitive functioning. In a press release from Glasgow COP26 the AIA proclaimed a major role in addressing climate change, suggesting that the profession should no longer be limited by clients’ agendas. This can be the tipping point in our professional understanding of the role of the built environment in human and environmental health. An evidence-based approach that replicates scientific understanding and emulates the practice of medicine provides our most likely path to success.
Extending this analogy, if design professionals assume the responsibility of physicians for the planet, we must adopt the Hippocratic maxim to “do no harm”. This simple pledge has enormous implications. But to borrow a one-liner from one of our authors, Bill Reed, a founding member of the USGBC, “a ‘green’ building’ is just a slower way to die”. We have the scientific understanding and technology required to stop global warming (the building sector contributes 40-75% of GHG depending on who you ask), restore habitat, enhance biodiversity, lower the stresses imposed by noxious development and social inequity, create coastal wetlands to absorb storm surge, enhance the public realm, sequester carbon in soil and forests, and build a future that respects the natural systems of life. Our little collection of essays advocates for this radical objective, intending to build upon the work of so many other researchers and practitioners, some of whom advocated for this direction more than half a century ago. So maybe our book is just another drop in the bucket. But anyway, I definitely learned something.
Code FLR40 gets you a 20% discount at Routledge.com. All proceeds to be donated to the Boston Architectural College!