• Architecture and planning for wellness

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    Second of two parts

    Think about this: 12 bikes can fit in one parking space. That alone presents a lot of development opportunities and savings. Last week, I talked about how the Urban Land Institute (ULI), through its Building Healthy Places Initiative, has managed to give an insightful and comprehensive look at how well-designed and well-planned buildings and spaces lead to better health outcomes elsewhere in the world and the principles that the Philippines can adopt too.

    ULI’s latest report, Building for Wellness: A Business Case, is one such result of the Initiative. The report tries to answer the question whether wellness makes business sense as a development objective, how developers have pursued the subject, and the resulting market response. The report explores 13 successful finished projects to find common themes that made them successful ones.

    Wellness strategies
    Among the Wellness strategies the report gave were: Clean indoor air (green walls, non-VOC materials); general physical/pedestrian activity through project design (active staircases interconnected network of sidewalks and trail system, car-free site, jogging tracks around the perimeter of the site wide enough to double as access for emergency vehicles); support for bicycling (protected bike lanes, on-site bike commuter center, bike-share program, and bike storage facilities); structured fitness activities through built amenities and programming (fitness centers is same building, themed gardens and trails, fitness classes, walking groups); social interaction (community gardens, urban agriculture, greenhouses); and other intentions (chemical-free outdoors through use of native vegetation, natural light for office space, aging-in-place condominium units).

    There were some very interesting results documented by the report which I think makes a good argument for making future developments in our country consider building with wellness and health in mind. For one, inclusion of wellness components only representing a minimal percentage of the overall development budget and costs. Also, developers received a better market response overall, and operating and maintenance expenses of the incorporated wellness strategies were typically minimal. It’s a win-win situation for both the developers and the end-users.

    One such projects that stood out was a multifamily residential development in Singapore. Called the Interlace, the 8-hectare, 24-storey complex seeks to resolve a solution of scarce open space and controls on floor/area ratios. It has 31 apartment interlocking blocks, each six stories tall, stacked in hexagonal arrangements to form eight large-scale courtyards. According to the developer, “this arrangement allows for porosity of views, ventilation, and green spaces to be spread throughout all levels.” The project is designed for physical activity (there’s a 1km-long jogging track around the perimeter of the complex), with outdoor amenities/social interaction (mostly through its hexagonal courtyards), and aging-in-place units (for senior residents).

    Walking the talk
    In Palafox Associates and its architecture arm, the Palafox Architecture Group, we are guided by a quadruple bottom-line approach with their projects, developments, and designs: valuing people first (human and pedestrian scale); sustaining the planet; regarding economic growth; and respecting heritage/history, arts & culture. There’s a fifth bottom-line approach I like to add : spirituality. Filipinos in general, are spiritual people.

    The firm has designed and planned many buildings developments and communities with the human well-being in mind. Rockwell Center has set a standard in urban regeneration projects within a city where the highest levels and most progressive visions of urban life were taken into consideration. The master plan strategically links residential, commercial, institutional, recreational, leisure, office, and religious spaces to minimize the need for transportation, providing a safe and convenient pedestrian and vehicular circulation system.

    For our smart city plan for San Juan City, the envisioned plan is a green, walkable vertical city of the future with plenty of trees, high-rises, and elevated walkways and monorails. Palafox Associates created a framework by designating where vertical development will be situated, and which development areas can be intensified using tools like FAR (Floor Area Ratio) incentives and following development principles like compact development, transit-engaged development and pedestrianism, principles which are only starting to gain ground in the Philippines. The plan called for a 100-year flood level study, and structures intended for human occupancy must be higher than three feet (1 meter) above highest flood line elevations. Moreover, developers will pay a development charge, also known as the development impact fee, to help generate funds for elevated monorails and elevated walkways and promote pedestrianization and public transit.

    When Palafox Associates won a design contest for a senior community center, the first thing that we considered as architects, planners and designers is mobility. In the architectural design, we complemented the stairs with elevators and ramps whenever possible with non-slip surfaces and support railings goes all the way up to the second and third floor. The building system accommodates better air circulation and more light for the seniors to see at the same level they did when they were younger, and a jogging path is planned behind the community center, so that senior citizens can walk under the refreshing green canopy.

    The built environment is part of the problem, but it can also be part of the solution, says ULI Chief Executive Officer Patrick Phillips. I couldn’t agree more.

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