We built this city on Health & Wellbeing: Mindful Architecture

Updated: Jul 31, 2019

This article has also been submitted for publication with the AZoNetwork

“Behaviour settings are the building blocks of society” (Barker, 1957)

Is it therefore possible to design for wellness? In the consideration of human scale, usage and interaction, can healthy behaviour be encouraged as well as provided for?


It is of course not possible, nor ethical to presume to dictate ones’ interaction with their environment but it may be probable that it can be enhanced. After all, do people who live in the mountain air have a healthier lifestyle because of it, or do healthy people simply choose to live there?

Here the architect has means and motive. Master planning offers the opportunity to plan, design and create with the purpose of bringing new life - new settings – to be imbued with new history, memory and behaviour. They build for resilience in communities in order to withstand unpredictable environmental uncertainty; they create for beauty to become part of someone’s significant moments so that even an image of the location evokes a sense of meaning.

However, the same concern about wellbeing and mental health that is reflected in today’s society is also a thinking point within the architectural field. In a fast paced world a place to unwind is essential. Constant demands and pressure mean it is all too easy to get trapped in a cycle of negative automatic thinking, a culture of comparison and feeling of aimless running on someone else’s treadmill. The need for escapism grows yet society seems to be turning inwards – to their phones, to a virtual world. Moments of, even informal, mindfulness e.g. deep breathing (fresh air), appreciation of the landscape, gratitude for those around you can enhance wellbeing (cf. Tang 2018; Goleman 2017; Williams 2016; Gelles 2015), and keep one’s focus in the present where there is still a chance to pause, to breathe, to reconnect with what (and who) really matters…should we recognise it.

“In a world that is filled with desperate news stories about the degradation of our planet, we aspire to design in a way that aligns with the intelligence of the natural world –nature is always smarter than us.” Writes John Goldwyn (2019), Vice President of London’s luxury architectural firm, WATG. “Landscape Architecture is clearly not just about how spaces look; it’s about how we think and feel when we inhabit that space…But to transcend from the aesthetic and the technical is where I start to believe that magic is possible. What if a place can allow people to thrive? This is a form of space that I think we are only just starting to understand- a fourth space- that exists for people to inhabit to think, to connect, or just to ‘be’.”

In his article for the 90th anniversary of the Institute of Landscape Architecture, John describes one of his projects which started to do just that. “Who could envision discovering wild flowers, meadows and ancient olive trees in one of the largest conurbations on the planet? That’s what we did in Zorlu, Istanbul. The brief to design a hard-landscaped urban piazza evolved, through our imagination, into something that is all about enhancing the natural environment for the city. Now this metropolis has a special place, a secret garden, an oasis for the people. Children can immerse in play and use their sense of imagination expansively. With tunnels, hills, lawns and water, Zorlu has become a playground, a meeting place, a destination, and ultimately a space to thrive mentally and physically for all generations.”

To some extent, environmental psychologists will agree that behaviour can be predicted by the setting. This extends beyond a biophilic preference for curves, or buildings constructed from natural materials such as wood. It emerges from a darker area of research suggesting certain contexts are conducive to crime e.g. the “Broken Windows” theory (Wilson & Kelling, 1982) or that population density leads to aggression as dramatized in Ballard’s 2012 “high rise” based on Calhoun’s 1960s “Rat utopia”. Space can shape interactions. Consider the opposition layout of the UK House of Commons compared to the circular set up of the US House of Representatives; and the mournful satire of Malvina Reynold’s (1962) Little Boxes where people “…all come out the same.”

However, with more collaboration between architecture and psychology, perhaps those very same “tract houses” of Reynold’s song can become Howard Menken’s “Somewhere that’s green” dream home, reclaiming for communities that very much needed place - to be…and to thrive.

"Having some studio fun"

Interview with JOHN GOLDWYN, WATG on The Chrissy B Show

I was delighted to have had the oportunity to discuss John's approach to master planning and landscape architecture on The Chrissy B show.

Watch the interview here:

...and learn about Smart Cities, sustainability and architecture with a psychological flavour. With architects sometimes seen as the person who "builds over" the history and memories of a site, learn how this "Rebel with a Cause" focuses on celebrating the stories of the land and preserving the natural beauty that exists, allowing it - and those who live there - to breathe.


Barker RG (1968), Ecological Psychology: Concepts and methods for studying the environment of human behaviour, Stanford University Press, Palo Alto, CA

Ballard JG (2012) High Rise, Liverlight

Calhoun JB (1962) Population density and social pathology, Scientific American 206(2) 139-148

Gelles D (2015) At Aetna, a C.E.O.’s Management by Mantra http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/01/business/at-aetna-a-ceos-management-by-mantra.html?_r=0 (accessed 15/1/18)

Goldwyn J (2019), So…What do you do for work, Institute of Landscape Architecture, (in press)

Goleman D (2017), What Mindfulness Is and Isn’t Good for, https://hbr.org/2017/09/heres-what-mindfulness-is-and-isnt-good-for (accessed 09/10/17)

Menken A, Ashman H, Little Shop of Horrors (1982), Workshop of the Player’s Art

Reynolds M (1967) Little boxes from Malvina Reynolds Sings the Truth, Columbia Records

Tang A (2018), The Leader’s Guide to Mindfulness (Pearson & Financial Times)

Williams R (2016) How Mindful Leaders Can Transform Organisations www.psychologytoday.com (accessed 26/12/17)

Wilson JQ, Kelling GL (1982), Broken Windows: The police and neighbourhood safety, The Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1982/03/broken-windows/304465/ (accessed 30/6/19)

Audrey is a Chartered Psychologist (CPsychol), and the author of "The Leader's Guide to Mindfulness" (Pearson & FT series) and "Be A Great Manager - Now" (Pub Pearson, 2016 and Book of the Month in WH Smith Travel Stores). She is a CPD Accredited speaker, trainer, and qualified FIRO-B, DBT and NLP Practitioner. She is the founding Development Coach and Trainer with her consultancy CLICK Training, and the resident psychologist on The Chrissy B Show (Sky191), the UK's only TV programme dedicated to mental health and wellbeing. She presents at National and International conferences in the fields of leadership and team cohesion, and is part of the Amity University conference panel. As well as offering expert comment to News and Magazine articles and contributing as a feature writer for health and wellbeing, she delivers talks, workshops and lectures in Personal Development and Mindfulness also offering psychological consultancy in these areas to organisations.

Website: wwwdraudreyt.com

Twitter/Insta: @draudreyt

©2019 by Resilient Health: Wellness before the point of crisis.