Mishio / Healing Homes

Healing Homes A Search for the Design of Housing to Foster Wellbeing

Author: Rose-Ann Mishio, Politecnico di Milano

Supervisor: Alessandro Rocca, Professor Dr., (Polimi), AUID, DAStU, Politecnico di Milano

Research stage: Intermediate doctoral Stage

Category: Ext. abstract

Homes and wellbeing

Attention to designing for wellbeing has grown tremendously in the past decade,1 and this is not only due to the spiralling ageing demographics2 which has given cause for attention to ‘designing with care’ especially in Europe, but also the increasing societal need to address wellbeing in a sustainable way toward a better quality of life which has been made evident in the United Nations Sustainable development goals (SDG’s), specifically SDG 3, 10 and 11, which refer to good health and wellbeing, reduced inequalities and sustainable cities and economies.3 The urgency of addressing the design of the home arises from the sky-rocketing care homes and facilities for the elderly,4 the need to foster ageing in place,5 the unsuitability of home designs for the disabled,6 children and teens7 the shared need for healthy living and last but not the least, the social responsibility of architects and designers who design these environments. But how do we design for everyone in a way that fosters holistic wellbeing? In Architecture, wellbeing as a concept is a cultural fact. Architects over the years have incorporated the notion of wellbeing in a bid to improve the quality of life through spatial means [ 1 ] Indeed, the word wellbeing has seen an evolution of its meaning through the years and architecture has obliged accordingly to accommodate these definitions. All ‘changes’ in architecture have been geared towards the wellbeing of man. Today, wellbeing in architecture doesn’t only refer to ‘comfort’, but encompasses the architectural design to support the health of all people, considering the physical, mental, emotional and social effects of the occupant of the building.8 In the quest to design homes for holistic wellbeing, the research poses these dire questions:

  1. How do we design buildings that foster holistic wellbeing for everyone?
  2. How can these traits be replicated in the design of the future home?
Pioneering architects on housing and wellbeing

Figure 1: Pioneering architects on housing and wellbeing

Hypothesis: The theory of Healing Spaces and therapeutic Architecture

An initial search on how to design for holistic wellbeing for all brought forth the concept of Healing spaces from both external disciplines like medical sciences, philosophy and human ecology to internal disciplines like design and architecture. Although it is difficult to define healing spaces because of the different definitions given by the diverse fields of research, the baseline is how these spaces are able to create ambiences to promote physical, mental and social wellbeing ie mind, body, spirit and relationships with others – holistic wellbeing, and also being accessible by the frail and disabled. The very definitions, theories and principles of these spaces answered to a method of designing for wellbeing that answered the research’s quests and thus were studied, analyzed, and articulated into a framework to help frame the thinking process. Although various logics were identified in literature, what was pertinent to the research were the design characteristics [ table 1 ]. A further observation and reflection were done on selected case studies of healing architectures/spaces through redrawing and texts [ 2 ].

Table 1: Unpacking ‘logics’ of healing architecture

Table 1: Unpacking ‘logics’ of healing architecture

Analyzing case studies of healing architecture

Figure 2: Analyzing case studies of healing architecture

Reformulating analysis of case studies

Figure 3: Reformulating analysis of case studies

Recommendation: Defining key themes and design concepts

Taking cue from the initial theoretical and case studies research, the project continues by proposing a key design concept – integration deduced from the analysis and reflection of the case studies [ 3 ].
It also produces the seven key themes of designing for wellbeing for
the research by reformulating the themes derived from the theoretical research to set up the path for a recommendation of a design approach
[ 4 ]. The key themes are identified from common themes across interdisciplinary research of medical sciences, psychology, social sciences, and architecture. This is done to have a justification of themes relevant to physical, mental, and social wellbeing to be sought out in architecture design. Thus the elaboration of these key themes will form from the basis of the design aspect of the research. The research continues by delving deeper into case studies and further literature based on the key themes: Daylight, nature, comfort, accessibility, inclusivity, sociability, and materiality.

Defining the key themes of the research

Figure 4: Defining the key themes of the research


As an exploratory research, the methodology employed in the research is extensive to reach a wide scope of possible solutions. As such, the research is structured into phases addressing the question of “how to design homes that foster holistic wellbeing for all”. The research begins with scientific literature (Phase I). Here, the scope of scientific literature is wide, taking into consideration scientific papers, articles, books, lectures and conferences on the theme of the research from both external and internal disciplines. External disciplines being all fields outside architecture and design, specifically medical sciences, social sciences and psychology, and internal fields being architecture, interior design, design and landscape architecture. The research explores the kind of architecture that is viewed from the other sciences as one that promotes holistic wellbeing for all. It highlights the design criteria of such architecture and analyses some cases cited by the literature to develop key themes of the research. Although the research focuses on the design of homes, Phase I is open to other building typologies to seek out how architecture design fulfils the theme from other perspectives and disciplines. In Phase II, the scope is limited to internal disciplines. Here, case studies on the theme are analysed by reviewing only multi-family housing designs. The selection criteria of the cases are limited to Europe and the states, and the time frame is placed within the 21st century. The critical reflection on the analysis gives rise to the key design concept of the research – integration. Based on these suggestions, the research theory is born – the integration of key themes. The research continues with a delve into the seven key themes identified, with recommendations on why and how the integrations of these key themes can be a possible solution to designing for wellbeing. The future phases of the research will involve a series of surveys and interviews with architects and designers to have a comparison and wider extent of practical and radical contributions to designing housing in the modern era that nudges holistic for wellbeing for all. It will conclude with a design phase through recommendations of a design toolbox, and a design workshop.

  1. Peters, Ann/Cain, Rebecca (2020): Designing for wellbeing: An applied approach, New York: Routledge.
  2. United Nations (2017): World Population prospects: 2017 revision. UN-iLibrary. https://www.un-ilibrary.org/co... from August 2021.
  3. United Nations (2016): Sustainable Development Goals. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development, https://sdgs.un.org/goals from September 2021.
  4. McLaughlin, Tricia/Mills, Anthony (2008): »Where will we live when we get older?«, in: Quality in Ageing: Policy, Practice and Research issue 9, pp. 15–21.
  5. Byles, Julie/Mckenzie, Lynette (2012): »Supporting housing and neighbourhoods for healthy ageing: Findings from the Housing and Independent Living Study (HAIL)«, in: Australasian journal on Aging issue 33, pp. 29–35.
  6. McKinlay Douglas Limited/Etain Associates (2006): Housing Needs for People with Disabilities in the Bay of Plenty and Lakes Region. New Zealand: McKinlay Douglas Limited.
  7. Ro, Christine (2019): The major cities being designed without children in mind. BBC Generation Project. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/a... from September 17, 2019.
  8. American Institute of Architects (n.d): Design For Wellbeing. AIA. https://www.aia.org/showcases/...