Healing Space in High-Density Urban Contexts: Case Studies and Design Strategies

Healing Space in High-Density Urban Contexts: Case Studies and Design Strategies

Fei Xue (National University of Singapore, Singapore) and Zhonghua Gou (Griffith University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3637-6.ch021

Abstract

People in cities are experiencing various kinds of work-life conflict, burnout, and turnover towards mental and physical illness. These challenges are exacerbated by highly dense urban environments, which result in extra environmental stress such as noise and crowding. The research is set in Southeast Asia, where a large population lives and works in cities and suffers physical and psychological pressure due to the high-density environment. The research is to find correlations between the specific site configurations, physical environments, and human perceptions in the high-density urban context. Based on this, the chapter proposes a series of design strategies and implementations for the cities with comparable climate conditions and urban morphology. The output of this research contributes to the reinterpretation of “healing space” from medical and behavioral sciences to environmental studies and then transforms it into buildable design strategies and recommendations.
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Introduction

The high pressure of rapid urbanization and over population concentration in Asia has facilitated a high-density compact urban form, which triggers serious concerns on human health and life satisfaction. The dilemma between urban density and quality of life has motivated an exploration on a preferable built environment which acts as a balancing device of limited land resource and optimized liveability in daily life. In recent years, building design addresses human factors in green building regulations, including daylighting, natural ventilation, visual quality, etc. (Gou, Prasad, & Lau, 2013; Xue, Gou, & Lau, 2016). Building and nature integration establishes a paradigm in the pattern of green building design, which performs as compensations for the loss of natural space in the high-density Asian cities. There is a growing body of guidelines and regulations which intended to promote urban design qualities in cross-domain perspectives. However, there may not be a direct pathway from the built environment to health promotion since the perception of the built environment may also be an important factor in user behaviour, health and well-being (Ewing & Handy, 2009).

People in cities are experiencing various kinds of work-life conflict, burnout, and turnover (Chan, et al., 2000) towards mental and physical illness (Michie, 2002). These challenges are exacerbated by high-dense urban environments which resulted in extra environmental stress such as noise and crowding (Tartaglia, 2013). Hong Kong and Singapore, well-known for their dense urban settings, are two of most stressful cities with over-long working hours (Li, 2016), which triggers serious concerns on mental morbidity (Lam et al., 2014) and work-life conflicts (CBL, 2014; Chan et al., 2000). Previous studies verified that urban green space had tremendous potential and capability to be therapeutic and up-graded to be “healing space,” which provided a comprehensive sensation of refreshment, restoration, comfort, and inspiration to mitigate the mental stress and fatigue in daily life. Modern environmental psychology has found that the natural environment has a restorative benefit for human health in fostering recovery from mental fatigue (Hartig, Mang, & Evans, 1991; Kaplan, 1995; Maller et al., 2005). The “healing power” of nature relieves anxiety and depression via personal sensation and perception (Minter, 2005). In recent decades, the reference of “heal” in the context of “healing garden” refers to the alleviation of stress and the ability of the environment to soothe and restore one’s mental and emotional health, instead of stressing the idea that they can cure a person (Vapaa, 2002). It is nothing mysterious or inapplicable but a transplanted approach to establishing a spiritual reflection between human and nature in the circumstance of modern society. In a compact urban context, it is vexatious to maximize the performance of urban green space for healing and restoration.

The research objective sets in the tropical and subtropical Southeast Asian context where large population live and work in metropolis who may have risks to get negative impact under the circumstance of the high-density built environment and psychological pressure. The research is to find out correlations between the specific site configurations, physical environments and human perceptions in the high density urban context, based on which the chapter proposes a series of design strategies and implementations for the cities with comparable climate conditions and urban morphologies. The outputs of this empirical research contribute to the reinterpreting of “healing space” from the qualitative research relevant to the medical and behavioral sciences to the quantitative environmental studies and then transform into buildable design strategies and recommendations. The research proposes to promote urban liveability and human health by addressing healing factors into both indoor and outdoor built environment design.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Healing Gardens: Is usually applied to green spaces in hospitals and other healthcare facilities that specifically aim to improve health outcomes. It now also applies to urban public space. These gardens provide a place of refuge and promote healing for patients, families, healthcare staff, as well as other users.

Liveability: Refers to the perceived quality of a place, which emphasizes social inclusivity, affordability, accessibility, health, safety, and resilience to the impacts of climate change.

Green Building: Sometimes called green construction or sustainable building, it refers to both a structure and the using of processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building's life-cycle: from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition.

Well-Being: Is a comprehensive concept which may cover basic material for a good life, freedom and choice, health, good social relations, and security. Well-being is originated from the opposite of a continuum from poverty or a “pronounced deprivation in well-being.” Human well-being, as experienced and perceived by people, is subject to situation, reflecting local geography, culture, and ecological circumstances.

Perception: Is usually defined as a process of acquiring understanding or awareness of sensory information from the natural or built environments; the process acts as an intervention or mediation between the physical features of the environment and human behaviors.

Compact City: Is an urban planning and urban design concept aiming to promote relatively high density urban morphology with mixed land uses. The compact city is promoted by many governments to efficiently use public transport system and to encourage walking and cycling, low energy consumption and reduced pollution.

Thermal Comfort: According to ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers), standard, thermal comfort is the condition of mind that expresses satisfaction with the thermal environment and is assessed by subjective evaluation.

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