Rethinking Healthy Spaces: evidence, evaluation and design

Building an interdisciplinary research network

This project aims to bring together perspectives from different subject areas to develop a better understanding of how spaces are designed to be healthy, and how collaborative approaches can enhance spatial design for health. It will explore the role of evidence, and question cultural assumptions behind ideas about what makes a space healthy. Establishing a new network will provide a platform for developing research and other collaborations on the topic of healthy spaces.

Across a range of sites and practices there is a growing awareness of the need for design to consider health. But the question of how healthy living relates to spatial and architectural design is unresolved. This project will bring together experts focused on shaping healthy environments, from buildings to neighbourhoods and cities. It creates a new network focused on better understanding the roles of design, evidence and evaluation for ‘healthy spaces’. The network will include a range of specialisms – architects, urban designers, social scientists, humanities scholars, health scientists and practitioners – centred on GW4 institutions and regions.

Rethinking Healthy Spaces emerges from a long history of shaping environments at various scales to enhance health – from eighteenth-century asylums to the garden towns movement. In 2016, NHS England launched ten ‘Healthy New Towns,’ aiming to ‘design in’ health and well-being. Yet the evidence base for such plans is not always clear; studies suggest reliance on anecdote rather than rigorous evaluation focussing on the experiences and outcomes of those who use the space. Debates about what positive outcomes and robust evidence look like at the intersection of health and design are not new. However, contemporary evidence-based practice rarely acknowledges the value of historic perspectives on cultural assumptions underpinning notions of ‘healthy spaces’. This network will bring together such approaches and different ways of understanding design.

New collaborations will aim to support policy and design communities, meeting the need for better rubrics for understanding the relationships between space, health and design, and closer attention to the evidence-base. Research will propose alternative ways to theorise and evaluate the impact of spaces on the health of those who use them.

It is led by academics with diverse academic backgrounds from across the GW4 institutions:

Victoria Bates, historian at Bristol University

Des Fitzgerald, sociologist at Cardiff University

Hannah Pitt, human geographer at Cardiff University

Lucy Selman, social scientist at Bristol University

Oli Williams: sociologist at Leicester University, formerly at Bath University

The project has received Seed Funding from GW4 as part of the 2017 Crucible programme which supports the development of future research leaders.

Get involved:  

The network will be established through a one day workshop in February 2018. An invited group of academics and practitioners will consider:

  • How can a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach help us to think in more nuanced ways about the relationship between health and design?
  • What would a robust, rigorous evidence-base for healthy design look like, and how can we better evaluate the health consequences of spaces and places?
  • What could an interdisciplinary GW4 network bring to bear on this burgeoning field, particularly in terms of collaborative, cross-disciplinary and innovative research?

Discussions will identify priorities for future research, providing a platform for continued collaboration.

If you would like to know more or are interested in attending the workshop, please contact the project team by email here.

“A healthy space is…”

The workshop will be accompanied by public engagement activity in Cardiff and Bristol, and via social media, to understand more about how people think about healthy spaces.

Thank you to the University of Bristol Institute for Advanced Studies for support in the planning of this workshop