The have us surrounded. Even inside the spaces we build for ourselves – like homes and offices – we are a tiny minority. Invisible bacteria, fungi, and viruses outnumber us by orders of magnitude
The design of our spaces has the power to hurt us or to keep us safe. From floor layouts to the choice of materials, to the circulation of air, every decision we make matters.
Certainly, the current health crisis is causing many of us to see our homes in a new light. It remains to be seen how our newly acquired habits and behaviors might become more permanent.
In planning for the future, we expect that climate change and environmental degradation will increase with each passing year, and we as architects understand how to address these known certainties. But no one predicted that a global health crisis would upend our lives, fundamentally shift how we live in our homes, and impact the future of residential design. This pandemic serves to remind us how important our houses are to our daily well-being.
Houses have the power to bring joy and meaningful connection to our physical world. And in this moment of being homebound, while we need our interior spaces to be flexible to accommodate temporary activities, more importantly we need to enjoy the space regardless of what function it serves. We delight in natural daylighting, quality materials, healthy indoor air quality, and access to livable outdoor spaces. In many ways, this analog moment is a return to simple living, and in designing future homes, we will think more about what is essential to the experience of how we want to live.
Prior to the widespread adoption of vaccines and antibiotics, good building design was considered as an important factor in maintaining health. The perception of buildings as “health machines” significantly influenced Modernist architects such as Le Corbusier and Tony Garnier, who designed buildings to admit sunlight and fresh air due to concern for occupant health.
Today, chronic and autoimmune disorders are escalating, and inadequate exposure to microbial diversity during early childhood is thought to play a role. We know that architectural choices such as ventilation type influence indoor microbial communities, so perhaps the time is ripe to again regard quality architecture as a public health service.
However, to design “bioinformed” buildings that foster well-being, architects need scientific knowledge that addresses the conditions and constraints of their work. Microbiology of the built environment (MoBE) research represents a prime opportunity for such design-science collaboration.
Architectural design is poised to undergo a revolution over the next few decades in response to climate change, urbanization, population growth and the emergence of the pandemic caused by COVID-19 has accelerated this revolution.
Climate change is a threat to our way of living. Because building energy use contributes over 40 % of total global carbon emissions, many architects have pledged to achieve net zero energy use for all new buildings by 2030. At the same time, over 50 billion square feet of residential and commercial buildings are projected to be constructed by 2040 in the USA alone, to accommodate urbanization and population growth. These buildings will have an average lifespan of 50–100 years. Together, these trends suggest that if MoBE researchers want to influence the definition of healthy and sustainable buildings for the next century, now is the time to act.
An example of this approach might be microbiome “experiments”—design changes that alter the microbial community of a building while staying within architectural best practices—implemented during the design phase of new or retrofit buildings. Given the pressing need for energy-efficient design, these studies should focus on low-energy design strategies, such as daylighting and natural ventilation. An example of such a study occurred at the University of Oregon, where a mixed-use building was designed so that half of the offices used operable windows to provide ventilation while the other half used a conventional mechanical system. Dust samples from the offices showed clear differences in the microbial communities that were primarily explained by the source of ventilation air. Another example is the Bullitt Center in Seattle, WA, which is the only office building to have attained Living Building Challenge certification. Designed to improve occupant health based on best available knowledge, this building is currently being used to investigate relationships among design, occupant health, and microbial dynamics.
How do we get sustainable and healthy villas at ARK Architects?
- Natural ventilation. Energy consumption is minimised by passive cooling using natural air flow.
- Using top quality building materials, and selecting the highest standards in weatherproofing and thermal and acoustic insulation.
- Landscape design. We use landscaping features to filter greywater, and save rainwater for watering the plants, thanks to the drainage system. We facilitate the return of clean water to the aquifers.
- Native plants. Using mostly native plant species reduces the demand for water, as they are adapted to the local environment.
- Heritage trees. We conserve existing trees, maintaining the integrity and history of the site. This lets us take advantage of the natural shade provided by mature trees.
- Permeable surfaces. These reduce runoff, allowing water to filter through to the local water table and/or aquifers.
- Sun protection. This reduces energy requirements while improving residents’ comfort.
- We ensure natural light reaches all the spaces in the home, minimising the need for artificial lighting.
- High-efficiency lighting. Highly optimised lighting and controls for increased energy efficiency.
- Alternative energy. We use photovoltaic technology, thermal solar, and other alternative technologies to reduce energy consumption.
- The orientation of the villa. Site-specific analysis reveals where sunlight will fall throughout the day, so we understand exactly how it impacts the spaces.
- Water treatment and storage tanks.
THE IMPORTANCE OF NATURAL VENTILATION
Natural ventilation lets outdoor air circulate through homes without using mechanical devices such as air-conditioning systems. Also known as passive cooling, it takes advantage of pressure differences and air movement to maintain comfort inside living spaces.
Natural ventilation promotes a healthier lifestyle. For instance, the oxygen from fresh air can enhance your heart rate, blood pressure, and energy levels. It strengthens your immune system. It also makes you feel relaxed and refreshed thanks to higher serotonin levels
Inadequate ventilation allows for the accumulation of a variety of pollutants from building materials, fuel burning, and radon gas emissions. Moulds, a risk factor for allergies and asthma, thrive in unventilated areas. Vectors, such as mosquitoes that carry dengue and malaria, pose a greater risk to those dwelling in homes with trapped air. Together, the accumulation of harmful environmental threats in unventilated homes poses a significant risk to health. Improved design for ventilation can increase air exchanges and air quality, thereby reducing these health risks. It has been estimated that improved natural ventilation reduce lung-related illnesses by up to 20%.
Natural ventilation also can enhance the cooling of buildings, yielding up to 25-50% in energy savings. Many traditional building styles enhance natural ventilation by providing for high ceilings, and air spaces at ceiling level or below the eaves to enhance the daytime venting of heat, and night-time cross ventilation.
Natural ventilation can provide significant health benefits, but must be examined to prevent predictable risks