Can you conceive of happiness?



The relationship between health and social connection – and ultimately happiness – has deep roots. For the ancient Greeks, happiness could only happen in a community, but they didn’t really have the concept of happiness that we have today. Instead, they used the word eudaimonia to describe “the good life”. This encompassed both spiritual and physical well-being and, according to Peavey, this was reflected in the types of buildings constructed at the time. “[Eudaimonia] was an integrated part of the Greek temples that were among the first ways we think about health and healing architecture, because that’s what they really were,” she says, noting key features like sunlight, nature and water in the form of healing baths.

HKS is now putting the pursuit of eudaimonia to the test in the workplace. Earlier this year, the company partnered with the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas for a six-month brain health training program. The program includes online training, focus groups and daily brain exercises designed to optimize the nervous system of nearly 200 employees. It seeks to improve their emotional balance, compassion and resilience, which can help architects adopt a balanced lifestyle, but also be more in tune with the needs and challenges of their clients, with the ultimate goal to become better innovators.

This brings us to the important distinction between individual contentment and organizational happiness. The Industrial Revolution of the 18th century marked a change in the way people thought about happiness. In a way, happiness seemed more accessible, as people lived healthier thanks to germ theory and the decline of epidemics (too bad for that), but also more comfortable, with technological advances like heating and electricity. modern.

But capitalism simultaneously emphasizes productivity and efficiency. Take the office cubicle. “The cabin was probably [about] look at an organization’s happiness, which could equal financial performance. But is it really synonymous with happiness for everyone? asks Susan Chung, senior research program manager at HKS and key manager of the company’s BrainHealth training. “Now, with the pandemic, we are beginning to understand the meaning and purpose of our individual happiness within an organization again.”

UC San Diego’s North Torrey Pines Living and Learning District reflects architectural firm HKS’ research into design strategies that enhance social and mental well-being. The company has partnered with academic institutions, including the University of Texas at the Center for BrainHealth in Dallas, to understand how to design spaces that make people happier. COURTESY OF TOM HARRIS


The pandemic, and the great dismissal it has fueled, has inspired a wave of creative brainstorming about ways to bring people into the office and make them feel supported and seen. But here’s the thing: how do you build a strategy to make people happy, and then how do you measure its success? Putting a number on something as abstract and personal as happiness can be a challenge, but one company has a solution.

Earlier this year, CallisonRTKL launched the Happiness Ecosystem Index (HEI). Created in partnership with Delivering Happiness, who describes themselves as a “coach|sultancy”, and Egyptian developer Mountain View, HEI acts as a guide for organizations, communities and ultimately designers who want to improve the connection between buildings. and people. “The intention was to take what has been done for sustainability with LEED and for well-being with WELL, and think about it more holistically,” says Jodi Williams, director at CallisonRTKL.

Unlike LEED or WELL, however, HEI is less of a points-based system with a rating, and more of a roadmap. It is broken down into five categories called “Truths” (meaning vitality, freedom, engagement and pleasure) and includes 200 design actions. Organizations complete an initial survey (much like the Myers-Briggs personality test) to get a sense of their strengths and weaknesses. If a company wishes to make a change, then they can further their knowledge in the form of a consultation with CallisonRTKL and use the final assessment as the basis for a design brief. To date, HEI has guided the design of an office building in Egypt and several of CallisonRTKL’s own offices, including a renovation in Washington, DC, and a new lease in London.

Ultimately, though, happiness is a complex condition and doesn’t come tied to a neat little bow. “There is beauty in sadness, and we don’t have to strive to be 100% perfect; it’s not a realistic goal,” says Williams. “Happiness is the ability to be who you need to be, where you need to be, where you have choice and control to live life to the fullest.” Anything architects and designers can do to give people that sense of connection and purpose is a step forward in the pursuit of happiness.

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Rozella J. Cook