We now know that the built environment – be it our homes, our schools, our workplaces or the spaces between them – has a huge impact on both our physical and mental health. Why then, do so many new buildings fail to address many of these issues?
This is a question that Ben has been fascinated by ever since having his own struggles with anxiety and depression in his mid-twenties. This experience led him to research the relationship between buildings and happiness, which formed the basis of his first book: Happy by Design.
Ben now works with architects, developers and consultants to improve how buildings support our health, as well as advising The International WELL Building Institute on the ‘Mind’ concept of the WELL Standard. After many years working as a project architect at Assael Architecture, Ben moved to wellbeing consultancy Ekkist in January 2021 to focus on his goal of creating healthier places.
With consumers and funders aligned in a desire for healthier places, this is set to be a rapidly developing market over the next two decades. Ben is constantly investigating how this might shape the future of the built environment and the opportunities this might present to the construction industry.
What is an Alternative Thinker for you?
Anybody who challenges the ways we’ve all become comfortable working. Every creative industry can lapse into ‘expected norms’ when certain processes become ingrained and at this point critical analysis of our work can vanish. It is vital to me that people step up and disrupt these patterns of working to ensure we are constantly questioning what we produce.
What would you like to see change in the current economy?
For me it is about our sense of ‘value’. To many parts of society, value is a financial figure that can be calculated on a spreadsheet, particularly when we look at the built environment. However, this isn’t a recipe for great design or amazing places.
We need to reassess what is truly important to us. Is it making money or is it being happy – or perhaps making other people happy? Ultimately I’m a believer that better places are more valuable in every sense of the word, so we may also find that if we focus on quality rather than cost, the financial benefits will naturally follow.
Who would you like to collaborate with in terms of brands / institutions / property developers / other Alternative Thinkers?
Anybody who shares my vision of creating better, healthier places. I love it when I get a message from anybody who is passionate about this, be they another architect, a student, a developer or a thought leader – even if they have a different perspective on the subject than me. It does feel like we’re at the forefront of something very exciting in this field with things progressing very quickly. If it’s something that you’re excited about too, please do get in touch!
Happy by Design
Happy by Design is Ben’s first book, bringing together two years of research into designing for happiness and mental health, and over a decade of experience in the architectural industry.
The book explores how buildings, spaces and cities affect our moods. It reveals how architecture and design can make us happy and support mental health, and explains how poor design can have the opposite effect. Concepts are presented through a series of easy-to-understand design tips which are accompanied by diagrams and illustrations by Ben.
Happy by Design has been written as a resource for architects, designers, developers and students, or for anybody who would like to better understand the relationship between buildings and happiness.
image credit Per Anton Risan
Talking about design and wellbeing
Ben speaks about architecture and wellbeing at events around the world. Having carved out a reputation as an industry expert on this subject, he is now in high demand on panel discussions, podcasts, at major corporations and for university lectures.