Connecting Through Elevated Design
Designers can design elevated spaces that positively impact people’s lives.
By Sarah Hunter
In this post-pandemic era, bringing people together is more imperative than ever. Depression is the most common health issue worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. With 80% of humans living in cities or towns, the built environment has a significant ability to shape the human experience positively. Architecture that promotes human connection can help improve mental well-being, improve quality of life and even prolong an individual’s lifespan.
This is particularly important in multifamily buildings where private open space is either limited or unavailable. When larger amenity and outdoor spaces are provided, they need to be well designed and thoughtful to take full advantage of their opportunity. The emphasis should be on creating spaces that encourage connections: the connection of people to themselves, people to other people and people to the larger urban fabric.
Connecting People to Themselves
Packing activities and work into every spare moment is the norm. And when we finally get a moment to sit and relax, we hop on our phones and scroll through social media. This never gives our brains a moment to wind down, wander and think. That is why it is beneficial to spend time outdoors (without a tv or phone) to reconnect with ourselves.
In multifamily design, providing some sort of private open space is important to allow residents to disconnect. Sitting on a balcony and having a view of the mountains or sunset, for example, can do wonders for someone’s mental well-being.
According to Lifeworkscc.com, “Spending time outdoors reduces your symptoms of anxiety and depression. An analysis of 10 studies found that spending time in a green environment improved mood and self-esteem.”
When designing multifamily units, architects need to pay attention to accessing sunlight and views to provide usable balcony space. This space could allow for a small garden or hosting a friend for a cocktail.
Connecting People to Other People
One of the great benefits of living in a multifamily building is a feeling of community. According to Medical News Today, “Direct person-to-person contact triggers parts of our nervous systems that release a ‘cocktail’ of neurotransmitters tasked with regulating our response to stress and anxiety.”
Finding opportunities to provide outdoor amenity space is key, as well as programming them appropriately to encourage social interaction. Some of the more common amenities are great for this, such as a swimming pool and outdoor grills. Other ideas include outdoor ping pong and pool tables, outdoor exercise spaces, a putting green, rock climbing wall, jogging track, outdoor movie space, outdoor pizza ovens or an outdoor work from home space.
When these spaces are designed correctly and the management staff helps provide programs, these are perfect opportunities for the apartment community residents to gather and get to know one another.
Connecting People to the Larger Urban Fabric
Most multifamily buildings have a large scale and residents can feel disconnected from the urban fabric. Looking for ways to connect these buildings to the larger context will help improve the residents’ mental health. It will also help the residents cultivate a sense of community and a stronger connection to the site, the building and other residents. When people living in a multifamily building feel a connection to its locale, the benefits are seen within the apartment community as well as the overall neighborhood.
According to American Enterprise Institute, “Residents of amenity-packed neighborhoods are more likely to say their community is an excellent place to live, to feel safer walking around their neighborhood at night, and to report greater interest in the neighborhood goings-on.”
That is why it is important for designers to think about outdoor amenities and spaces that can connect with the greater community. Bringing amenities to the ground floor can help support this goal. Designing indoor amenities that interact with the neighborhood are also beneficial. These amenities could include co-working spaces, fitness, bike maintenance, community herb or vegetable gardens or an indoor-outdoor coffee lounge.
COVID-19 shined a spotlight on the importance of mental health and a designer’s ability to create spaces and communities that positively impact people’s lives. Making even small changes to maximize indoor-outdoor spaces that encourage all types of vital connections can lead to big changes!
Sarah Hunter AIA, LEED AP BD+C is a Director, Design at KTGY. Sarah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.