The mindfulness movement of recent history often involves immersing oneself in nature to help achieve an inner sense of calm. But considering that people spend roughly 90 percent of their lives indoors, making a shift toward incorporating mindfulness elements in architecture can have a big impact.
Toyin-Ann Yerifor, an architectural consultant that holds a Master’s Degree in Architecture from the University of East London, says the built environment can have a positive impact on mindfulness – if done properly.
And she’s not alone. There’s now a growing shift towards creating spaces that promote wellness in other parts of the world including North America. There has already been a strong element of mindful design in Japanese architecture for centuries, with the belief it should be beneficial for both the body and the mind.
Mindfulness Concepts in Japanese Architecture
Spatial concepts used by the Japanese help to focus the mind on the present moment, which is one of the main pillars of achieving mindfulness.
Of these concepts is Ma, the Japanese philosophy of “in-betweenness”. Toyin-Ann Yerifor explains that Ma is essentially the space between two structural elements, with empty space deliberately incorporated into the design to help someone feel the energy of possibility. In short, it is more about the feeling or sense of life in a room than the physical elements themselves.
There’s also yugen, which evokes a sense of mystery and emotion within a space using light and shadow, for example.
While the Japanese have already been incorporating mindfulness into its architecture for as long as history has been recorded, mindful spaces don’t always necessarily follow these philosophies. However, other simple considerations within building design and layout can have sizeable impacts on staying in the present moment.
Being Naturally Enlightened
Allowing natural light into a space is an essential part of mindful architecture. The brain thrives on natural light, even within office buildings, and sunlight can trigger the release of serotonin that naturally improves your mood.
Windows can be designed to let in as much light as possible, either through size or even the orientation of the building to take advantage of more daylight hours. Skylights can also add considerably increased amount of light into otherwise dark spaces by allowing light to filter in through the ceiling.
According to Toyin-Ann Yerifor paint and accent colours also play a role, and colours can be perceived differently depending on how much light hits them. Different colours have also been shown to evoke different mental states and act as mindfulness triggers. For example, blue can be used for calming and to help promote sleep, while green helps the mind visualize nature and the outdoors.
Adding Green Elements and Natural Materials
While getting out for a hike into nature can be beneficial to achieve mindfulness, it’s not always possible with workplace routines. However, Toyin-Ann Yerifor states this shouldn’t stop architects and interior designers from adding green spaces within buildings.
This can be in the form of a green wall, vertical gardens or simply houseplants at desks, which have been shown to help employees be calmer, more creative, and more productive. Indoor plant life can also help regulate air quality and humidity, adding to its sustainability. Knowing one’s impact on the environment is another component of mindfulness.
But it extends beyond that. There’s also an opportunity to replace artificial surfaces with wood or stone to mimic the outdoor environment. In fact, it has been shown that people feel more connected to materials that have imperfections. The Japanese even have a term for this: wabi-sabi.
Being Mindful of Layout
Many homes and commercial environments try to maximize use of space by stuffing as much as possible into it, including people. Being constantly available to others either in person or electronically can have a negative impact on being in the moment.
A more mindful approach to office layout includes creating a space where employees can get away from others and practice quiet reflection. This can be a dedicated meditation room free from technological distractions, or it can be a physical garden in a courtyard. Clutter is also an enemy of wellness, as it can raise cortisol levels and cause anxiety.
Achieving Mindfulness Through Design
By considering the design and layout of a building, mindfulness can be more easily achieved during working hours or while spending time at home.
Toyin-Ann Yerifor continues to explore the relationship of the built environment on mindfulness, while also learning new ways to make architectural practices more sustainable.