Eugene Cheah and Joanne Saw

What is the architecture of wellbeing?

Nov 27, 2018
  • Article by Natalie Mortimer

ADR speaks to Eugene Cheah, co-founder of Cheah Saw Architecture, to unpick the meaning of wellbeing in architecture and discuss the trends to look out for in 2019.

ADR: Tell us about the ‘architecture of wellbeing’. What does this mean exactly and how are you putting this in to practice? 

Eugene Cheah: We believe architecture has a significant influence on wellbeing through the shaping of our experiences in a place, which is why we [with co-founder Joanne Saw] approach experience as an integral part of our design process. We look for novel opportunities in every project to create moments that people can engage with.

With our project No. 71 Station Street, this approach begins with the aim of encouraging a sense of community through the daily ritual of coming home. We created a street entry that consists of a landscaped pedestrian laneway ending in a courtyard with trees. An open stair connects the lobbies and overlooks this leafy courtyard. The stair is designed as the main thoroughfare, open and naturally lit, and hung with art.

This is to encourage the creation of a well-used, vertical street through the building where you have the opportunity to run into your neighbour. We considered the ideas of wellbeing, community and the opportunity for residents to age comfortably in place as intertwined. The largest residences are located on the ground floor, opening out into their own spacious, private outdoor gardens.

These address the desire for those moving out of large family homes – you can walk in off the street, into your own private landscaped path, and walk up to your front door without going up any lifts or stairs, and get a view straight out into your own garden.

Throughout No. 71, the way the internal spaces interact with the external environment is a key consideration – how it changes through the course of the day, and through the seasons. Related to this, are the constantly evolving sensory layers of the materials utilised. We believe architecture that is richly evocative, memorable and dynamic has a role to play in the wellbeing of occupants.

To create a residential development in the rich diversity of Fairfield’s urban village, we sought to condense, curate and bring together thirteen distinct and individual residences. Each is flexible and accommodates a range of evolving needs and lifestyles – the spaces are designed to evolve with the lives of the occupants.

The resultant design is a collection of individual houses, stacked together to create a community. No two dwellings are the same, each one with its own nuances, and each dwelling is recognisable from the street – a true neighbourhood. Large homes with landscaped gardens, double storey terraces, compact cottages, urban townhouses – the varied housing types of Fairfield are distilled and brought together into a unified composition.

The experience of living here is to be at home. The result is a building that is of a domestic scale, comfortable and inviting.

How does wellbeing differ between residential and commercial architecture?

The private realm of residential architecture offers different opportunities to more public and commercial spaces. Our approach to both residential and commercial architecture is, we are interested in aligning the focus of architecture and design in general back to a simpler, more immediate, intimate, peoplecentric view.

The design intent is less abstract, and the result is hopefully something that is easier to relate to, more comfortable and obviously inviting in its use. In residential architecture, the subjective and personal nature of individual experience is heightened, which requires a considered and sensitive approach. And the typically more intimate scale of residential spaces allows us to craft more individual, bespoke episodes.

In our residential architecture, one key design motivation is a careful choreography of how people might use the space on a daily basis – we look for opportunities to elevate and celebrate simple rituals such as coming in the front door or standing at the kitchen cooking or having dinner.

Are clients becoming more aware of the concept of wellbeing in architecture?

Yes, our clients are aware of the potential for architecture to encompass wellbeing. We certainly feel fortunate to have the opportunity to work them on projects that aspire to put the wellbeing of occupants as a key priority. We believe a consideration of wellbeing is something we should expect from our built environment.

Aside from the idea of wellbeing, what other trends in residential architecture are you seeing?

One approach we are seeing more of – and also an ethos we are very much aligned with – is a  holistic view of sustainability, extending beyond the physical environment to encompass social,  cultural and economic layers.

This starts with spaces designed for flexibility – adaptable residences that will evolve with the changing lives of the occupants. Related to this is the use of materials chosen for longevity and quality. We are seeing residential architecture increasingly being seen as more than just a commodity, with more emphasis on owner-occupiers and the communities that can be created by residential projects.

Brought together, these myriad elements link back to the growing emphasis of the role of wellbeing as a key consideration.

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28 Nov 18 at 2:14 PM • Annie Cass

If architecture isn’t about people, what is it about? Surely any building that doesn’t have the well being of its occupants as the primary focus is a failure?

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