How architectural design of buildings affects our productivity and health

By Architect Edward Mugo

Stress is one of those phenomenon’s in life that do not come with a sign or a shout; it just creeps in slowly over time.  Do you know that the environment you live in can contribute significantly towards that stress?

Some of the environmental characteristics with direct effect on mental health include housing, crowding, noise, indoor air quality, and light. These factors amongst other socio economic variables combine to affect us in a number of ways in various settings.

A 2012 study by U.K.–based design firm IBI Nightingale conducted jointly with the University of Salford., found that the confluence of classroom design features, such as room orientation, acoustics, and furniture, can enhance or set back a student’s academic progress by up to 25 percent during the course of a year.

Although there is near consensus on the relationship between housing quality and psychological distress, planners and property stakeholders have failed to address this problem in a holistic manner.

In many parts of Nairobi it may be already too late to change this very stressful urban fabric. This has forced many urban dwellers to reduce stress by over drinking, getting hooked on drugs, domestic violence and other deviant behaviour. We always realise when schools close how unfriendly our environment is and this is why there has been a proliferation of holiday camps in, sports , religion, mentoring,  cooking etc. We are scared of our kids running around our estates as it is no longer safe for them!

Great teachers, stable families and a school’s location have long been said to be key to student success. New studies suggest that a school’s physical design can improve or worsen children’s academic performance by as much as 25 percent in early years.

Schools with leaking roofs, mouldy walls and dangling ceiling tiles, can cause significant levels of stress and therefore impact learning to the tune of 25% especially in the early years.

We are also witnessing high stress levels at the work place, with many employees suffering from anxiety or depression. Sitting on a desk the whole day can literally kill you!

The World Health Organisation now lists inactivity as the fourth-biggest killer of adults, but what does our Architecture and space planning do to us? Does it heal or exacerbate the problem?

Making an office work for your employees through natural light, proper aeration and temperature, good facilities, colour and greenery can boost the productivity at the work place.

Poor office lighting is a stress-inducing factor. Choosing the “right” light is extremely important when considering an individual’s well-being. For example, when we are exposed to areas which are either too harsh or too dimly lit, lack of creativity may arise and we could be prone to headaches and confusion. Different lighting requirements might be appropriate for different work activities, job functions and individual requirements. It is important that your office designer or Architect gets the lighting levels correctly. Both natural daylight systems and indirect lighting systems not only reduce electrical energy consumption but also create a more pleasant office environment by providing glare free and natural lighting.

Break out areas for staff should also be designed with more space and a variety of seating options. Being social areas, they should be designed with more colour and vitality.

The idea is to create indoor space that does not look like an office and is a fun place.  It does not need to be expensive and can incorporate – flower vases, beanbags, creative partitions and simple paintwork.

On paper, all these estates have part development plans that contain open play areas.

Unfortunately, many home spatial qualities have deteriorated to an alarming degree. This is witnessed throughout the various social classes, from: the congested flats in Eastlands ,Githurai , RongaiKilimani , Westands , and Kileleshwa, all with minimal urban open space to play and relax.

On paper, all these estates have part development plans that contain open play areas. These strategic spaces have either been grabbed and user changed or overgrown with weeds, grass, garbage, or even converted to become the local garage or kiosk haven.

The problem is in the policing of policy!  Who ensures that developers provided sufficient play area in urban developments?

Can we think of partnering with companies that can develop commercial facilities, say members club, sports club on say 25 per cent of the land and that can commit to maintain the remaining 75 per cent of the open area for the community on a BOT (Build, Operate and Transfer) model?

It is time we worked to create a different, friendlier and healthier Architectural space for the benefit of our well-being.

The writer is the CEO of EDG and Atelier, an architectural firm based in Nairobi. Email:








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