Why beautiful spaces make us healthier
Good design is not limited to the pure functionality captured in the pages of architectural blueprints. When something is designed with intention, it can be beautiful, not only in its aesthetic but also in the positive experience it evokes. Alberto Pérez-Gómez, Director of History and Theory of Architecture at McGill University, philosophizes that “when successful, architecture allows for participation in meaningful action, conveying to the participant an understanding of his or her place in the world…it opens up a clearing for the individual’s experience of purpose.”1 While beauty may often be subjective, research demonstrates that beauty produces a positive emotional experience in the observer, enhancing feelings of happiness and well-being.2 Considering the role of beauty in design is crucial to “successful” architecture and opening the way for people to feel engaged, included and healthy in a space. In the WELL Building Standard™ (WELL™), the Beauty and Design feature has always been a Precondition - a requirement for all projects. This is because we believe the incorporation of beauty in design is integral to creating spaces that truly enhance human health and wellness.
Since the subjective nature of beauty often makes it intangible, we need to define what “beauty” means in a design context.2 To pinpoint what beauty means in design practice, we turned to Brisbane-based artist and designer, Jay Dee Dearness, whose PhD focuses on the intersection of beauty and design. “Beauty is not aesthetics alone,” says Dearness. Instead, beauty is “the melding of functionality and aesthetics in just the right proportions to achieve the desired result.” Design can truly utilize the fact that beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, by fluidly adapting to reflect specific perspectives or contexts. For example, incorporating design elements that represent regional cultural values helps honor the history of the local community. The Beauty and Design feature in WELL encourages projects to incorporate beauty according to their own context – whether through highlighting local artists, cultures, materials or organizational values that make that space a uniquely beautiful and enjoyable environment for local occupants.
Harnessing Beauty in Design. To harness the power of beauty in design, artists, architects, planners and designers combine the principles of design and the elements of beauty to create environments that adapt to local contexts, meet user needs and positively impact occupants. They masterfully weave functional design fundamentals – including design elements like light and texture, and design principles such as harmony, proportion and scale – together with the aesthetics that impact human senses, like loudness, texture and physical movement. “True beauty in design is when the two [functional and aesthetic elements] work so seamlessly with each other it feels like poetry walking in the space,” Dearness says. A well-designed space is not just something that individuals move through, but rather a key influence on occupant health, happiness and overall sensory experience.
Understanding the Impact of Beauty.
But what exactly does beauty contribute to human health? Research demonstrates that there is a relationship between the perception of beauty and the impact of design on human health, well-being and even behavior.3,4,5 Neuroaesthetics, which examines aesthetics from the perspective of neuroscience, is one field of research that captures the psychological effects of beauty incorporated into design.3 This research demonstrates that design with the deliberate intention to incorporate beauty is actually imperative to human psychological well-being, with positive effects on learning, social behavior, and emotional wellness.3 Beauty and design clearly plays a significant role in the mental health of building occupants, which is why the Beauty and Design feature initially lived in the Mind concept under WELL v1. Moreover, Dearness also points out that when beauty is incorporated into design, it grounds us in our environments, allowing for a shared sense of community to develop and in turn bolstering our psychological and emotional well-being. Beauty can be intricately wrapped up in feelings of safety and pride in our space, and when our space is beautiful, we are more likely to take care of it, attend to it, maintain it and ultimately celebrate it for its contribution to our community’s well-being.2 By migrating Beauty and Design to the Community concept in WELL v2, we wanted to acknowledge how beauty operates on this broader level, fostering a sense of unity and shared experience within a space.
Activating Beauty in your Community.
While integration of beauty in our buildings and communities is clearly a long-term investment in human health, beauty is not always prioritized in the design process. And while the integration of beauty and design may often come from design and building practitioners, as end users of design, we can also actively advocate for beauty in our spaces. It’s up to us to push for the inclusion of local designers and cultural groups throughout the design process to ensure the needs and perspectives of our community are acknowledged in the spaces where we live, work and play. By understanding how beauty impacts human health and well-being, we can advocate for thoughtful approaches to design that help not just individuals but entire communities thrive.
To learn more about the Community concept in WELL, explore our new WELL v2 platform.
The function of beauty in design extends beyond aesthetics to influence human health and well-being.
Beauty in design can be defined as a combination of design principles, design elements, and aesthetics.
Research demonstrates that beautifully-designed spaces support psychological and emotional wellness and foster collective community engagement and unity.