Can shared living improve our mental health?

Living spaces can have long-term implications on health and quality of life. Although the rate of urbanisation is dramatically increasing, our mental health is plummeting.

Architects are encouraged to be mindful of the importance of natural light, noise and air quality, yet often the significance of social interaction in the built environment is neglected. Social psychological studies have shown that countries with the lowest recorded mental health issues are those in Latin America, which has been linked to the prevalence of the shared living arrangements.

Social engagement in the workplace and the home is paramount for well-being, and buildings play a part in fostering social interaction. With this in mind, should architects incorporate more shared spaces into their design when constructing new buildings and renovating existing structures?

Landlords are increasingly turning living rooms into bedrooms to increase profit, meaning many occupants no longer have a communal area in which to interact with their flatmates. When regenerating a property, transforming spaces for co-living, making common areas larger, and improving the acoustic qualities in flats can aid mental health and increase the likelihood of people interacting with each other. Also, incorporating natural materials such as wood, heightening ceilings and increasing natural light is thought to increase well-being.  

When designing new properties, architectural strategies to increase social interaction involve the development of shared rooftop gardens and shared balconies. Developing larger entrances to flats also increases the amount of time people spend within that particular area. 

Co-living also results in several challenges, however, and although it can decrease social isolation and feelings of loneliness, poorly designed and cramped space can increase stress. Therefore, shared spaces need to encourage social interaction yet give individuals privacy. Although a wide-scale uptake in shared living can address some of the challenges of social isolation, architects need to offer a wide selection of accommodation for a range of incomes and living patterns. Designers need to respond to a diverse group of people, with different needs and regenerate properties with this in mind.

It is beneficial when a community is involved in a building's regeneration, which has an effect on the well-being of residents and of the wider community. The importance of communal resources such as parks and markets and even park benches is paramount, increasing casual encounters and familiarity. Making spaces pedestrian-oriented increases well-being and a sense of community, where friendships can be made.

To learn more about the relationship between well-being and architecture, click here

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