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the mind, heart, and soul. Beyond simply being experiential, such spaces
address the human experience holistically.
We don’t just inhabit spaces; we interact with them. Research
shows that the design elements in a space can alter our emotions, color
our moods, affect our thought processes, and even cause physiological
changes, such as raising or lowering heart rate and blood pressure.
Studies have demonstrated that fulfilling spaces—which take into
account the human need for daylight, nature views, socialization, and
a sense of control over one’s environment—have a positive impact on
behavior and well-being, such as accelerating healing, increasing
productivity, and promoting learning.
A recent event in our family really brought home to me what a powerful
impact spaces—or lack thereof—can have on us. My stepson and his wife
gave birth to twins. Because of their low birth weights, the twins were put
in neonatal care for observation. Understandably, my stepson and his wife
wanted to remain at the hospital to keep watch on the twins, but as the
mother had already been discharged, they did not have a room in which
to spend the night. One of the nurses took pity on them and cleared out a
utility closet, moved in a recliner and then offered the place to rest. It wasn’t
much, but it provided them some respite and allowed them to stay close to
the neonatal unit, for which they were very grateful. Their very human need
transformed that humble space into a place of refuge. Imagine what might
have been possible if the hospital had planned for such contingencies and
given consideration to the parents in the design.
Across the life spectrum, from neonatal to end-of-life care, we are
affected by the design—or lack of it—in the spaces we occupy. Why
should we settle for sterile or merely filled spaces when they can be so
fulfilling? As designers, we must continue to take up the challenge Jill
Pable discussed by striving to realize the critical potential of the built
environment to address the full range of the human experience.
Key to achieving that goal is developing the metrics that will help make
our case to clients. We need meaningful ways to measure the impact of
design beyond standards of profit and loss. To begin with, we need to
acknowledge that what has greater and more lasting value cannot be
quantified—but it can be documented, demonstrated, and equally certain.
Then we must demonstrate that we can deliver those results through
intelligent and intentional design. The American Society of Interior Designers
is already engaged in this effort. Its mission is to demonstrate how design
impacts and transforms lives, highlighting the effect of design on the human
experience. That’s why the ASID Foundation is funding research to develop
the criteria and metrics needed to measure that impact.
We have come a long way from the days when design was perceived
as little more than decoration. While beauty and decoration are a human
need as well, today we also are aware of how design impacts the health
and well-being of occupants as well as the environment. We continue to
take the next steps in designing with the whole person in mind, creating
spaces that express and embody our fullest humanity.
Stephanie Clemons, Ph.D., FASID, FIDEC, serves as national chair
of ASID's Board of Directors and is a professor and University
Distinguished Teaching Scholar at Colorado State University. ASID can
be reached at 202-546-3480 or email@example.com.