Relationship between Architecture and Healthy Living

Think of ways to ascend or descend a building?

Did you think of stairs, elevators or ramps?

What about climbing, sliding, crawling or rolling?

The last suggestions are rarely used. Why have architects become so restricted by what is expected of a building?


Photo: Frankjuarez

What is the relationship between architecture and the body?

What shapes the human body?

Is it the food we eat? The way we move?  The built environment where we spend most of our time?

For centuries, architects have designed things to help protect the human body from harm. The focus has been on designing environments that make our lives easier or where we can save time, for example, by using a lift. Yet, in many cases, the need to move and to use our muscles have been eliminated.

There is a fine balance between removing physical challenges that are harmful to our body and removing challenges that are beneficial for our health.


Photo:Richard Leeming

Perhaps we should design and create spaces that challenge our physical skills and encourage a range of movements that help support better health.

Architectural history has not shown much interest in movement and how movement shapes the physical body.  Can we create a different environment than the one we are used to? How can we challenge the way furniture are designed.

“Sitting is not the problem. It’s the amount of time we spend doing any one behaviour that the threatens the health of the body.” Lauren Friedrich.

Our bodies are shaped more by how we move than by how much we move. Our brain quickly adapts to its environment  and when our body adapts, it stops sending sensory signals to the brain. Routines place us in automatic pilot mode and repeated movements reshape and change muscles, bones, and tissues. Our body adapts to the environment.

To deal with the static environment that we have often created, Lauren Friedrich designed an environment that engages the full body with three main movement parameters.

Lauren Friedrich's proposed workspace has several goals: to stress the body beyond what it’s accustomed to, to progressively adapt the body to these new stressors, and to vary the movements being performed.

Lauren Friedrich’s proposed workspace has several goals: to stress the body beyond what it’s accustomed to, to progressively adapt the body to these new stressors, and to vary the movements being performed.

A desk tells you how to use it and how to work at it in a certain way. A  chair tells you how to sit. Furniture lack flexibility and as soon as a furniture does not seem practical we eliminate it entirely.

But should design require our body to behave in a certain way every time?

Architects like Sou Fujimoto have used the human body as inspiration for designs. A playful sketch that challenges us to think of the relationships between the body and the environment in different ways.


Lauren says:

“In nature, “affordances” of scale, framework, and interaction provide the individual the freedom to choose how much to stress their body, where to move, and how to interact with the environment. Architecture should provide the same freedoms.”

Why not challenge yourself and use animals such as the dormouse as inspiration when thinking about new ways to design a house or a chair?


Photo: Danielle Schwarz


A More Beautiful Question (2)

Here a sequel to How to Get a More Beautiful Question?


Defining the thinking task before beginning an idea generation session is one of the most neglected stages.

Most starting questions are far too broad defined. For instance. “In What Ways Might We (IWWMW) get more clients?”. It is more helpful to break it down in smaller topics, as in

  • “IWWMW add more value to our product”
  • “IWWMW get more clients with help of our existing clients”
  • “IWWMW use other product to sell ours”

Design at least 15 IWWMW’s by redefine the initial one in order to escape from the obvious and get a really creative challenge.

Avoid formulating IWWMW’s becoming too small. In that case the IWWMW will just be a concrete solution and will not give you a direction for further searching new ideas.

Then make the challenge less boring and more sexy. That is: make them more imaginative, outreaching, challenging, interesting. For instance: sex up “IWWMW get more clients by using our existing clients” into “our clients collect so much organic waste that we have to export it”.

Follow up by adding a constraint: people, money, time, channels.

Finally, construct a propelling question that has a contradiction in it.

A propelling question is one that drives forward the effort for creative thinking by using a bold ambition and a significant restriction. For instance: “let’s get 50 more clients by firing all account managers”.

The technique of the creative focus is to force oneself outside common thinking, already before the creative thinking session actually get started.



Move Beyond the Limits

Imagine that you are redesigning the local supermarket. What would you change?


Photo sharps

Caroline Casey,  is an example of a social entrepreneur and pioneer who challenges our attitudes about how we think and look at people’s abilities – whatever their conditions.

Caroline was appointed Ashoka Fellow of the social entrepreneurship organization Ashoka for her work in ways to make visible the problems that disabled people encounter in society. Like society in general, businesses often see people with disabilities for what they cannot do. By changing and challenging this perception the group can be seen as a group that can contribute to society.

Social innovators try to challenge perspectives and there are several examples of using disabled people to carry out work, for example, forensic speech readers are often deaf or come from deaf families.

“A designer is often challenged to engage in collaborative projects where the user of the service is involved in the design of the service. For example, in Denmark mentally handicapped took part in workshops where they cut out images from magazines and made a collage of the kinds of activities they wanted. Several ideas from these workshops turned into practice, such as a new shop to sell crafts. Being involved in the generation and development of the ideas made the service users feel more satisfied with the service that they were provided with.” Design and Social Innovation

She has developed a “best practice” to change people’s view of disability, which is used by hundreds of organisations worldwide. She has also developed a series of programmes that highlight the contributions that the disabled people make and she is building a network of organisations that demonstrate and promote best practices in employing the disabled. Organisations are increasingly realising that employing a diverse workforce is an advantage since the company can gain different perspectives and ideas on designing products and services.

In the  TED talk below Caroline describes her journey that includes carrying out a 1,000 km trek through southern India to become a mahout (elephant driver). On this journey, she managed not only to complete their journey but also to collect 250,000 Euro to The Irish National Council for the Blind and Sightsavers International. Caroline was a child who experienced the world through glasses. She learned that she was visually impaired and on her 17th birthday she was considered legally blind only on her 17th birthday.

Caroline’s journey was filled with obstacles but in the inspirational talk below she asks us all to move beyond the limits we may think we have.

Go here to read about Social Innovation in Slovakia, a post that talks about designing cash machines for visually impaired people – audio cash machine.

Empowering Innovation

What is the ultimate goal with innovation?

Is it to invent new exciting products? Products that are liked and used by people or provide value to their daily lives.

Or is it to change the world?


Photo: Kay Kim

Defining innovation is tricky. The word is often used without a meaningful content. One simple definition is a “new idea, device, or method”.

Scott Berkun says:

Innovation is significant positive change. It’s a result. It’s an outcome. It’s something you work towards achieving on a project. If you are successful at solving important problems, peers you respect will call your work innovative and you an innovator.”

What does significant mean?

How can you measure what is significant? Is it 25% or more improvement in something? Like less energy used to drive a vehicle. Is it something that changes the life of certain group in the world or in society?

What has been regarded as an innovation over the past 20 or 30 years has perhaps been more focused on disrupting markets rather than changing the world. And this is a problem.

We need more than a clever code to change the world. We need more than smart phones to change the world and transform it to a better place.

Today, you only need some basic coding skills to make changes, but perhaps what we need is people working together from different  fields to invent and design new ways that will make large impacts on the world.

Has the Apple changed the world? Would the world have been much different without an iPhone or Macintosh?

The point is not to diminish Steve Jobs’ accomplishments rather to make us more aware of what kind of innovations that are needed.

Identifying areas where scientists and designers can work together to make a real change may need some thinking. Yet, certain areas such as climate change, health care  and jobs are rather obvious candidates.

Climate change is described by Bill Gates as the central challenge of our time and he believes that we need to reduce global emission 80% by 2050. And it should be reduced to zero by the end of the century. Today we release 36 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year.

How are we going to feed people while we exhaust the resources that remains.The world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050 (see United Nations’ projections).

Species are ging extinct at a faster rate than that of the natural rate over the previous 65 million years. How much faster, well,  1, 000 times faster (see Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School).

Innovations are needed to solve many global issues and co-operation and discussions across borders may be necessary. Scientists and researchers from different  disciplines need to work together with designers to tackle some of these complex problems. But innovators also can work together on a local scale to tackle areas where the solutions may change the world to the people living in that area.

 Areas where innovators can work together to solve local problems. Local problems need loccal solutions.

  • Waste disposal
  • Saftey of kids
  • Kids health – safe to walk or cycle to school, safe to paly outdoors
  • Noise and light pollution
  • Litter
  • Pest control
  • Wild life
  • Care and facilities for elderly
  • Jobs for young people
So in a nutshell, we need ideas and innovations that transform lives across a wide variety of industries, healthcare, education, energy, transporation and wildlife.
The nature of the change and the way we challenge innovators is more important than the pace and the number of new innovations and ideas. We need to think rather than simply generate lots of ideas.
We need to start a new era of innovation where collaboration is a key competitive factor. We need to discover and build sustainable solutions that make an impact on life on Earth.


Even if you are not involved in these problems, it might be a good thinking exercise to start with one, multi-faceted, BIG WORLD problem, to nail it down to its essence and spend some time to create that single one idea that might make a difference. What if you might appear in the next version of this book?




Group Obedience

Have you ever stopped yourself from speaking up at a meeting because you felt that the idea or suggestion would not be appreciated or ridiculed? Groupthink is a phenomenon where the desire for group cohesiveness and a quick decision cloud the judgment of the people in the group. The decision taken is often less than ideal. Consequently, identifying warning signs of groupthink is vital. 

images (1)Bay of Pigs was a plan that many knew in advance would fail. Yet the American President J.F. Kennedy went ahead with the plans to try to invade Cuba despite the fact that several of the general knew that the plan would backfire.

Another example is the Challenger explosion, which was a disaster that occurred in 1986 where seven people died. Engineers of the space shuttle knew about some faulty parts months before takeoff, yet the signs were ignored to avoid negative press and the shuttle was launched. 

imagesFeelings of unanimity and morality within the group lead to the members thinking that everyone agrees. Members of the group may be afraid of controversy and there may be a pressure to conform to the group’s decision. In some cases, there is a pressure to make a quick decision and the group may work with incomplete information. This may result in an idea that is not balanced. Or it may result in a family going to Abilene despite the fact that no one wants to go. ScreenShot2012-01-27at115851AM

The Abilene Paradox was coined by Jerry B. Harvey, and author of “The Abilene Paradox and Other Meditations on Management”. 

There are a number of ways to avoid groupthink such as finding negative points and risks with an idea (see Thinkibility – Positive & Negative). Asking members outside the group to look at the idea is another way to reduce the effects of groupthink. 

Learning how to spot groupthink is vital. Signs of groupthink are a strong leader, high level of group cohesion and pressure from the outside to make a good decision.


Pressure of a moral character is difficult to deal with. For example, the suggestion that an idea is better because it is more moral is challenging and difficult to resist since no one wants to be seen as less moral or immoral. Suggestions such as “We all know right from wrong, and this is right” are emotionally difficult to deal with. 

A company should have a Plan B or a contingency plan to minimise risks related to groupthinkThe emotional consequences of groupthink can leave many of the members feeling disillusioned and dissatisfied. Enthusiasm can fade if you feel that you do not support a decision that has been taken by the group.  

business meeting - woman ceo

Creating a healthy group working environment helps to ensure that the group makes good decisions. Nominal Group Technique focuses on members independently  nominating priority issues, on a scale of, for example, 1 to 5.


nominal grouptechnique

Another method that could be used is the Delphi method. This method helps to structure the communication to ensure that consensus is achieved. Thus these methods try to prevent and minimise the impact of Groupthink.


It is called Delphi because some researchers assumed that the forecasts by the priests of the Delphi oracle basically were compilations of information the visitors from all over the known world brought in themselves.

Basically, it is not the best strategy to strive for consensus, but for dissent.


So encourage disagreement, difference of opinion, argument, dispute, disapproval, objection and protest over constructing consent and majority rule.

See also our earlier posts:



Staring into Space

Do you know how to stare into space to get the most amazing idea?

Do you know how to let your mind wander to get that amazing idea?

Creative thinking can be defined as an approach to thinking where the goal is to come up with a new idea. New ideas and insights can emerge either by accident or deliberate.

Take as an example the Inverted Umbrella: it closes and opens in reverse, helping trap the water on the inside.



We can think of something in a new way without using a special approach to thinking or using a deliberate creative thinking tool.

By accident

An observation made by chance can make you think or see something in a new way.

By logical thinking

Sometimes changes can take time and  ideas can be slowly molded into shape using a logical approach to thinking. This approach relies on each step making sense so it often takes a  long time to develop a new product.

By systematic use of a creative thinking technique

A deliberate approach may lead more rapidly to new ideas. For instance, in this case the invention could have been generated by use of de Bono’s Reversal Thinking Technique or the TRIZ inventive principle “The other way round”: Turn the object (or process) ‘upside down’.

Yet, a creative approach to thinking is not the same as coming up with as many as possible ways to use a brick. The task of coming up with ways to use a brick is sometimes used as a way to study a creative approach to thinking. An article in Psychology Today suggests that staring into space or daydreaming is a more successful approach to generate new ideas as compared to a more deliberate approach.

“. . . conscious thinking does nothing to improve creativity or help people come up with innovative solutions to problems. For example, when researchers give people a task that requires creativity (such as instructions to come up with a list of ways to use a brick), people don’t generate longer or more creative lists if they have a few extra minutes to think before they start.”  Christine L Carter

The answer to why a person does not generate longer or more creative lists when asked to come up with ideas may have little to do with a deliberate approach to creative thinking. Instead, we may simply write down whatever pops up into our heads. A real test for any differences in a creative approach to thinking would be to ask people to use a specific tool or technique. Then the results can be compared to not using a conscious approach.

The advice that staring  into space and not consciously thinking about the problem may not in itself be a bad suggestion. However, comparing this approach to  using a deliberate approach to creative thinking is in itself troublesome. Giving the brain time to make connections is important and an idea often needs to be improved upon.  However, deliberate thinking about the problem may help to provide the focus and help to provide the starting point. Staring into space and daydreaming does not mean that the brain is not working rather many different regions light up. More regions may light up int the brain as compared to when we focus on a specific part of the problem or when we use a specific tool to hep as explore different possibilities. But this does not mean that focusing the attention is a bad thing.

There are lots of thinking tools that can be used to explore a topic and more research is needed to explore the benefits of these. Also, research is needed into what happens when we take a time out and let the mind wander. Does the “aha moment” come when we let the mind wander about anything or when we let it wander around the problem we tried to solve.

So where is creativity? It is easy to think of creativity as something that lies inside a person, usually their brain. Yet the person who has a new idea is only a part of  a chain. The ideas in the society influenced the person as well as the environment in which the ideas and suggestions were formed. In a later blog post, we will explore the relationship between a creative approach to thinking and the environment.


Flickr Topher McCulloch