Monday, July 28, 2014

Powerful Sunshine for the Mind and Health

Sunshine has always played a role in our lives and,  if you really think about it, sunshine has powerful properties that have a significant place in maintaining our physical and mental health. Not only are we urged to take supplements to supply that needed Vitamin D we get naturally from sunshine, but we are also sold small "natural light" simulators to use indoors when it's wintertime. It's like treating the symptoms without looking at the cause. You certainly wouldn't do that with an infection, would you? Well, this is Band-Aid therapy, too.

But, a failure on the part of healthcare professionals and even architects, has seemingly denied us this wonderful, free resource and relegated it to a non-role in the lives of those who need its curative magic most. Specifically, I'm focusing on those with medical illnesses and depression, especially the elderly in nursing homes or hospitals. And let's not forget the kids, too.

Nursing homes and hospitals shouldn't be the places where spirits, not just people, go to linger and die. They should be places where joy, personal growth and social enrichment thrives. And I don't mean in the form of reminiscence therapy, watching TV game shows, bingo or sitting alone in rooms with little personal contact other than the mandatory kinds. Staff can only do so much.

Research, thank goodness, has begun exploring the value of bringing everyone out into the sunshine or bringing it into them when they can't go outside. Of course, the latter is a function of creative design and an appreciation for the value of sunshine in building design.

The Shakers understood that natural light could play a vital role in the design of their buildings and they weren't researchers; they were interested in economy. Take a trip to a Shaker museum and you'll soon marvel at how they captured natural light and brought it into their homes by design. Creativity at its best without expensive architects.

While skyscrapers designed by the likes of I. M. Pei, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadad, and Philip Johnson have pushed concrete, glass and steel into evermore exciting and incredible dimensions, who among them has designed a hospital or nursing facility? Ah, you say, but their fees are too expensive and they wouldn't accept such a commission.

But I'm not asking for architects to design just one building, but a prototype that could fit into any environmental landscape challenge and still let the sunshine in. What's wrong with a basic prototype template for others to change as needed? Doesn't this also push the boundaries of design and creativity? Stop trying to just boggle the eye and start stirring the soul. Ever hear of the Creative Common license for any creative work? Isn't there a place for this type of sharing here?

Who has proposed a contest to challenge these architects and other unknowns to attempt to scale these heights? No one that I know of because it's not a sexy challenge and it won't be in the big cities, or museums or Manhattan skyscrapers or lauded by the AIA (American Institute of Architects).  I, however, think it's merely a matter of framing the challenge to make it appealing and then promoting it.  The burgeoning population of elderly as well as the costs of keeping everyone healthy makes this type of building construction consideration all the more important. Why hasn't this been taken into consideration when we look at healthcare costs?

Want to keep healthcare costs down, keep people healthier longer and promote mental health? Ok, AIA let's see you do some of your magic or any other maker of construction materials get on board this creative train. Concrete and steel doesn't have to contribute to only squat, institutional styled buildings that sit on their site in their utter ugliness.  Many current nursing homes and hospitals are truly formidable.

Who in their right mind would want to be warehoused in such a place? And warehousing it would be no matter how much you paid or how friendly the staff because the physical limitations determine what you'll receive. And it can't be only for the one per centers, either. We're talking about a significant number of people who will need these supportive places and they won't be trust-fund babies.

The challenge has been made and now it's up to you and your effective PR people to come up with an original twist that will make architects want to design these facilities. Sure, make it for the common good or give it any other name, but get it done and soon.