Juan Carlos Baumgartner
Director General of spAce

Innovative Design Approach Prioritizes Impact On Health

Mon, 11/05/2018 - 11:54

Architects understand how their designs can impact the surrounding environment but they rarely focus on how these same designs can impact physical and mental health, says Juan Carlos Baumgartner, Director General of design and architecture firm spAce. “Part of the reason why there are more than 300 million depressed people in the world is that architects have not understood that every single thing that we build, builds us back.”
SpAce looks at design and architecture from the point of view of the people who will live and work in the environments it creates, Baumgartner says, adding that architects around the world have built millions of square meters that did not help people to be happy. “Many of these spaces even promoted depression, as proved by several studies conducted in the 1960s,” he says. The negative impact of design and architecture was found to be rooted in a lack of natural light and few incentives for socialization.
To arrive at the approach that underpins the firm’s work, spAce studied the link between architecture and happiness. “We developed a theory called Design for Happiness that aims to understand the connection between the built environment and positive or negative emotions. We focus on triggering the former,” Baumgartner says. “We are concerned about the impact of design on human beings; we want to help clients build experiences around their brands.”
Design for Happiness is based on neuroscience. Through a partnership with a neuroscientific center in Canada, Baumgartner started using electroencephalograms to measure brain reactions and how space designs influence different states of mind. “We are hacking this system as we also want to understand the relationship between mental states and physical environments,” he says. “My concern is that architects and designers do not have a clue about the impact we actually have on mental health.”
A deep analysis of architecture has also allowed Baumgartner to spot the main trends shaping real estate markets. For example, with offices moving from fixed cubicles to co-working spaces, he advises developers to hire an expert to help improve the performance of those spaces. “Natural light is key as it has a significant impact on physical and cognitive health,” he says.
He stresses that space should certainly be optimized, just not in a way that negatively impacts of the workers’ wellbeing. “Only 70 percent of space is used because offices are empty when employees are in meetings or with clients,” he says, adding this can represent an opportunity for innovation.
Baumgartner says that many developers recognize that spAce’s knowledge of the workplace can be applied to other types of design, like residential. “The information and knowledge that we have on how to approach millennials, for example, is highly appreciated across multiple sectors because we know what they want and understand the new limits between working and living.”
The company, which has been working intensively on industrial design over the last couple of years, will soon launch HOME by Baumgartner to bring its philosophy to where people live. “From carpets to wall finishings and from sculptures to house accessories, this is an innovative consultancy that is starting to grow in Latin America as we see things in different ways; we do not limit ourselves to design or architecture,” he says.
New technologies, such as BIM, are also impacting the work of architects and designers but Baumgartner points out that not even artificial intelligence can translate the essentials of understanding the impact of architecture on people. “The effect of a physical environment on people does not change if you build it using technology,” he says.