Investment in health care systems — and innovative ways to improve them — is on the rise. Reports estimate that new, global health ventures could generate $1.65 trillion in new business value by 2030. Investments come from many sources — governments, private entities, and international institutions — and, collectively, this capital can help enact real change.
In part as a result of this new infusion of investment, today’s most innovative architects are concerned with more than simply aesthetics. Increasingly, they’re also considering the health and well-being of the inhabitants who live in the spaces they design.
Studies have suggested that architecture can be transformative when it comes to public health. In 2014, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) held a summit to detail findings from research reports about architecture and health. The data suggested strong links between design, public policy, and healthy environments. It also suggested six evidence-based approaches for health-centric design.
Reinventing modern architecture to promote public health will require a financial commitment from both institutions and individuals. As sustainable investments become top of mind for those seeking to make the world a better place, projects like the ones detailed below are gaining traction.
A Rwandan hospital designed to “breathe”
UBS’ Global Visionary program supports and encourages sustainable investment in organizations making an impact around the globe. One such venture is the Model of Architecture Serving Society (MASS) Design Group. The company has worked to break ground on innovative hospitals and public spaces around the world.
Alan Ricks, cofounder of MASS Design Group, was inspired to create MASS after a period of volunteer work in Rwanda. During his time in the country, he noticed that hospitals in particular suffered from poor design.
“We designed a hospital that took advantage of the mild Rwandan climate to create a space that breathes, a space that creates dignity for the patients that are there,” says Ricks. “[A space] that helps not only to improve health outcomes, but invests in the community that it serves.” The hospital includes elements like outdoors passageways, open spaces, and a lot of natural light.
MASS has worked on 20 buildings in places like Haiti and Africa, and thirteen more initiatives are in the works around the globe. The projects have impacted the lives of more than 225,000 people. UBS notes that public financing for such projects in developing countries still faces limitations — which makes private investment and organizations like MASS even more crucial.
“At MASS, we believe that justice is beauty. Beauty is not icing on the cake. Aesthetics are not irrelevant,” says Ricks. “Everyone deserves access to design excellence. When you have good design, when you are thoughtful and strategic about the way that you build, it is affordable — it doesn’t have to cost more.”
Glenner Town Square
Much has been written about Glenner Town Square, an adult day care center in San Diego designed to make patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia calmer and more comfortable. The project calls itself “the future of treating people with Alzheimer’s.”
Glenner, designed to look like a 1950s-era town and set inside a 20,000-square-foot industrial building, employs “reminiscence therapy.” Many of the dementia patients who visit the center are in their 80s. Their most “stable” memories are the ones they made between 25-35. This is the motivation for the ‘50s-themed space — it is designed to evoke memories from patients’ prime years of life.
At Glenner, patients can walk around storefronts and shop, dine, see a doctor, and even “work” at an office. Décor around the center includes authentic vintage cars, mailboxes, clothing, and furniture. Patients seem to respond positively to their visits to Glenner. Many get a soft gleam in their eyes as they recall memories from their younger years.
“Sometimes I get goosebumps,” Scott Tarde, CEO of George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Centers in San Diego told the San Diego Tribune. “I am just so excited because of what the experience seems to evoke in people and their families … The possibilities are endless.”
The project, which will soon be replicated in franchise centers around the US, represents the largest US investment in reminiscence therapy to date. According to an article on City Lab, each center costs an approximate $1-1.5 million to construct.
Gallaudet University is a liberal arts institution in Washington, D.C. It’s specifically designed for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. In addition to the university’s nearly 1,600 students, Gallaudet is home to DeafSpace, a design movement launched more than a decade ago.
DeafSpace takes into account how deaf people communicate — visually — ensuring that meeting rooms, classrooms, and other public spaces allow for open, visual access. The DeafSpace Project and the DeafSpace Guidelines provide more than 150 suggestions for architectural design that can improve deaf experiences. The guidelines focus on things like sensory reach, mobility, light and color, and acoustics.
Simon Smiles, chief investment officer for ultra-high-net-worth clients at UBS Wealth Management, points out that not only is inclusivity important from a social standpoint — it’s also smart for business.
“Diversity is an integral part of a sustainable business strategy,” she says. “Conversely, discrimination or prejudice against people based on their personal characteristics risks lowering potential profits today and harming future prosperity.”
In other words: Sustainable, inclusive design can have impact in more ways than one — and even on the bottom line. “Exclusionary strategies are unsustainable and bad for business,” Smiles emphasizes.
Sustainable investment in innovative and inclusive health care systems holds real promise for investors seeking to add socially responsible projects to their portfolio [potential to link to Mashable millennials article?]. With billions of dollars of new business value on the table, contributing meaningful capital to projects that make a difference can be a win-win for all entities involved.
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