Salutogenic Design: Reducing Stress, Promoting Health

GBBN Associate Principal, Angela Mazzi, FAIA, FACHA, EDAC recently published an article in HERD: Health Environments Research & Design Journal, a peer-reviewed journal focusing on the effects of health environments on patient, provider, and organizational outcomes.

In “Toward a Unified Language (and Application) of Salutogenic Design: An Opinion Paper,” Angela provides a brief history of salutogenesis, a theory that emphasizes the importance of environmental resources for alleviating stressors that damage people’s health. By describing the theory of salutogenesis, from its inception in the work of medical sociologist Aaron Antonovsky to the myriad of concepts it has given rise to, Angela develops a framework that will enable designers to more deliberately integrate health-generating strategies into their work.

Some of the major takeaways from Angela’s article include:

  • Promoting health means dealing with stress. An involuntary, physiological response, stress is not inherently bad. But prolonged tension created by unresolved stress damages an individual’s health by suppressing the body’s immune response, diminishing mental acuity, and exacerbating existing diseases.
  • Salutogenesis meets stress with resources. If the problem is not stress, but stress that lingers in your system because you’re unable to resolve the problem prompting it, the theory of salutogenesis promotes health by providing people with the resources they need to resolve the stressors they’re experiencing. “Architects and designers,” Angela writes, “cannot control the stress levels people may bring with them to a space, but they can help lower stress once that space is inhabited.”
  • A framework for salutogenic design. In order to help designers gain a global view of how the theory of salutogenesis can help us build health-generating environments while helping researchers understand how the theory gets taken up in practice, Angela’s history of salutogenesis culminates in a framework for understanding its full scope. Specifically, Angela identifies five aspects within the environment that designers can tap into as they seek to mitigate stress and promote health. Those include:
    • Sense of Coherence (experienced as “I understand”)
    • Biophilia (“I connect”)
    • Relaxation Response (“I restore”)
    • Self-Empowerment (“I can”)
    • Prospect and Refuge (“I shelter”)

Want to learn more? View Angela’s full article here.

You can also read her insights on salutogenesis and stress in cancer care environments, creating restorative behavioral health environments, or her design prescription for healthcare’s growing burnout epidemic.