How do we make our living environment healthier?
“By having a better understanding of how we use our environment. In the past, we might have said that we included usage in our designs, but we mostly worked the way we had learned, always the same way. Sometimes with an ex-post evaluation.
Thanks to modern technology we can now measure usage. Satellites and mobile phones know where we are and how much we move around. As a result, we have a better view of how we use our environment and in which way materials and energy are used. On top of that, we measure and produce data ourselves, by adding sensors to everything we make. This way you are, so to speak, mapping the metabolism of a place.”
“If you stack data, for instance by layering it on a map, you will see more clearly where challenges and opportunities present themselves. Where there is a need to act in order to promote healthy living, because design can trigger a healthy lifestyle. By creating places that stimulate people to meet up with one another, prevent antisocial behaviour and limit loneliness. An environment that challenges users to make healthy choices, is a healthy environment.
I do so within the framework of the ‘Schijf van Zes’ (disc of six): resilient infrastructure, sustainable energy, a contained cycle of materials, social-cultural commitment, vital economy and healthy living. You can look at places from these six perspectives and attach indicators to them so to measure the results in those fields."
Big themes, how do we handle these?
“By asking better questions. This is quite tricky, as clients continue to work in ever-growing collectives. These do not have a clear image of what they are asking for due to the different backgrounds of the participating parties. And because designers are not used to finetuning their output. That is because of the tender: if a municipality says: ‘Design twelve class rooms and a principal’s office’, that is what you will get. What if the question were: ‘I want to educate people and for them to evolve.’ Would a building always be the answer?”
“At the moment, healthy living and fighting loneliness are often included a call for tender, but which is the deciding factor when it comes to awarding a contract? Because we do not know how we quantify all of this. As a result, developers are left outbidding one another: ‘I will create a neighbourhood where residents’ lifespan will be increased by five years! ‘In mine they will live on for another 10 years!’ Clients must learn how to gather proof for such statements now, so they will be able to see through these promises.”
“You can include usage in a tender if you first carry out a design study. So, do not immediately ask for a design, but start of by disentangling the spaghetti of all those actors and factors. Ask everyone where they are at, develop an idea, then choose, negotiate, is the idea conceivable and tenable? Is everyone warming up to it? “
“Then get into researching whether it is feasible and viable. A design study is more than investing in the ‘fuzzy front end’, it means thinking longer and better about the task at hand. It will come at a certain cost, but will be worth it in terms of sustainability. Because a better question results in a better solution. It will be cheaper than having to fix all sorts of things afterwards.”