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    A Cherry On Top Of The Design Cake

    By thebacboston
    Aug 15, '22 2:29 PM EST

    There are many connotations to the word “home.” In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy famously proclaimed that there’s no place like it. Home is where the heart is, after all, and “Home Sweet Home” has adorned many doormats.

    At the same time, how can a structure of wood, brick, stone, or cement become a place where we can feel happy and safe? There is no one answer to that question, of course, because it greatly depends on the person and their background. But human beings also like to feel happy, or at least safe and relaxed, in environments that aren’t their homes. We’re all familiar with the phrase “make yourself at home,” which means “to become comfortable in a place one does not live.”

    But we also know that that is easier said than done, especially in high-stress environments like subways, airports, hospitals, schools, and even battlefields. Fortunately, there is an architectural movement called salutogenic design, an evidence-based design strategy focused on improving human health and well-being through the built environment.

    Licensed architect Stephanie Brick, MDS-HH’21, has made salutogenic design her mission, and she chose the BAC to help her pursue it through the  Master of Design Studies in Design for Human Health (MDS DHH).

    “Salutogenic design has decades of scientific and medical research behind it,” Brick said, “and I wanted to be part of a movement that has a lasting, positive impact on people's mental and physical health.”

    Salutogenesis is a medical term coined by medical sociologist Aaron Antonovsky in his 1979 book Health, Stress and Coping. It’s an approach that examines the factors contributing to the promotion and maintenance of well-being rather than disease, with special emphasis on the coping mechanisms that preserve health despite stressful conditions.

    Salutogenic design concept: Tri-Venn Diagram illustrating the shared aspects of neuroscience, architecture, and psychology that make up the Salutogenic Design Concept.

    Stephanie, whose writing about design and architecture has been regularly featured in The Washington Post since 2016, came to the BAC with the goal of writing and publishing a peer-reviewed paper on salutogenic design to help progress the field. That paper, “Improving health in the military and beyond using salutogenic design,” was accepted and published in the journal Facilities in January of 2022.

    Publishing a peer-reviewed paper is a rare accomplishment for a practicing architect, and Stephanie believes it speaks to the value of a BAC education.

    “The BAC’s MDS DHH program enabled me to accomplish something that I believe is truly extraordinary to advance the field,” she said. One aspect of the program that was particularly meaningful for Stephanie was her cohort: her small class of fellow DHH graduate students. Their backgrounds were diverse, from community urban design to the healthcare industry and more, but they were drawn to and united by the BAC’s MDS DHH program. Learning and growing with her five-person cohort was one of her favorite elements of the two-year program.

    “It’s an inclusive program, not restricted to those with a background in architecture, despite being offered by a renowned architecture school. And that diversity of professional knowledge and perspective really enriched my whole experience.”

    The DHH program supports diversity and inclusion in its curriculum, too. Among Stephanie’s favorite courses was a Universal Design class that focused on contextual practice instead of just ADA regulations. Reflecting on some of the lessons, Stephanie recalls: “They allowed me to recognize inequities in our built environment much more than memorizing design standards ever did. I walked away from that class more cognizant and proactive as an advocate for inclusive design.”

    Stephanie’s interest in the human aspect of architectural design began with her Bachelor of Architecture thesis, which she completed at Penn State University in 2010. Titled “Elemental Design and the Architecture of the Mind,” her undergraduate thesis explored how architecture and psychology overlap using multi-sensory design. Stephanie worked as an architect in the private sector for almost ten years before transitioning into the public sector, where her passion for salutogenic design was fully realized.

    “I wanted to serve my country, and as a civilian and an architect, I felt salutogenic design was the best way I could do that,” Brick said.

    “Military service members regularly face high stress and disconnected or hostile work environments, just by the nature of the job. It can be mentally and emotionally demanding, and research shows the poor impacts this has on mental health and well-being,” Brick said. “I see salutogenic design as an opportunity to positively intervene, in a way no one had really formally proposed before. The research is there and abundant, and I strongly believe salutogenic design can be one facet of the multifaceted solution to improve mental resilience in the military.”

    Stephanie’s recent paper on the subject is the first to propose this solution for the Department of Defense. It also uniquely bridges the common gap between the academic world of research, and practical application by the industry.

    “This paper is not just about academic research and proposing high-concept solutions–I designed a table to be used by professionals showing how to actually apply these strategies directly into projects,” Brick said.

    “One of my goals with this paper was to bridge that gap between theory and industry, and academics and professionals–and customers. Anyone can pick up this paper, read it, and walk away with concrete examples on how to improve well-being using architecture,” Brick said. “And that's something I would like to shout from the rooftops.”

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The #BACbuzz blog will help to inform, educate, and share relevant and noteworthy architectural and design news happening within the Boston Architectural College and around the Boston community.

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