De­sign of a build­ing can af­fect health

The Star (Kenya) - - News - ED­WARD MUGO The writer is the CEO of EDG and Ate­lier, an ar­chi­tec­tural firm based in Nairobi.

Do you know that the en­vi­ron­ment you live in can con­trib­ute sig­nif­i­cantly to­wards your stress? Some of the en­vi­ron­men­tal char­ac­ter­is­tics with di­rect ef­fect on men­tal health in­clude hous­ing, crowd­ing, noise, in­door air qual­ity, and light. A 2012 study by UK–based de­sign firm IBI Nightin­gale con­ducted jointly with the Univer­sity of Sal­ford, found that the con­flu­ence of class­room de­sign fea­tures such as room ori­en­ta­tion, acous­tics, and fur­ni­ture can en­hance or hurt a stu­dent’s aca­demic progress by up to 25 per cent dur­ing the course of a year. Although there is near con­sen­sus on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween hous­ing qual­ity and psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tress, plan­ners and prop­erty stake­hold­ers have failed to ad­dress this prob­lem in a holis­tic man­ner. In many parts of Nairobi it may be too late to change. This has made some ur­ban dwellers to re­duce stress by over­drink­ing, get­ting hooked on drugs, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and other de­viant be­hav­iour. We al­ways re­alise when schools close how un­friendly our en­vi­ron­ment is. This is why there has been a pro­lif­er­a­tion of hol­i­day camps in sports, re­li­gion, men­tor­ing, cooking and so on. New stud­ies sug­gest that a school’s phys­i­cal de­sign can im­prove or worsen chil­dren’s aca­demic per­for­mance by 25 per cent in early years. Schools with leak­ing roofs, mouldy walls and dan­gling ceil­ing tiles can cause sig­nif­i­cant lev­els of stress.

Many em­ploy­ees are suf­fer­ing from anx­i­ety or de­pres­sion at their work­places. Sit­ting the whole day can lit­er­ally kill you! The World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion now lists in­ac­tiv­ity as the fourth-big­gest killer of adults, but what does our ar­chi­tec­ture and space plan­ning do to us? Does it heal or ex­ac­er­bate the prob­lem? Mak­ing an of­fice work for your em­ploy­ees through nat­u­ral light, proper aer­a­tion and tem­per­a­ture, good fa­cil­i­ties, colour and green­ery can boost their pro­duc­tiv­ity. When we are ex­posed to ar­eas which are ei­ther harsh or dimly lit, we could be prone to headaches and con­fu­sion. Dif­fer­ent light­ing re­quire­ments might be ap­pro­pri­ate for dif­fer­ent work ac­tiv­i­ties, job func­tions and in­di­vid­ual re­quire­ments. Break out ar­eas for staff should be de­signed with more space and a va­ri­ety of seat­ing op­tions. Un­for­tu­nately, many home spa­tial qual­i­ties have de­te­ri­o­rated es­pe­cially in East­lands, Githu­rai, Ron­gai, Kil­i­mani, West­lands and Kile­leshwa. Their spa­ces have been grabbed. The prob­lem is in the polic­ing of pol­icy. Who en­sures that de­vel­op­ers pro­vide suf­fi­cient play area in ur­ban de­vel­op­ments? Can we think of part­ner­ing with com­pa­nies that can de­velop com­mer­cial fa­cil­i­ties, say mem­bers club, sports club on, say, 25 per cent of the land, and that can com­mit to main­tain the re­main­ing 75 per cent of the open area for the com­mu­nity on a BOT (Build, Op­er­ate and Trans­fer) model? It is time we worked to cre­ate a dif­fer­ent, friend­lier and health­ier ar­chi­tec­tural space for the ben­e­fit of our well-be­ing.

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