Mishio / Healing Homes

Healing Homes A Search for a Future Home that Fosters Holistic Wellbeing

Author: Rose-Ann Mishio, Politecnico di Milano

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

Research stage: Initial doctoral stage

Category: Paper

Healing Homes

The home of today is faced with concurrent problems like not being ageing friendly 1 2 3 4 5, associated with poor wellbeing 6 7 8, pollution 13, poor effects of the environment 9, poor accessibility and safety [ 1 ], and the design of our homes are a major contributing factor. For an elderly who spends about 72% or more of his time at home 11, with declining physical abilities and frailties, the negative impacts of the home are even more important. On the other hand, Europe’s population is ageing rapidly 12, and even though some solutions are underway, such as multi-generational housing, retirement facilities and care homes, they have already proven not to be enough in quantity to support an exponentially increasing ageing population 3 and some of these solutions present the idea of segregating the older population with purpose-built facilities which do not go hand in hand with the ageing in place concept. Another option is the pragmatic solutions for adapting existing homes which address mostly physical wellbeing like enlarging corridors to accommodate stretchers and wheelchairs, placing accessible handrails or adding ramps to accommodate the ageing which although imminent, does not present an outright solution. The role of architecture and design of our homes not only lies in what we design (the product) but also how we design it (the process) because in the end, it determines how we live, play, work, rest and ultimately our wellbeing. Perhaps, instead of designing different homes for different ages/abilities, we could design and plan to host everyone, in a way that combats issues like ageing, stress, isolation, solitude, pollution etc? As Emily Chmielewski and David Hoglund discuss in Healthy places and healing environments, when designing for ageing we should consider broader systems to embrace the concurrent challenges because ‘everything is connected to everything else’ 1.

Mapping the concurrent problems of housing design

Figure 1: Mapping the concurrent problems of housing design

So then how do we design our homes in a way that tackles the multi-faceted nature of challenges to be suitable for all inhabitants? What should the future home be like, and how can design help? The position taken in the development of the research is that we should design future homes centred on an all-round wellbeing ; one that is suitable for ageing in place and healthy living, so that it takes into consideration the suitability for everyone irrespective of health status and age , exactly what the research refers to as - A healing home. The focus is on merging all three aspects of wellbeing: physical, mental, and social instead on focusing on singular or dual aspects because designing for aspects has proven to be incomplete and retranslates into poor wellbeing overall. In searching for possible solutions, It poses these dire questions;

“How do we design buildings that foster holistic wellbeing?”
“How can these be replicated in the design of the future home?”
Hypothesis diagram of how to design a healing home

Figure 2: Hypothesis diagram of how to design a healing home

The theory of Healing and therapeutic Architecture

Healing and therapeutic architecture is an integrated approach of designing that uses theoretical concept of evidence based design to evoke senses of cohesion of mind, body and spirit, promote physical , mental and social wellbeing and support the health of the planet 15 16 17 18 19. Although the architecture itself does not heal, the design of these spaces creates ambiences that influences the behaviour of the occupant such that he is able to have an interrelationship with his built environment, nature and people. It appears to be the very definition of what Terri Peters refers to as “super architecture” - one that offers positive benefits for both human wellbeing and his environment 20. However, they have a trend of being designed for the frail, the sick and the ‘unhealthy’. It is almost as though these designs are deliberately considered when health fails, just as Charles Jencks mentions in an interview,“... The lower down the scale you feel ... If you are deprived.. in a hospital...then the more architecture really matters” 21. Although the very connotation of the word ‘healing’ or ‘therapeutic’ coincides with the imagination of a healthcare facility or something of its sort, for designers and architects instead, it leaves in its wake the possibility of a building to be super: To be able to integrate all aspects of wellbeing: physical, mental and social and be sustainable at the same time. This kind of architecture in itself becomes evidence that indeed the built environment could aim higher to be better for all people - irrespective of health status, age or gender.

Therefore, in answering to a kind of architecture that could encompass all aspects of wellbeing, the hypothesis of the research is introduced as healing architecture.

Case studies

Even though the history of healing spaces can be traced to Epidaurus in Ancient Greece, Ancient Roman baths and Florence Nightingale’s influence in hospital design, the research turns to relatively recent cases from 20th -21st century. It analyses the design approaches and characteristics of how architects have designed healing architecture and how they presumably addressed holistic wellbeing while protecting the environment [ 2 ]. Other case studies cited from literature as being ‘healing architecture’ are analysed to draw out the healing characteristics [ table 2 ].

Analysing Case studies of healing architecture

Figure 3: Analysing Case studies of healing architecture

Table 1: Analysing design characteristics of Healing architecture referenced from literature

Table 1: Analysing design characteristics of Healing architecture referenced from literature

Defining a design concept

The key themes of what should constitute a healing home are deduced from the design characteristics of healing and therapeutic architecture, thus forming the design concept. [ 3 ]

Defining the Key themes

Figure 4: Defining the Key themes

Reformulating key themes to define a design concept - integration

Figure 5: Reformulating key themes to define a design concept - integration

As the main strategy for healing architecture is integration [ 4 ] of the key themes, the research continues by analyzing case studies of residential buildings in Europe by pioneering architects that integrate the seven defined key themes of wellbeing for the research: daylight, comfort, nature, materiality, sociability, accessibility, and inclusivity.

Research methodology

Figure 6: Research methodology


The main focus of the research is in two main parts; the reflective phase and the design phase. The reflective phase is based on the hypotheses of the research and will be used as a guide in the design phase. The reflective phase entails the study of theories, design principles and characteristics of healing and therapeutic spaces which would be assembled, articulated, and analysed to give a framework to the second part- the design phase. The deduced results would be tested in possible test beds to make design proposals based on knowledge developed in the first phase.

Thus the research started with a careful examination of the ensemble of ideas, concepts and design characteristics from literature; books, articles and reports on the theme from both internal and external disciplines, which have resulted in the key themes of the research. The reformulation of the key themes results in defining the design concept – the integration of key themes. This projects a criteria for the selection, analysis and reformulation of case studies of residential buildings in the 21st century by some pioneering architects in Europe.

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  19. Lundin Stefan (2015) : Healing Architecture: Evidence, Intuition, Dialogue. Thesis : Chalmers University.
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  21. Charles Jencks (2015), interview - Cate St. Hill, “pile of hope-20 years of Maggie's centres”