Design for Health
Research Panel

Design for Health

This text is an elaborated version of the editorial by Christian Benimana1 and Arif Hasan2 published in the proceedings of the UIA World Congress of Architects 2023 Copenhagen (Springer)

1 Senior Principal and Co-Executive Director at MASS Design Group (RW)

2 Chairperson Urban Resource Center Karachi, former Visiting Professor NED University Karachi, former member of UNs Advisory Group on Forced Evictions (PA)

The effects of architecture on people's health are enormous, and the global COVID-19 pandemic has exasperated our awareness of this. The link between architecture, social inequality and health becomes apparent when we consider the precarity of our healthcare infrastructure, the need for public spaces that favor well-being and for urban plans that don’t strain our physical and mental health. Indeed, sanitary conditions and the quality and accessibility of healthcare are highly dependent on a place’s socio-economic conditions: a marginalized neighborhood will have less healthcare facilities, which will be less funded and most likely harder to reach; economically deprived settlements will lack clean water supply and sewage disposal systems, increasing the risk of epidemics and mortality rates.

The complexity of architecture’s entanglement with the promotion of healthy cities goes beyond physical morbidity: the lack of affordable housing vis-á-vis the high demand for dwelling in urban centers has a strong mental impact on the precarious groups forced to squat the land of others or to rent in constant fear of eviction. In certain hyperdense megacities across the world, the absence of open public spaces and of space for transit did not allow regulation to follow WHO Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for Covid-19.

Design for Health is theUIA2023CPH’s Research Panel that interrogates the shortcomings of architecture and urban planning during the Covid-19 pandemic, probes the importance of health in building resilient communities, and contends participatory design as a fundamental tenant for building safe and healthy architecture. Indeed, the involvement of neighborhood communities has proved to be crucial in the conception of healthcare facilities’ material design, geographical location and management, hence must be promoted.

Design for Health calls for architecture to stretch beyond the conventional boundaries of the discipline, in order to achieve a more holistic understanding of the interconnections between design, land use legislation, resource management, environmental and social policy and health.

While our knowledge of best design practice for new and healthy neighborhoods continues to expand, the realistic demands of old cities and existing overpopulated residential areas, which don’t allow for high-budget architectural transformation, forces designers to think of spatial solutions such as the creation and maintenance of pedestrian areas, green recreational spaces, sustainable transportation, which can only be implemented in partnership with engineers, educators, decision-makers or other civic organs.

The five subthemes of this Panels call researchers and practitioners from a diverse range of disciplines—architects, planners, social workers, civil engineers, geographers and ecologists—to tackle the entanglement of Design for Health within the broader issues of socio-economic equity and environmental justice.

1. Land, Water, Economy and Health focuses on the connection between health and the distribution of wealth and of resources such as land and water, insisting on architecture’s potential to improve the mental and physical conditions of vulnerable communities that lackland ownership, thus are forced to experience housing precarity, occupying the most environmentally dangerous and poorly sanitized spaces in the city.

2. Health as Consequence of Design emphasizes the importance of designing for cleaner air, open outdoor spaces and climate mitigation, and of planning for easily accessible public health infrastructure, especially in high-density areas and low-income informal settlements that lack public services.

3. Covid-19 and Architecture takes on an analysis of design’s failures and successes in face of the global covid-19crisis and of the novel building regulations and policies that have since then been set in place, scrutinizing the link between high density, water scarcity, low income and the spread of the pandemic.

4. Planning for Healthy Environments explores the multidimensional potential of good planning to create healthier cities by integrating the design and location of public facilities such as hospitals, schools and community spaces, of green mobility infrastructure and pedestrian public spaces.

5. Healing through Design and Academic Research is the subtheme that focuses on creating the conditions for people to heal, not only through the broader dissemination of the knowledge and practices of Design for Health and through dialogue with other discipline that play a role in the construction and maintenance of a healthy built environment, but also through specific design tenants that promote healing.