AHR applies innovative biophilic design principles at The Spine building
For the northern home of The Royal College of Physicians, AHR Architects was tasked with creating a building that leaves its occupants healthier.
Clockwise COO Alexandra Brunner discusses the flexible workspace provider’s design principles, and how design choices can foster community, improve productivity and wellbeing.
Words: Alexandra Brunner, Clockwise
Photography: Fiona Smallshaw
The idea that ‘form follows function’ has long been a design principle. Its purpose should be the starting point for its design, rather than its aesthetics.
The pandemic was many things, not least a fuse burning slowly towards a mental health crisis. The World Health Organisation says covid triggered a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide. Many of us have seen it in friends and family suffering, in rising absenteeism, and a spike in demand for mental health services.
As businesses, it has become vital to address the mental health crisis head on. We must ensure we are doing what we can to make the environments we offer for members and staff not just suitable for work, but also to thrive in. If we can design buildings and spaces that make people happier, healthier and more productive, that is clearly what we must do.
If we are to take a positive from the experience, it was an opportunity to observe, to learn, and to do better. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is where architecture and design are increasingly improving lives. Our most recent opening in Bristol, designed by MoreySmith, is testament to this ideal.
Bright and airy spaces drown the room in vitamin D-boosting natural light, increasing productivity, and reducing stress. Humans have an innate need to connect with nature, so we have incorporated views to the waterways surrounding our Bristol site to provide an almost meditative element to the space.
It is often said that ‘sitting is the new smoking’ – that our often inactive, seated lifestyles are worse than a 20-a-day habit. Before the pandemic, being chained to a desk or a soulless cubicle was fairly normal. But as the NHS says – ‘any exercise is better than none’ – even a brisk 10-minute walk can clear your mind and help you relax. But not everyone is that way inclined so design interventions that encourage movement are a nudge in the right direction.
These can be as simple as providing a multitude of different seating, standing and desk options – a considered approach to design that fosters community and interaction. Clockwise Bristol features a range of public spaces which have been created to increase dwell time and interaction, enhancing opportunities for conversation, collaboration and movement.
We have been handed a once-in-a-century opportunity to do better by the people who rely on us and on whom we rely. We wouldn’t build a bank without a vault and we shouldn’t design spaces without considering the wellbeing of the humans who use them. “We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us,” mused Winston Churchill, staring at a bomb-ravaged House of Commons. To ensure that the buildings we provide help to shape lives for the better is the least we can do.
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