Research into health and wellbeing in the built environment addresses the positive and negative effects from people-environment interactions. Understanding these relationships can help to improve people’s quality of life and provide a sustainable approach to the design and management of our environments. This type of research requires an interdisciplinary approach and the research team includes staff with backgrounds in community psychology, environmental psychology, geography, and town planning.
The group works with designers, engineers, and managers to explore the implications of environments on people’s experiences and subsequent health and wellbeing.
Ageing-in-Place and Home
The home and community can directly support health and well-being, providing a setting where people feel a sense of security, independence and choice. Yet the ability to live at home may be compromised for vulnerable groups, for example older adults living with mobility or functional difficulties or those experiencing housing insecurity and are at-risk of becoming homeless.
The built environment, through the design of housing and supportive community spaces, should reflect the desire to age-in-place through providing opportunities for social participation and community engagement. For example, housing that incorporates features of Universal Design, including aids and adaptations, enable older adults to complete activities of daily living and thereby supportive of autonomy and independence, obviating the need for institutional care.
Healthcare is delivered across a range of settings including hospitals, GP practices, respite and care homes. Healthcare environments by their very nature should be places that facilitate people’s health and wellbeing. However, the design of these environments can hinder people’s recovery, such as through noises disturbing sleep and poor lighting. If poorly considered, the physical environment and working conditions can affect staff absence rates and patient recovery times. Our research has included care homes and examining the impact of an Emergency Department physical environment on staff fatigue and stress.
Everyone needs the chance to recover from fatiguing tasks and reflect upon daily and life experiences. Some environments have been shown to be more restorative than others, such as good quality natural environments. Without access to restorative environments, people’s stress levels can rise and general wellbeing suffers.
Our research has included examining ways of measuring restorative environments (cortisol as a biomarker of stress, EEG brain activity, perceived restorativeness soundscape scale) and exploring the impact of specific environments (cafes, neighbourhood green space, staff-rooms, urban parks, water).
People experience environments through all their senses, thus how it is perceived and how the environment is designed is important in creating a healthy sensory experience. For example, aspects to consider include acoustic and thermal comfort, smooth surfaces for wheelchair users but textured surfaces for people with visual impairments.
Sensory experiences can also enhance the enjoyment of a place, through rest, play and encouraging further interaction, such as sensory gardens and art installations, all of which contribute to improved wellbeing.
Our sensory research has included examining soundscapes (externally in urban and rural environments, and indoors), the use of participatory videos, and applied vision research as part of VisionCentre3 (mobility and falls in elderly, vision at altitude, light and circadian rhythms).
Nature is an important part of the built environment, not only is it good for encouraging biodiversity, it can reduce urban flooding and high urban temperatures thus influencing people’s health and wellbeing. Natural environments in cities can provide social spaces and enhance neighbourhood cohesion, provide attractive environments to encourage physical activities, as well as psychologically restorative environments. Specific research in this area has included exploring the impact of urban woodlands on people’s quality of life in deprived communities, and examining one case study city, Sheffield, to understand people’s experiences of urban nature in relation to mental health.