By Michelle Shannon

Architecture can contribute to positive health outcomes for people. However, which people and in what locations is health design research being applied? How can we adapt the built environment sustainably for an ageing population or for those people with chronic conditions?

These were some of the questions posed during the recent ARCH17 (Architecture, Research, Care and Health) conference in Copenhagen, Denmark at which I presented preliminary findings from a collaborative study between Swedish researchers and myself. Use of natural elements, sensory experience and user-centric perspectives feature strongly in Nordic design of urban and indoor environments designed for health. A keynote speaker (Fleming Overgaard, Keingart Space-Activators) presented their design concept of “activating” under-used spaces to promote physical activity in public and sports spaces. One speaker reported the lack of usable evaluation tools for assessing hospital architectural spatial quality, leading their group to pilot an adapted tool in a spinal injuries unit. Although participatory design or co-design processes are championed in Nordic healthcare design, another speaker bemoaned the lack of full understanding by architects of who ‘experts’ are in this process. Use of existing sensory rooms for psychiatric care is informing design of a new hospital. One notable exception was involvement of any ‘user- experts’ themselves in the conference discussion. Conference attendance was mostly from the Nordic countries, with two presenters from Australia.

A person-centred, multi-disciplinary approach must drive the reform of design for health in urban and indoor built environments.

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Michelle Shannon is pictured at ARCH17 with Assoc Prof Marie Elf. Other photos: Copenhagen Centre for Cancer and Health and the Nacadia Therapy Garden.