Buildings and health: Designs for well-being

The way spaces are designed affects our well-being. This is the basis of the notion of “healing architecture”, which involves designing buildings with a focus on well-being in an effort to create a positive influence on the health of those who reside in them.

November 20, 2020

For a long time, the architecture of health-related properties such as hospitals or senior citizens’ residences was a niche market. Such facilities were primarily designed according to the principles of economic efficiency and functionality.

Nowadays, it is well known that design and architecture can have a positive influence on the mental and physical health as well as the recuperation of occupants. “Healing architecture” makes use of building design options to place the focus on people's well-being. Factors such as noise, the division of spaces, colors, and light are taken into account, with a view to creating a positive effect on the health of patients and their families.

Studies have demonstrated, for instance, that the well-being of patients changes for the worse if treatment rooms are below ground. A ground-level solution counters the feeling of “descending.” The choice of location also plays an important role. Health-care buildings become part of the urban fabric and a space for interaction and integration.

Demand for real estate suited to older people is increasing

Progress in medicine brings with it an increase in life expectancy. Our society is aging and the baby boomer generation is retiring. According to Monitor Switzerland Q3 2019 published by Credit Suisse1 around 1.1 million people will retire in the next ten years, with the wave reaching its high point in 2029, with just under 125,000 new pensioners. The trend is clear – we are living longer. In the last 100 years, life expectancy has almost doubled. The Swiss federal government forecasts that by 2045, one in ten people in Switzerland will be over 80 years of age. Global Real Estate at Credit Suisse Asset Management has been investing in old people’s homes, care homes, retirement apartments, and senior citizens’ residences since 2007.

"By investing in old-age and health-care properties, investors are not only participating in a growing market, they are also making an indirect contribution to society."

Jessica Lindauer, fund manager, Global Real Estate at Credit Suisse Asset Management

Integration rather than isolation

Many senior citizens want to grow old at home and remain independent for as long as possible. For this reason, residential solutions suited to older people are becoming ever more important, including in existing properties. This requires changes to buildings to ensure quality of life and freedom of movement.

In terms of healing architecture, however, barrier-free apartments (with no stairs, bathtubs, or narrow doorways) are only part of the solution. A holistic approach goes beyond this; rather than isolating residents, it actively involves them in social activities. On-site spatial structures such as communal rooms promote interaction and invite residents to spend time outside their apartments. In care homes, community and shared experiences also play an important role in the mental health of residents. At present, 15% of people aged 80 and above no longer live at home. The intention is to enable them to maintain a social life rather than spending the day on their own, isolated in their room.

Housing older people is no longer just a question of being able to meet the demands of an aging society for care homes and retirement apartments with suitable living space – it is also a matter of having the architecture to promote good health. This is precisely what is offered by the senior citizens’ residence Al Vigneto in Tenero, Ticino, which was opened in 2017 and is operated by Tertianum.

Well-being and inclusive services

This residence houses 69 barrier-free apartments, 38 individual care rooms, and 2 double care rooms, and is located amidst the vineyards of Ticino with views of Lake Maggiore. Social interaction is of central importance at Al Vigneto. The grounds and the herb garden are a delight for the senses, while the palm garden and pergola set a contemplative mood. With a bus stop right by the property and the railway station and shops within easy reach, flexibility and freedom are guaranteed. The entire site is free from barriers, as the details of the building design were tailored to the needs of older people. Light switches are colored for easy visibility, spaces are welcoming and full of light, the furniture is designed with older people in mind, and every apartment has a balcony with views into the outside greenery. In-house services such as a hairdresser, a restaurant, a medical center, a 24-hour emergency call system, care staff, and a physiotherapy center cater for all needs. This makes the residence, high above Lake Maggiore, a sunny home for active seniors. As well as functionality, it offers a great deal of convenience and well-being, and therefore an environment conducive to good health.


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Figure: Located among the vineyards of Ticino, the senior citizens’ residence Al Vigneto features apartments and care rooms that are tailored to the specific needs of older people.


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