Designing for Movement in Interior Environments
A major theme of my work and the blog posts on The Thread is that our interior environments play a large role in our overall health as humans. We spend a majority of our time indoors. Researchers are continually looking into ways that the conditions of our indoor environments affect us, both positively and negatively. We have recently looked into indoor air quality and several sustainability certifications that underscore the importance of healthy interior environments. This post will focus on interior design elements that affect movement of the human body.
Moving our bodies frequently and in healthy ways can increase overall health significantly. Our cardiovascular and mental health can improve with regular movement. Also, we can reduce musculoskeletal problems and other conditions connected with sedentary lifestyles. So, here are some of the ways that our interior environments can encourage us to move more frequently and in ways that improve our overall health.
The layout of interior environments is usually well-thought out for the current needs of the end users. As buildings age and occupants change, the layouts of rooms and furnishings often become less ideal. At the very minimum, interior layouts should serve the purpose of the building occupants and comply with building codes. For example, a nursing home facility would have individual living quarters, public gathering spaces, a reception area, and exercise rooms. All of the rooms and furnishings would have adequate clearance for traffic flow and allow access to emergency exit doors. This scenario seems to meet all requirements to get a building permit and legally operate.
What designers need to consider beyond these minimum layout requirements is how the layout can contribute to the building occupants’ well being. For the purpose of this post, we’ll look at how designers can create layouts that encourage people to move.
When it comes to layouts, designers usually start with a floor plan or bird’s eye view of the building. Based on entrances, exits, public vs. private spaces, and other project specific considerations, designers must choose where to place rooms, hallways, support spaces, furnishings and equipment. The floor plan gives designers a reference for the scale and availability of interior spaces. They can then start sharing ideas and sketches for initial layouts of rooms, furnishings, and equipment. The building owner and occupants often have a good amount of feedback at this stage. Incorporating project stakeholders’ feedback at this stage is crucial, since changes are easier to make in conceptual stages.
Project types vary widely and often have specific considerations including security, local jurisdiction, and acoustic separation needs. For most projects, movement can be encouraged with layouts that offer easy access to stairs, wide hallways, public gathering areas, and access to the outdoors. Additionally, designs that include bicycle storage, showers, and/or locker rooms can encourage their occupants to walk or bike to work.
The furnishings of a project are an essential part of encouraging movement. In an office setting, furnishings can encourage the transition from individual desks to employee collaboration spaces and group meetings. Standing desks can decrease the amount of time employees spend sitting and as a result, reduce common musculoskeletal problems many office workers deal with. In a hospital setting, nurse’s stations are placed to decrease the amount of steps a nurse must take to tend to patients. Since nurses stand and walk substantially more than traditional office workers, the nurse’s stations provide comfort and relief from excessive movement.
The features of furniture can encourage movement. For example, multipurpose rooms in community centers and office buildings can serve as meeting rooms with rows of chairs. If the chairs fold up and roll to a nearby closet, the meeting room can transform into an exercise room.
All of the sustainability certifications we have covered here on The Thread emphasize that building occupants should have easy access to outdoor views. This is usually achieved with ample windows and can also be amplified by outdoor break space. Outdoor seating, exercise areas, fountains, and other similar features have proven to be stress reducers. Access to the outdoors and outdoor views can encourage movement like walking and stretching. Additionally, viewing the outdoors helps humans maintain regular circadian rhythms which improves sleep and cognition. If we humans get better sleep and feel more energized throughout the day, chances are, we will move more.
Along those same lines, if our interior environments help us feel better in other ways, we are more likely to move more than if we felt badly. High indoor air quality and access to natural light have shown their positive effects on building occupant happiness and productivity. Additionally, interior thermal comfort can keep someone from feeling too hot or too cold to have the motivation to go for an afternoon walk around the block, for example.
Designers can take precautions when choosing flooring, paint, furnishings, and other items installed in interiors that have toxic material content. There are abundant options for nontoxic alternatives to traditionally harmful materials, with high levels of VOCs and formaldehyde. These often invisible contaminants can cause us to feel physically bad without us knowing the direct cause. Choosing to design nontoxic environments is a major step toward encouraging movement and overall healthier building occupants.
Access to Community and Amenities
Interior designers do not always influence the location of a building or its orientation on the chosen building site. Regardless of who is choosing the site, proximity to public transportation and community amenities should be considered. Buildings near gyms, parks, bus stops, ride sharing hubs, etc. can capitalize on all of those opportunities for movement.
Additionally, building owners and managers can incentivize occupant or employee movement and reap the benefits of the resulting productivity and happiness. Some successful incentives I have seen are subsidizing gym memberships and reimbursements for races and competitions. Additionally, giving employees time off for volunteer work can increase morale and usually involves manual labor or another form of movement.
The Future of Movement
Movement has taken many forms over the last century. There are still many ways of thinking regarding the most ideal types and amounts of movement. We have also seen advances in technology surrounding movement. Who could have guessed that technology would allow us to fit an entire gym inside a mirror?
Regardless of which form of movement you find most appropriate for your lifestyle, movement remains a vital part of our overall health. Our interior environments can contribute more to our health and encouraging movement is one of the most important ways.