“I think I’m gonna move out of the city finally”.
It is a comment I have been hearing from a friend of mine for some time. She has been living in a tiny condo for years and the pandemic forced her to really make the break from her tight living space.
It is a story I am hearing a lot lately. With the forced everything indoor lifestyle -work from home, exercise, meetings etc, I can sympathize with her wish to be away from the city and be closer to nature.
Although she recognizes that we will “go back” eventually, the idea of having a bigger living space and being closer to nature sounds an enticing option she cannot ignore. Getting her husband to agree with her on living the suburban life is another huddle she faces; he likes the convenience of the city life.
While listening to her dilemma, I suggested a compromised solution; creating the condo to feel like an outdoor space. The idea of bringing outside in has been used in many building settings, and I told her she could do the same with her condo space.
What do you mean? She says.
Stress is the key
I asked her the important WHY question about her move away from the city.
She stated all the usual reasons; having more space, being closer to nature, not dealing with the traffic, the possibility of continuing with work from home schedule…
I asked her the second WHY: Why do you want those things?
With her incredulous expression on her face, she calmly states, who wouldn’t want those? She finds herself getting stressed about different things in a day, and not having to deal with these issues would be a huge stress relief for her.
At the moment, I recognize the word, STRESS.
Stress is not a new phenomenon. It existed before the pandemic and will continue even after we all “go back” to our old(?) life. Stress causes many medical issues I personally experience; having headaches or muscle pains before the work deadline, feeling anxious right before turning on the zoom meetings, etc.
In 2010, there was a study conducted by the University of British Columbia on student stress levels, and it was concluded that just being exposed to natural materials like wood and plants reduced stress levels.WOOD IN THE HUMAN ENVIRONMENT : RESTORATIVE PROPERTIES OF WOOD IN THE BUILT INDOOR
The students were divided into 4 groups and each group was assigned to 4 different rooms: one with wood and plants, two with wood with no plants, three with no wood and plants, four with no wood and no plants.
As one can guess, it was the first group with both wood and plants that had the lowest stress level. The study indicates that natural materials like wood can be applied indoors to provide stress reduction.
The Doctor who conducted the study says;
“ When we experience things in a built environment that is similar to a hospitable natural space that sheltered humans for thousands of years, we feel relaxed and de-stressed in a profound way“ Dr. Augustine,
Incorporating natural elementssuch as wood is a well-known design strategy for buildings with an emphasis on the health and well-being of the users such as hospitals and nursing homes.
Now with the renewed focus on health and well-being brought on by the pandemic, the same emphasis can be applied to the space we spend the most time: homes.
It turns out that I was not imagining the relaxed state when I have my morning coffee standing next to the window looking outside and seeing the trees. I thought it was all to do with coffee:)
So much indoor living
Being forced to stay indoors with this pandemic does not bother me so much.
You could say I am anti-social, recluse, introvert… it is a strange thing to admit, but I even like the new way of doing the meetings with zoom calls.
Even knowing my peculiar nature, I was surprised to learn how much most of North American spends time indoors.
The study (before the pandemic) states that approx. 90% of the time North American spends indoors, and the remaining 10% was spent on either travel (driving, being on the public transportation) and being outdoor!
If I did my own study between the travel and being outdoor, my bet would be with the travel time being higher!
With this dreary information, it becomes even more critical to imitate nature in our indoor setting.
Spending considerable indoor time is going to stay even after the pandemic, especially with the long Canadian winters we know well.
With the knowledge, we have-natural elements and how those can affect the way we act and feel, and further contribute towards our overall health and well-being- designing our built environments with nature in mind should not be the “luxury” only for the bigger buildings, but also for our 90% life at our home setting as well.
Wood can heal
I experienced this amazing quality myself a few years ago.
It was the time I was looking for a short-term facility for my father to stay for two weeks. I made appointments to visit various facilities in Toronto.
It was at one downtown location, Wellsley Central Place and I distinctively remember how good I felt when I walk into the main entrance. Instead of facing the reception with a typical white wall, I was greeted with the glass wall showcasing the green space beyond.
Although it was the dead of wintertime with seeing tree branches with snow, I felt the usual lightness I experienced being outdoor in the summer. It was such a calm and airy feeling I desperately needed it at the time.
That amazing feeling continued throughout the building( it was designed with the main courtyard space enclosed with glass walls on three sides. On the upper level where patients’ bedrooms are, the same airy and lightness felt throughout.
As an architect, it is common knowledge that building types like hospitals/clinics /nursing homes seek natural elements for their patients and their recovery.
At Wellesley Central, providing a visual connection for their patients as well as visitors was a huge bonus point for the facility.
I also noticed something else.
People working at the facility seemed happier compared to other facilities I visited. Of course, I do not have the scientific data to prove this point, however, I was positive that I was seeing many happy support workers.
Even looking back, I still am certain about the impressions I had and also the decision I made for my dad’s stay.
“It is not just in our head” when it comes to the power of wood.
Besides the aesthetics and versatility of this natural wonder material, wood, the biggest advantage has to do with our feelings towards it.
We feel better… with the familiarity of nature, it creates many positive effects on our sense of well-being.
It turns out that my suggestion to condo living friend about bring outside in has not been in vain. Maybe she can start with buying a huge house plant… Of course, where to put that another huge “furniture” item in her 500SF condo is another dilemma to solve.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in Life Outside of Design Studio and has been updated for accuracy and completeness.