Future of housing design and wellness; Movement and mindfulness

Wellness from the lens of everyday mind and body wellbeing takes the focus of health and wellbeing outside the hospital walls and into the places of our everyday inhabitation. The project on ‘Integrative housing; Home, Work, Wellness’, brings the importance of wellbeing in the future of residential development to the forefront, but not through the archetypical lens of community gardens, gyms and wellness studios but through integrating principals of a mindful design. In fact this concept brought lots of creative potentials for me in terms of the design possibilities that could integrate alternative contemporary lifestyles in residential buildings, often considered as a straightforward typology of architectural design.

pic-1 housing
Integrative housing; Process Design-phase 1- vertical Movement

In trying to translate mindfulness as the awareness and consciousness about the present body experience into architectural design, I also got to understand its therapeutic impacts on stress reduction and improvement of life quality[1]. Stress and anxiety and its consequent physical problems is said to be the disease of the century. Practices such as bodily movement (in different forms) and meditation are important principals of mindfulness. Walking, for example, is a simple bodily movement that helps awareness of the body and reducing distraction and stress levels. But it’s important to understand mindfulness as an inclusive concept in terms of the awareness of the physical, mental and also cultural body.

The understanding of different historical and cultural rituals also gives us plenty of space for contesting the traditional European grid system and the ability to dream and play and appropriate our places of residence into our contemporary life style. For example, coming from a Persian background, sitting and eating on the floor is an important ritual, which gives me a unique bodily position and culturally grounding experience (I could identify even more with this later in my meditation and yoga practice). Recent housing trends like Co-living spaces are in fact inspired by traditional Eastern and tribal cultures, where a group of people with blood relations, used to live in a single household sharing a central courtyard. The co-living housing phenomenon has now changed our old perception of a ‘shared house’ as ‘students-only’ housing; instead we now accept more alternative lifestyles of many single professionals who ‘co-live’ and ‘co-work’ to feel more socially integrated.

As part of the Integrative Housing project, I also had the privilege of teaching a group of master of Architecture students for their thesis studio at Melbourne University. We were imagining the future of residential high-risers (above 80 meters tall) in the site-specific context of Fisherman Bend future development. The design incorporates new forms of life and work and cultural specificity in a vertical residential city using physical movement as a collective strategy to encourage mental, physical and social wellbeing. The idea was having an open mind about different needs of the real community; the hipster, the high-end and luxury (away from its absolute Western understanding of comfort) life-style and possibilities for various cultural rituals. It appears that following British colonization in Australia, our understanding of body, cultural rituals, community and luxury ( as an absolute instance of comfort) is being dominated by the Western culture. Consequently the ‘same old’ British perception of geometry, form, function and communal facilities in residential developments shapes the perception of the ‘legibility’ of a building with traditional grid and axis system and the ‘veggie patch’ common spaces [2].

A selection of students’ works, Thesis Studio 9 at MSDX exhibition, Dec 19

In this studio we were trying to architecturally interpret the recent lifestyle shifts and cultural specificity in the future design of residential buildings. The aim was to reflect this in the building form and the design of apartment interiors and shared spaces, challenging the sameness of cubical buildings and the rigidity of the grid system. I was also hoping for students to explore  how human movement can form the building movement and not vice versa. Our explorations also suggested new typologies of shared spaces, such as vertical circulation as a meeting point or a vertical jogging or walking track in a highly commercial context. This also led to proposing new measures and possibilities for architectural standards, e.g. designing for more flexible and transformable architectural structures, where the space is not necessarily designed for the placement of conventional Western furniture but allows different bodily engagement with surfaces and the floor.

Having a rich multicultural community in the studio helped the exploration of creative ideas. It is amazing to have a culturally diverse group of architecture students, with their unique cultural background and experiences and interpretation of community in the Australian context. Yet, I was hoping to probe few questions by the running of this studio; how ready we are in accepting and applying such creative ideas in the context of Australia?! Whether we still consider the grid and axis building system as a more resolved design regardless of the specificity of the site and the brief? And is the grass of unconventional design with progressive ideas and building forms greener on the other side of the world? When are we going to actually translate the richness of multiculturalism and rituals of ‘home’ by allowing our creative students to freely present their ideas without fearing about their legibility?

I hope the attempt for answering these questions takes us closer to the design of a mindful residential building.

[2] While it is positive to see new models of residential development, such the importance of ‘the common’ spaces, but most of these models do not focus on design innovation but are majorly a financial model.

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