1% Extra Wellness

Wellness is a fast growing global concept. Greater than simply being free of illness, wellness is an expressive movement defined by eight characteristics of equal vitality. The emotional, environmental, intellectual, financial, occupational, physical, social and spiritual facets of wellness are all gaining momentum, and whether it is via your morning kale smoothie, your hybrid car or the yoga guru you follow on Instagram, I am certain many of you have been touched in some way by this global movement. However, its uptake isn’t true of the general population. For every trend there is the early adopter, after all this is how a trend becomes a revolution. Now, I ask, how can we as architects lead by example?

For me, wellness is a representation of human qualities that deep down we all share, and that in many ways promotes happiness through a greater connection to nature and each other. Wellness is fairness, and a system in which collective good benefits both the group and the individual through sharing and appreciation.

In architecture we have an important role to play, as an area often used as a catalyst for social change. When applying wellness to architecture, we are talking about inclusive environments with a social and environmental conscious. Simple sustainability is not enough, nor should it be a premium in design terms. In the promotion of wellness, architects should be aspiring to create environments that are restorative to the environment, and as a result restorative to their inhabitants.

The recent 2015 NZIA conference ‘In:Situ’ got me thinking about wellness. International examples from the ‘rebel architects’ demonstrated how strongly wellness is related to context, and how the concept often evokes underdeveloped nations as case study examples, but how do we promote wellness closer to home? In his welcome address Pip Cheshire referred to the New Zealand experiment of a classless society, it may well be that wellness is how that experiment continues.

The work of Andrew Maynard strongly promotes social wellness, usually in the form of his satirical polemic studies; often poking fun at our society’s unhealthy modern trajectory. Recent stats on Australians’ growing house sizes, and faster growing waist lines provoked the creation of Maynard’s post-apocalyptic robot, CV08; which gobbles up the car dependant ‘chubbies’ of the future, before administering involuntary liposuction, and spitting them out the backside with a free bicycle ride back to rest of humanity.

Closer to home, the Te Aranga Maori session discussed how the traditional values of New Zealand, when distilled to their essence are really all about wellness. The positive contribution to people and the natural environment, and the achievement of mana, is simply wellness by another name.

The Longbush Ecosanctuary Welcome Shelter (Sarosh Mulla) and Dogbox house (PatchWork Architecture) further illustrated how wellness is not about wealth, and how success can be achieved through energy, passion, and creativity. By contrast, a session on Housing Focus showed how well-funded projects can often fall short by the exclusive nature of their outcome. A 20% affordable option, that 80% of the population cannot afford is an obvious contraction, and is in need of a rebrand.

With wellness in mind, and in light of the recent bankruptcy of Architecture for Humanity, I have begun to wonder where the responsibility to empower architects to support their communities should lie. Surely if this was part of commercial practice, it would have a greater chance of survival in the future?

As an industry our most readily accessible resource - our own time and skill as architects - could be of great benefit to our communities. And as socially aware corporate entities, why shouldn’t we donate this resource for the benefit of all?

What if we started small – by giving a small fraction of our resources? What if we gave just 1%? Who could say no to that? 1% doesn’t sound like a lot, but there is strength in numbers. Individually, from a working week that’s 22.5 minutes – time for a briefing and some good advice. For a practice of 10 people, that’s nearly 4 hours; time for a working group, and maybe an outline proposal. A practice of 100, that’s one FTE working solely on supporting communities through architecture. Working at New Zealand’s largest practice, we could potentially double that! If we could sign up all the registered architects of this country… well, you can do the math! At this point I am starting even smaller; all I am doing is writing this article, but hopefully you may find this an interesting idea, and if someone else feels the same; who knows?

I don’t know about you, but I feel better already.

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