Architecture, Urbanism and Health

  • The World Health Day was celebrated on the 7th of April 2010
    This year the World Health Organization has chosen as its theme “The influence of architecture and urbanism in health”.
    It could not be more pertinent.
    The habitation space is a very important health factor, both to promote it or to destroy it.
    It is worth giving serious consideration to the fact that we can use our decision making capacity of to improve these conditions. Most of the time the choice is ours.
    There are small details that really make the difference, and many of them are really easy to achieve. One just needs to think about it

    Mind the step
    Do you remember the Metro in London? “Mind the gap”… is indeed a very remarkable, unforgettable phrase! But believe me there are unfortunately many houses that should have a loudspeaker repeating “ad” exhaustion “Mind the step”.
    As a doctor I have been inside lots of these houses, one step to go down, three steps going up, two going to the other side and another one coming back, steps to the fireplace, to the kitchen, to the garden, steps and more steps. Who on earth decided to invent the architectural mania that steps are important to make pretty houses and create different spaces in a house???
    If we add to the steps the monumentally twisted and steep staircases that most of the time go up or down into the bedrooms and the doors that might all be of an acceptable width but… the bathroom door, that is a different matter… it is, as a rule, much, much narrower. Nobody was ever capable of explaining to me the reason why this happens. It is a well kept secret.

    Health hazards
    Once upon a time there was a nice healthy couple (whose age is not relevant as you can be healthy or unhealthy at any age) that decided to build a house. They do not have any disability, they are strong, mobile, they are “fine”, they can live with any physically challenging architectural madness, they can endure any innovative, interesting, complicated design.
    But interesting and innovative is not synonymous with complicated and health does not come with a life long guarantee. One can be fine now and not fine at all the next moment, in the blink of an eye the award winning house turns into… a trap, a place that you cannot use, where you cannot live and where you will have extreme difficulty in getting out off. Anything as simple as a broken leg or as bad as stroke will turn into a nightmare… for you, your family and the ambulance people…

    The KISS principle in building a house
    Do you know what KISS stands for? Keep ISimple… Stupid!
    Why does a house need to have a complicated architecture to be “nice”?
    Building someone’s own special “castle” is an intense personal journey, considering with a profound respect the lifestyle, needs, dreams, and desires of the future residents in order to evolve into home designs that are liveable and functional.
    A house has to openly flow, have plenty of natural light, have this and that and even more, all the wonderful characteristics one desires…  but for people living in it to fully enjoy it, it needs to always offer physical comfort for the residents, it must have no architectural barriers, for the present and for the future.
    So what is an architectural barrier?  Any structure or design feature that makes a building inaccessible to a person with a disability. Do not forget that it is “simple” to change, at any moment in time from being able to being disabled.
    Sunshine is never permanent. The clever thing to do is to build “for a rainy day”, as well.
    It is important to have architectural designs that are guaranteed to say “This is Home” for better or for worse…

    Best health wishes,
    Maria Alice 

    Consultant in General and Family Medicine

    General Manager/Medical Director – Luzdoc International Medical Service

    Medical Director – Grupo Hospital Particular do Algarve

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