Session 42

J1 Well-Being in Socio-Spatial Contexts – Participatory Research Methods and Tools

Buildings, neighbourhoods and cities, our built environments, and the way they are designed, impact our well-being and have lifelong influence on our life quality. A recent International Union of Architects (UIA) meeting from 2022 ‘Architecture for well-being’, devoted solely to these topics, called architects and planner to re-examine how can they: “better contribute to the physical, emotional, environmental, financial and social wellness of humankind all while having a positive impact on the environment.” Material and non-material aspects of our built environments can have direct effects and consequences on our physical and mental health, as well as indirect ones, for example through social relationships within these contexts (Evans, 2003). This statement brings us not only to the first point when discussing well-being in relation to our built environments; but also bridges theories and methods of social sciences in buildings, neighbourhoods, and cities which need to be seen as socio-spatial contexts and constructs. Steemers states that: “To truly enhance human well-being, building design needs to move beyond optimising single parameters such as temperature and humidity, to more holistic approaches that take their cues in health-supporting human behaviours”. As designers and practitioners in architecture and urban planning, we know that “design-led interventions can make better choices easier or constrain behaviours by making certain actions more difficult” (King, Thompson and Darzi, 2014). Such ‘behavioural design’ for well-being has been adopted across policies (‘Healthy cities’ by World Health Organisation), initiatives (‘Wellness architecture and design’ by Global Wellness Institute), guidelines (AIA Design for well-being) and in practical attempts of developing therapeutic spaces in schools (Dyer, 2020). It has been also critically discussed stating that “spatial pedagogy of public space seeks to establish not only acuities and usages but also feelings” (Castillo, Million and Schwerer, 2022) at times in a limiting way. These initiatives and research have been accompanied by scientific pursuits of measuring their effectiveness (Mulholland et al., 2021; Hughes, Franz and Willis, 2019; Castillo, Million and Schwerer, 2022). However, this brings us to the next gap motivating our session – similar well-being concepts and measurements indicators have been applied across urban scales and architectural typologies, lacking appropriation and tailor-made approaches. While such research projects are starting to appear (Wikk*i project in Germany; and SWICE in Switzerland) the discussion of developing context-relevant well-being assessment tools has great potential for expansion. Here participatory research methods that measure, assess, and analyse well-being across age-groups seem to provide a bridging approach between research disciplines – medical sciences, social sciences, educational studies and architecture and planning. Such interdisciplinary projects can be also seen as testing field for rather rare tools and methods, such as games (Groat and Brkovic Dodig, 2020) or app-based research tools (Hadfield-Hill and Zara 2018), with children and youth. Such tools are often part of multi-method approaches (e.g. Clack and Moses 2011) and method combinations. To conclude, the concept of well-being is explored in relation to the socio-spatial built environment, but we still lack clear concepts, context-relevant operationalisations and ways to measure and assess. The session therefor wants to discuss rather rare tools and methods to research well-being with occupants across age-groups in a participatory fashion.