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How to Design Architecture That Helps Occupants Engage in Healthy Habits

By Maria Lorena Lehman — Get more articles like this sent to your email HERE.

New Meaning for Architectural Transience

As architecture gains greater transience, it also becomes an architecture that helps occupants at more impactful levels. For example, technology integration, smart material behaviors, and even kinetic motion can all serve to heighten more of the valuable meaning in transience for occupants. By being able to design these changeable architectural elements to engage with occupants at “just-the-right” time, such architecture can work to foster and support positive occupant habits that will lead them to their desired goals.

‍Image Credit: © macrovector | Fotolia

With changeability comes the opportunity to renew by sparking inspiration and prompting positive behavior. If a building occupant needs to maintain an exercise habit to treat or prevent a certain illness, the environment can work to foster and support such healing behaviors. Just imagine a bathroom mirror that prompts motivational messaging to inspire a morning exercise as the occupant grooms first thing in the morning. This is quite impactful since the occupant would be seeing themselves in the mirror as they associate the positive prompt or affirmation with their own self.

Furthermore, rooms within a home could communicate and their integrated technologies could work to prompt occupant behaviors. For instance, while the occupant is in the bathroom grooming, an exercise routine can load onto the television in the living room, home gym or other workout area to make starting the workout easier. This alleviates the friction associated with starting and maintaining a new habit. In this case, one functional activity could trigger another one. In this way, an architecture can learn an occupant’s desired daily agenda, and then can coordinate functionality sequences to help the occupant stick to and complete their desired activities.

Fostering GREEN Behaviors for the Collective

Adaptive sensory architecture can work beyond benefiting only the individual. You see, an entire building’s occupants, a city’s citizens, or the entire global community can benefit as well. If buildings could work to prompt healthier GREEN behaviors (from the bottom-up) starting at the level of the individual, then the entire planet could benefit. Often, people want to be good citizens. They want to behave with such GREEN habits as recycling, bicycling, or even eating better foods – but the pain of changing to such behaviors becomes challenging. With architecture that engages with occupants in real-time, it becomes possible to foster such occupant GREEN behavior change. The environment can work to mirror and support the positive progress that an occupant would like to make with regard to new habit formation or maintenance.

Environments can serve as “just-in-time” reminders for occupants that prompt them not only at the right time – but also at the right place. This is an important distinction. After all, reminding someone to recycle while they are watching TV is not as effective as when they they are sensed to be throwing something away or getting ready to cook in the kitchen. These are only simple examples, but they can be pushed further to really work with the nuances of the personalized way in which an occupant lives and works. Again, by designing so architectural transience brings greater benefit for the individual with regard to habit formation and maintenance, the collective will benefit as well. Such adaptive sensory architecture serves to amplify and expand upon the desire of the occupant to be the best they can be, which it turn, ripples through the larger community, culture, and world.

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Maria: I came across your website through a reference in today's Architect Weekly ezine and am delighted I did. I'll bookmark your site and check back often. I read the first article and then the second and thirty minutes later realized how much time had passed. I've been practicing for thirty years and have always missed the stimulation of academia. I find each of your brief dissertations sort of like a day in design studio. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ron Ward
AI Group Design
I am excited to see you touch a vein of values in architecture, I have been chasing myself for years. Your depth of involvement in these very deep subjects is really beautiful and passionately dealt with and well written. Sound, color and value, shape, texture, scale, smell.... all definitive measures of the spaces we should be alert to. [...] I will savor the rest of your investigation of sensuality in architecture. I'm Glad I found you.

Dennis McLaughlin
McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is a multi award-winning visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Tech and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. CLICK HERE to learn more.

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