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Sick Cities​

By Andréa de Paiva

According to WHO – World Health Organization – data from 2017, in the last 10 years there has been a 18% growth in the number of people with depression and 15% in the number of people with anxiety worldwide [1]. Can architects help control the growth of these problems?

New York
Nova York (Creative Commons CCO)

In 2014, according to WHO data, 54% of the world’s population was already living in cities [2]. Furthermore, the stressful routine of major urban centers that, with their countless concrete constructions and sparse green areas, makes it difficult to have contact with nature. Can the architecture of buildings and the designs of our cities be contributing to the increase of problems such as depression and anxiety?

We’ve seen in the previous post (Understanding Biophilia) that the human brain was programmed to live in nature and hasn’t yet had time to evolve enough to adapt to life in modern urban centers [3]. That way, deprivation from contact with nature, whether from lack of free time or the difficult access to parks and areas with nature, can be one of the factors that contribute to the growth of depression and anxiety worldwide, since the number of inhabitants of urban centers is constantly rising,

Falling Water
Falling Water (Wikimedia Commons)

Studies of NeuroArchitecture and Biophilia prove that just by looking at an image of nature for a few minutes our muscle tensions relax, the blood pressure lowers, stress levels diminishes and our ability to focus increases. Many hospitals are being designed to take into account the importance of contact with nature for the recovery of their patients (we will discuss that soon!) [4]. How can we, architects and urbanists, contribute to make healthier buildings and cities? 

In the Middle Ages, the lack of knowledge and planning made urban areas to be known as ‘pestilent cities’. Due to the problems created by that, such as the plague and cholera, solutions were sought, like the creation of sewage systems and piped water.

We can say that we are going through a similar revolution nowadays [5]. When we finally comprehend that our buildings and cities, in the way that they are currently designed, contribute greatly to the increase of problems like depression and anxiety, then we will finally search for more humane solutions and be able to improve the quality of life in our cities.  

The relation between NeuroArchitecture and Biophilia is great and doesn’t end in what has been discussed here. We plan to soon continue discussing this subject which is fundamental for the planning of spaces! 

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[3] WILSON, E., KELLERT, S. 1995. "The Biophilia Hypothesis". Nova York: Shearwater Press.

[4] KELLERT, S., HEERWAGEN, J., MADOR M. 2008. "Biophilic Design: The Theory, Science and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life". Nova York: Wiley.

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