CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The University of Illinois School of Architecture is a charter member of a new research consortium of the American Institute of Architects, focusing on issues of design and health.
An interdisciplinary team of Illinois faculty members will look at issues related to stress and how residential environments can help alleviate stress or restore health and well-being following stressful experiences.
"The AIA is taking a leading role in trying to deliver research to practitioners where it can actually make a difference in how architects design," said architecture professor Lynne Dearborn, who is leading the U. of I. team.
Dearborn noted researchers are currently studying numerous aspects of design, such as the amount of windows, natural light, design of workstations and choice of building materials, to understand their effects on the mental and physical health of the occupants of a building.
"Many of these research studies being published now make a really compelling argument for architects, landscape architects and planners to be educated about these relationships and how to design differently," she said.
"The built environment has an important impact on health and well-being," the AIA's Design and Health Leadership Group said in a statement about the consortium. "However, these links to health - compounded by unique cultural, demographic and geographic considerations - often extend beyond the workaday practices and vocabularies of design professionals."
The AIA identified six approaches to health that architects can control through design practices and policies: environmental quality, natural systems, physical activity, safety, sensory environments and social connectedness.
Over a three-year period, the consortium will help teams from 11 university schools of architecture and public health identify funding resources and conduct more research on the connection between design and health, as well as find useful ways for designers to put research findings into practice when they are making design decisions. Dearborn said it's also important to educate policymakers who might make changes to city codes, zoning ordinances or city practices to create more healthful and less stressful environments.
One of the U. of I. team members, landscape architecture professor William Sullivan, has considered how being in nature can reduce feelings of stress, using physiological markers and other measures to assess stress levels.
"We want to bring some of these tools to examinations of indoor space, as well," Dearborn said.
Dearborn's research includes the Metro East Community Air Project, which has focused on outdoor air quality in the southern Illinois area that includes the eastern suburbs of St. Louis. The project is now beginning to look at indoor air quality and how to reduce asthma triggers in homes, through a grant from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
The other members of the Illinois team and their research interests are: urban and regional planning professor Mary Edwards, who looks at policy concerns affecting walkability and bikeability of neighborhoods and safe routes to schools; kinesiology and community health professor Weimo Zhu, who looks at issues of fitness measures and health, particularly for youth and seniors; and architecture clinical professor and practicing architect William Worn, who provides critical links to the profession, enabling the team to address consortium goals of improving practice applications of research.
Dearborn said participation in the consortium has already created a new campus network of researchers sharing ideas, and she hopes to see more cross-disciplinary discussions on campus come out of the team's efforts and the consortium's research.
"These incredibly complicated topics are going to take all of us, in units across campus, talking together to figure out how to make headway on them," she said.
The American Institute of Architects is a professional membership association for architects. Its partners in creating the Design and Health Research Consortium are the AIA Foundation and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture.