“Our bodies, our health, and our buildings are forever connected. The links between architecture and well-being are richer than merely affording safety from injury; buildings can be, should be, agents of health – physical, mental, and social health. Good buildings and urban plans do precisely that.”
– Richard J. Jackson (Rainwater, Brown, & Haber, 2012; p. 2)
Until recently, “green building” efforts primarily focused on reducing energy use and carbon footprint. Human health, however, is also an important component of environmental, economic, and social sustainability. Physical, mental, and social health, as well as sustainability are affected by the design of the physical environment at multiple scales: from rooms and buildings, to communities and cities. Urban planners, architects, and policy makers, however, face a paucity of evidence and evidence-based design guidelines addressing health and sustainability.
School of Architecture Professor Kim Rollings and her interdisciplinary Architecture, Health, and Sustainability research group at Notre Dame (AHS-ND) are documenting effects of the physical environment on physical health, mental health, and health behaviors. Working within a social-ecological framework, AHS-ND systematically examines how various attributes of built and natural environments (e.g., floor plan arrangement, ceiling height, window size, building condition, street connectivity, land use mix, density, proximity to green space) interact to affect health outcomes such as dietary intake, physical activity, stress, anxiety, and depression, especially among vulnerable populations (low-income, children, aging, mentally and physically impaired). This work adds authority to professional design and planning practice, and has implications for policy.
Additionally, AHS-ND develops evidence-based environmental assessment tools for architects, researchers, and other practitioners to quantify attributes of the physical environment related to health outcomes and evaluate different architectural and urban design approaches. Results of this work contribute to the development of evidence-based design guidelines and recommendations with the goal of establishing healthy, socially responsible, and sustainable buildings and cities.