Windows serve multiple essential functions in any project, from framing views to providing daylight and natural ventilation. As human needs have shifted and technology has advanced significantly throughout the years, these have evolved in character, shape, and use of materials. What began as small arrow loops used for defense in medieval fortifications later transformed into wider openings that exemplified status and wealth. The Romans were the first to use glass, but it was considered a precious commodity for centuries. Intricate stained-glass panels adorned countless of medieval churches and cathedrals, while most home dwellers had to settle for covering their “windows” with wood, fur and other materials.
Noises –especially those we can’t control– greatly affect both physical and mental health. Whether coming from the street, upstairs neighbors or the room next door, research suggests that these can raise stress, reduce productivity, interfere with communications and contribute to developing issues such as high blood pressure. Ultimately, sound quality defines user experience and (literally) sets the tone for the rest of the interior. The bad news is that most conventional building materials used today in modern architecture –concrete, glass, masonry– have extremely hard surfaces and limited acoustic properties, reverberating sound several times over and forcing users to raise their voices to be understood. Coupled with growing urban density and projects adopting a mixed-use layout, all of this results in increasingly noisy, uncomfortable and distracting living and working environments.
Interior architects and designers have often claimed that a well-designed office space will translate into greater productivity, creativity and worker satisfaction –yet the impact is greater than most tend to imagine. Recent studies suggest that good design positively impacts company culture, fosters a sense of community and creates a healthy, happy and motivating environment. In fact, it directly influences the recruitment and retention of talent: “workplace design significantly increases the attractiveness of employers to potential candidates.” Proper lighting, a flexible layout and biophilic features are all important factors to consider during the planning stage. But to fully address user comfort and well-being, these must be combined with excellent furniture design. After all, integrating high-quality ergonomic pieces is a simple way to boost mood and enhance functionality and aesthetics when creating or redecorating the workspace.
When children first learn to draw a house, there are four basic components they illustrate: a wall, a pitched roof, a door and one or more windows. Along with the common structural elements, windows have always been considered to be indispensable architectural features for their multiple functions. While providing views, daylight and natural ventilation, these insulate from cold and heat, protect from external threats and enhance a facade’s appearance. They are also associated with a strong poetic or symbolic value; it is through them that we are able to connect with and enjoy our surroundings, be it a beautiful natural landscape or a dense urban environment. An expressive part of any building, windows serve as a visual bridge between the inside and outside, acting somewhat as a refreshing escape from our everyday routine.
The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.” If one or more of these aspects are compromised, quality of life and happiness can be severely affected. In recent years, and particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, this has proved to be especially challenging. Commuting restrictions forced many to stay indoors and businesses to pause in-person operations, aiming to prevent the virus from spreading but inevitably sacrificing psychological, emotional, and even physical health in the process. As a result, people’s lifestyles shifted to find new ways to address their well-being, including adapting their living spaces accordingly. Home gyms, for example, became a popular initiative.
Many associate bathrooms with small, simple and practical rooms with no defining design characteristics. Historically, they have been conceived as merely functional environments strictly programmed for hygiene, privacy and ease of maintenance –often with no room for creativity. But as lifestyle changes have placed health and wellness as a top priority, contemporary bathroom design has been reimagined accordingly, shifting towards spacious personal retreats intended for comfort, relaxation and recuperation; an escape from a chaotic outside world. Because we tend to spend most of our time inside the home, many recent discussions naturally revolve around residential bathrooms, overlooking another setting where we also spend a significant number of hours in (around one third of our lives to be exact): the workplace.
Humans have always been fascinated by reflections. Although they are no more than light bouncing back after striking a surface, there will always be something mystical and fascinating about them –whether it be a lake mirroring a beautiful landscape or a small hand mirror reflecting our face. This explains why some ancient cultures considered mirrors to be sacred objects with magical powers, while others associated them with portals leading to an unknown world. Since then, mirrors have evolved to adopt many valuable functions that are indispensable in everyday life, being found in cars, medical equipment and, of course, in countless architectural applications, especially in interiors. Experimenting with the reflection and perception of space has become an easy way for architects, designers and homeowners to transform any room. And when looking to maximize this impact, the power of exceptionally large mirrors is unparalleled. After all, the bigger the mirror, the bigger the impact.
Museums play a critical role in preserving local cultures, promoting a better understanding of our collective heritage, and fostering dialogue, curiosity and self-reflection. In recent years –and largely driven by the Covid-19 pandemic– technological advances have enabled users from all over the world to visit exhibitions virtually, at any time and from the comfort of their own home. However, although online tours are a good way of increasing accessibility, there is something about the in-person museum experience that will never get old: the ability to witness, embrace and closely admire artefacts, paintings and sculptures in their true form, as well as the chance to experience the unique ambiance and essence of a traditional museum setting. Viewing the Mona Lisa virtually will never live up to appreciating it face-to-face at The Louvre, for instance.
Lighting plays a crucial role in architecture: to allow users to see, safely inhabit spaces, and carry out their daily activities. But its power has long exceeded these basic functions, primarily driven by technological advances and new design trends that have led to greater innovation and creativity. Contemporary lighting design has the ability to completely transform a room, impacting visual comfort and setting the tone by defining volumes, drawing attention to texture and enhancing colors. It can also determine shape and size perception; for example, in a room that is particularly small, having extra lighting reflect off light-colored walls will help the space appear larger. Similarly, light has been proven to affect mood, concentration and overall well-being. Whereas an adequately illuminated environment is associated to warmth and improved energy levels, poor lighting can lead to health deficiencies, including headaches, eyestrain and even depression.
As climate change continues to reach unprecedented levels, many are pointing towards enhancing circularity in the construction sector. Essentially, the circular economy aims to eliminate waste and the continual use of resources by repeatedly reusing, repairing or recycling materials. The cyclical approach is able to meet demand and minimize CO2 emissions by extending a product’s lifespan, which is especially important when dealing with limited resources. Unlike the traditional linear extractive method –where everything goes through an extremely contaminating process of ‘take-make-waste’–, circularity keeps materials in use for as long as possible to extract maximum value. This, in turn, reduces pollution, regenerates natural systems and contributes to a healthier built environment, hence building economic, natural, and social capital.