Designing for health and wellbeing

Recent events have shown that a large number of us can, in fact, work from home and be effective in doing so. At Latis, we have managed to easily adapt and continue working productively. When it comes to designing homes, master plans and communities, much of the ground work can be done remotely with the help of technology, such as Microsoft Teams, which enables us to discuss and develop projects virtually. It is clear there are many things we can accomplish without having to leave the comfort of our homes. However, eventually, face-to-face meetings will be required, and most certainly before a spade finds its way into the ground.

This raises the question of whether we can expect to work from home/remotely more often in the future, post the COVID19 lockdown. If this is the case, one must consider the working environment, which may be, for some of the time at least, our home environment too. At present, I am writing this whilst sitting in the garden enjoying the beautiful weather we are experiencing. But not everyone has the luxury of a garden, and not everyone’s home is a place where they want to spend most of their time: maybe it's a north facing single aspect flat that doesn’t get much light; maybe it’s overcrowded; or there is a lack of suitable spaces from where you can work; or maybe you don’t have access to an area for exercise or somewhere to enjoy some nature. 

More often than not, if there is any reason why you would dislike working from home, or indeed from your office, it is almost certainly to do with design. The design of your surroundings has a marked impact on your wellbeing.  

The ancient Greeks were ahead of us with respect to their awareness of how design affects health. They designed entire cities around the idea of wellbeing. Take for example the city of Epidaurus dating back from the third or fourth century BC. This ancient place had temples, clinics, sleeping houses, theatres and athletics stadiums nestled in a breathtaking environment with expansive views across the sea, whilst providing surgeries to help improve your physical and mental health. 

In the last couple of decades, many great books have been published that touch on the subject of how the built environment affects us such as ‘The Architecture of Happiness’ by Alain De Botton, but there are also more substantive science based articles that analyse this topic in greater detail, and companies such as Google have used this evidence to develop work environments that benefit their employees. A great modern day example is the new Google ‘landscraper’ HQ in King’s Cross. They realised that if their employees are happy, they tend to work better and more productively. 

This is not too dissimilar to the eureka moment Joseph Cadbury and William Lever had at the beginning of the 19th Century, when they decided to build entire towns (Garden Villages) for their workers. This allowed their employees to live in close proximity to their place of work, therefore they had more time to spend with their families, more time to develop a strong sense of community and more time to enjoy the ample green space for exercise, leisure and recreation. All of these are proven ways to better one’s health and enhance happiness. Unfortunately, these Garden Villages never quite picked up enough steam. So in the meantime, cities developed their allure.

Fast forward to today, and we are starting to experience a paradigm shift. Between the latter half of 2017 and mid 2018, London saw its biggest exodus since the ONS started recording data in 2012. More people are leaving London than ever before. The trend is shifting away from the big city and more towards suburban/rural parts of the UK. More people are beginning to work from home and not least because of COVID19 but because they can and want to, and we are here to facilitate this transition. 

At Latis, we know the question is no longer if the built environment has an effect on our wellbeing, but to what extent. Therefore, we are developing a holistic approach, with a great attention to detail in order to achieve the healthy and happy communities Cadbury and Lever once set out to do, but to a 21st Century standard of sustainability and design. We are designing homes and communities that are conducive to productivity, creativity and comfort. It is through these positive environments that we feel inspired and motivated to follow those pursuits that directly affect our health and wellbeing.