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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Well Designed Buildings: as a Statement of Healthy Living

Jun 04, 2018 02:25PM ● By Scott Rumel

In keeping with this month’s theme of livable communities, it is worth noting that the practice of good architectural design contributes to healthy living and livable communities in many ways. Thoughtful building design can be livable, sustainable, maintainable, affordable, valuable and remarkable. Good architectural design intersects with the themes of livable communities, health and wellness and a healthy environment.

A movement for sustainable design and construction has been gaining momentum for more than 20 years, in parallel with concern over conservation of resources and global climate change. A program to embrace sustainable design that has been in place for commercial and institutional building projects is known as “LEED” (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). The LEED process actively keeps score of credits for all aspects of sustainable design related to issues such as site design, selection of recyclable materials, water conservation—and also energy efficiency in its various forms, such as building orientation, insulation, active and passive solar design, lighting design, natural ventilation and heating and air conditioning design.

The good news is that this formalized approach to sustainable design is being absorbed into everyday design practice and philosophy without the burden of formal LEED documentation, so that any client should expect the underpinning of this design philosophy to apply to their project, whether it is a home, an office, a commercial building or an institutional project.

The concept of well designed buildings as a statement of healthy living can be analyzed in several categories. There are psychological and physiological benefits to good design. Then there are sustainable design practices that benefit health and the environment. A final consideration is how design concepts unique to our Sonoran Desert environment serve our health and wellness.

Psychological and Physiological

Good design usually begins with a functional response to the client’s needs and should create a floor plan that suits their lifestyle/work style. A building that functions well for the occupants is valuable in its contribution to less stress, also supported with studies indicating that features such as color, natural daylight, acoustical performance and orientation of the building to capture beneficial views (or eliminate unwanted views) all contribute to a sense of balance and well-being.

Sustainable Design and Environmental Benefits

There is a long list of sustainable design features to consider in building design. Examples include site planning that preserves natural vegetation, drainage design that might utilize rainwater harvesting for landscaping, or just sending rainwater runoff directly to landscape areas. Another example is orientation of the building and designing roof overhangs to take best advantage of shading and daylight control while using Low E (Low Emissivity) insulated glass judiciously.

Utilizing building materials that are locally available or have high recycle content also contribute to sustainable design practices and often result in cost savings as well. Passive and active solar design strategies can contribute to overall energy performance and energy savings in regard to life cycle cost performance.

Consideration for Design in the Sonoran Desert 

The circumstances of our climate and natural environment in the Sonoran Desert provide unique challenges and opportunities for both urban design and suburban design projects. Appreciating dynamic views to the mountains, shade and shelter from both extreme heat and torrential downpours, and water conservation, are all considered integral to sustainable design in the desert.

Often our best examples of effective techniques are drawn from the oldest Native American and Spanish Colonial structures and settlements, where sustainable concepts evolved centuries before our own contemporary appreciation for their significance. A look at how indigenous plants and wildlife inhabit and survive in the desert also gives clues to effective mechanisms for harmonious and healthy lifestyles in our climate.

How a Good Design Process Fits it All Together

All of these observations and concepts are platitudes if the final built design does not satisfy the spirit and imagination of the client’s vision as interpreted by the architect. Generally, the most successful designs engage the client in the design process by eliciting goals, needs and budget guidelines that are realized through a collective decision-making process. This often involves a look at options and alternatives to arrive at the best solutions.

The natural intersection between good building design and healthy living in the desert is becoming more commonly pursued, and maybe even more commonly appreciated than lipstick on a javelina.

Scott Rumel, AIA, is principal of the firm Scott Rumel Architect, whose firm has designed projects throughout Arizona for over 25 years. Connect at 520-760-7104, [email protected] or

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