Mental Health Awareness Week

Written By

Jamie Hamilton, Ana Teresa Cristobal

17.5.2021 Thinking

With the conclusion of Mental Health Awareness Week, we’ve been reflecting on how client ambition, well considered brief, and open and inclusive design strategies can come together to create places for people to thrive, to reduce stress, and promote a feeling of wellness.

Recognising this holistic approach, our Health and Wellbeing Centre for the University of Edinburgh brings together Student Counselling and Disability services, University Pharmacy and University Health Centre for the first time on campus, in a fully accessible facility, across a broad spectrum of services to support both prevention and treatment of physical and mental health issues.

Identifying the need for additional space to accommodate service growth, we engaged closely with University staff and student reps. to provide one-to-one consultation rooms (a 50% increase in existing provision), create a student Wellbeing Lounge (focused on positive social interaction rather than study), carve out a dedicated space for quiet reflection or contemplation, and introduce workshop rooms for everything from group counselling to yoga sessions.

But, designing for positive mental health isn’t just about providing services.

This year’s MHAW theme is nature but, connecting to the natural environment can be particularly tricky in a city centre site. At the Health and Wellbeing Centre, we looked at different biophilic design strategies – without having to rely on planting!

Studies show choreographing space to maximise exposure to and control of natural light can significantly benefit well-being. Flooding the central double-height atrium with diffuse daylight, opens up views through the original timber pyramidal roof-light, creating connection to the sky, and giving a sense of passing time and weather.

On a smaller scale, using timber textures and referencing the cherry blossom colours of the nearby Meadows, loose furniture softens harder wall and floor finishes; and bespoke manifestation designed in abstracted blossom foliage patterns are a non-institutional way to add a layer of decoration, privacy and contrast for visual impairment.

Simple things like providing free drinking water, selecting furniture light enough to move and access to external seating space, means building occupants can use their space independently, take ownership and adjust settings to suit their needs.

Health and wellbeing is very much at the forefront of conversations around work, home and recreation; and creating places that make us feel good is more important than ever.

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