Roman architect and engineer Vitruvius stated that architecture provides firmness, commodity, and delight; Firmness in the integrity and durability of a structure whereas Commodity is the functionality of the space that has been constructed while fulfilling a purpose. Delight means the structure is not only aesthetically pleasing but also lifts the spirits and stimulates the sense of those who interact with the structure. Vitruvius felt this way over 2,000 years ago and these ideas of how and why architecture should be constructed still stand true today.

People are not passive users of the built environment; they are active, engaged and interact with buildings, infrastructure and parks every day. But many people are not aware of the extent of the impact the built environment has on them: from mental to physical health, emotions, and sense of belonging are all affected by how the built environment is designed and constructed. Through thoughtful design, architects are capable of improving people’s lives through their interaction with architecture.

Thinking about these three ideals, we can explore how the quality of life can be improved through well-designed built environments. 

All In The Planning

The planning of the project is one of the most fundamental elements of a well-designed building. A well-designed space has a direct impact on people’ especially when that space is designed with efficiency in mind. This applies to both buildings, parks and other social infrastructure.

Well planned spaces can increase productivity in workplaces and schools; done correctly, design can enhance accessibility and inclusivity, creating a more welcoming space for everyone. 

Placement of windows to bring in natural light and create views can help lift the human spirit; careful planning can change how a space feels over the course of changing seasons, integrating passive cooling from trees, shading and light. A well planned window can anticipate the view today and how a landscape might change over time. Choosing the right mechanical system for heating, cooling and ventilation helps make a space comfortable. Well planning HVAC systems can respond to climate change and be affected by windows, landscapes and changing weather patterns. The National Research Council Canada reports that implementing more windows in building design is known to have a great physiological impact on users of the space while also leading to maximum energy efficiency of the building itself. 

There is a social contract between an architect and the public on every building: how it is designed on the exterior can play a crucial role in its overall appeal and performance. Implementing green space in surrounding areas can positively enhance the experience in and around the building. There has been growing research regarding the positive effects nature has on people’s mental and physical health. 

Aesthetics

We spend the majority of our time in and around buildings, so making sure they look good is essential to increasing the quality of the space.  Making it a space people actually want to interact with is the sign of a successful project. An article by Michael Bond for the BBC explores how, through the use of color, blending different materials, geometric patterns, and good t proportions, our built environment can inspire and welcome exploration and a sense of community and belonging, while inspiring, calming, and initiating productivity. Subconscious influences of the built environment affect how we feel and how we engage with our surroundings.  

One challenge of aesthetics arguments is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This presents challenges: to dismiss the concerns of someone who doesn’t find a building beautiful is to dismiss a person’s feelings, experiences and thoughts as unworthy of respectful dialogue. We may not always agree on what beauty is, but we know what we like. We need to be able to arrive at a point where we can learn, respect and appreciate beauty, and what someone else finds beautiful even if it’s not to our own taste. 

Technology

Architects have been incorporating more technological elements into their designs. In the residential sphere, automation has become more popular. People want to be able to control their lights, furnaces, fireplace and appliances, with their phones or at the touch of a button. 

This makes homeowners feel more in control of their homes and gives it a more personalized feel. By adding technologies into the home that are specific to that inhabitant’s lifestyle, the home becomes more tailored to that individual. That comes with a price, however, since that technology raises questions of data privacy as well as the ability to control your home in the event of a major storm or power outage. 

Technology is nothing new to commercial design; Construction Connect reports that technology has become more mainstream and sophisticated in the last several years. This is especially prevalent in  building information modeling where we can understand how buildings behave over time, and can be maintained and operated in multi-dimensional modeling. 

These technologies allow business owners to receive real-time updates and statistics on their building. This increases the overall understanding of how the building works and can affect  production, operations and occupancy on a day to day basis: someone visiting an office building can know, immediately, the energy cost of pushing an elevator button versus the energy savings by taking the stairs. That sort of day-to-day, real-time, feedback can affect how we think about the building and interact with it.

The risk of technology is its overuse. Becoming overly reliant on the latest new technology can be dangerous, leading to conflicts and systems that don’t work or last. Sometimes it’s important to remember to keep things simple. 

Materials and Methods

There is no denying we are in a climate crisis. Now more than ever, people want to know where and how their buildings are being constructed, just like they want to know if their vegetables are free of pesticides and if their steaks come from cows living their best life. By carefully selecting the materials used, architects can play a key role in the durability and lifecycle value of a building. By using high-quality materials, there can be significant contributions to better buildings that reduce the impact on landfills, create healthier spaces and help rejuvenate ecosystems. 

Today’s buildings and places should be built with purpose. With this higher attention to detail, today’s buildings can improve the user’s experience and, ultimately, their overall quality of life.

Conclusion

2,000 years ago Vitruvius knew that architecture had to meet three basic principles. His ideas still stand true today: what we build must be durable, standing the test of time; it must function, meeting our needs and serving its purpose; it must inspire, lifting the human spirit with a sense of beauty and delight. By using good design techniques, considering the aesthetics of a building and its context, implementing the right technology, and being mindful of the materials and methods used in construction, contemporary architecture can help improve the lives of people. 

If you have an upcoming project where you need a specialized and experienced architectural firm, Architects DCA can offer personalized and professional services. We know that a better built environment relies on innovative design that puts people first. We achieve excellence by balancing creative architectural solutions with the practical aspects of creating durable, functional and beautiful buildings. 

We strive to improve lives through great design. We’d love to hear from you.

Toon Dreessen is president of Ottawa-based Architects DCA and past-president of the Ontario Association of Architects. For a sample of our projects, check out our portfolio here. Follow us @ArchitectsDCA on Twitter, FacebookLinkedIn and Instagram.