What is Integrative Architecture and What is its Purpose?

What exactly is Integrative Architecture? To help introduce this concept of Integrative Architecture, the field of Integrative Medicine can be used as a template to show how “integrating” various fields and modalities can be utilized for best results.

If you’ve been following the progress of the medical fields in the past 20 years, you’ve seen the emergence of Integrative Medicine [1] become a more accepted and welcomed approach to healing. Dr. Andrew Weil, one of the most popular proponents of Integrative Medicine, provides an overview of this field on his website and the following quote helps to define this approach:

“Integrative medicine is healing-oriented medicine that takes account of the whole person (body, mind, and spirit), including all aspects of lifestyle. It emphasizes the therapeutic relationship and makes use of all appropriate therapies, both conventional and alternative.” (http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART02054/Andrew-Weil-Integrative-Medicine.html)

The reason why the definition of Integrative Medicine is being utilized to describe Integrative Architecture is to help provide a framework for this definition and to show how there are similarities. By utilizing best practices of traditional approaches to building, combined with more modern architectural materials and methods, the blueprint for healthier, greener and more sustainable architecture can be achieved. To help define Integrative Architecture, the following borrows from the definitions of Integrative Medicine:

“Integrative Architecture is the approach of utilizing the best materials, methods, systems and practices in creating the built environment. It includes all aspects of the building process and makes use of all appropriate materials and methods, both conventional and alternative, to create healthier, greener and more sustainable building solutions.”

The ideals of Integrative Architecture are to utilize the best possible options in materials and methods in considering both short and long term use, as well as the whole impact on human and ecological or planetary wellness.

So What Exactly is Integrative Architecture “Integrating”?

As Integrative Medicine strives to integrate the fields of both conventional and alternative medicine for best health, it has the intention to combine various fields, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (often defined as Alternative and Complementary Medicine), with more modern pharmacological approaches and practices (often called Conventional Medicine and Allopathic Medicine) with the intention of best practices for healing, health and wellness.

In this manner, Integrative Architecture strives to combine the various fields of alternative and conventional building with the intention of best practices resulting in a healthy, green and sustainable built environment. Integrative Architecture defines these three fields of Healthy, Green and Sustainable Building in this manner:

Architectural Medicine-3_Triads-All_together

Architectural Medicine-The triads of Health, Energy Efficiency and Ecological/Sustainable Building Combined with the three facets of Health – Physical, Mental and Emotional.

While many of these fields have an overlap, the integration of all of these fields, along with a renewed focus on the health and well being of the occupant, can help define this role of Integrative Architecture and it’s connection with Architectural Medicine.

This includes the various fields of traditional and alternative building, such as natural building, passive solar and thermal design, earthen building and natural materials, with the more modern approaches of building in terms of materials and methods. This includes the technological advancements of more recent building systems, along with Smart Home and Smart Building technologies.

Integrative Architecture and the Similarities to Integrative Medicine

One of the biggest challenges in the built world are that changes cannot always happen in a quick manner. It also becomes apparent that buildings are very large systems, which have a variety of materials that are integrated with different methods and approaches.

This has a similar dynamic to the medical fields that require integration between various specialists and modalities to ensure that different facets work together for healthy solutions. This same approach can be taken in the fields of Integrated Architecture to ensure that the various specialists and components of the structure all work together to achieve a healthier, greener and more sustainable built environment for the occupants and the planet.

The world of health and wellness has seen great changes thanks to fields such as Integrative Medicine. This, in part, is due to the fact that changes in personal health can be made daily and in small increments. And while the built environment can also have changes made daily, some of the infrastructure and building systems cannot be easily changed or altered. This reality is in itself a good reason for the fields of architecture to work together to ensure that the building systems, materials and methods work together to create solutions that will be long standing.

Integrative Medicine has seen great changes in the medical fields due to the integration of various professionals working together to integrate different modalities, with the goal to find best solutions for the patient. It is the hope and intention that this similar integration can also take place with the various building and architectural professionals to work together for “integrated” best solutions for the occupants.

While there has been great strides taken in “green building” and energy efficiency in building, particularly in the past ten to twenty years, there has been slow change to the building fields in relation to health concerns. In reality, the fields of ecological building and a focus on energy efficiency have taken quite a long time to see changes, and while there have been several groups and organizations that have tirelessly worked for these changes, there is still a need for more ecological and sustainable designs to include healthier building solutions for human and biological well being.

That said, buildings are large physical entities, which are also extremely expensive to retrofit and (re)build. the process of upgrading and creating new buildings to implement updated materials, methods and building systems has been a slow process. As mentioned above, the choice to improve one’s wellness through eating, food, exercise and supplements for better health is sometimes a daily choice, and the ability to improve one’s building health is not as easy nor quick. Therefore, the more time and efforts that can be placed into this rethinking with an Integrative Architecture approach, will yield better results for long term solutions.

What is the Role of Integrative Architecture with Architectural Medicine?

As this concept of Integrative Architecture connects the various building professionals related to more optimal built environments, the ideal role of Architectural Medicine is to then connect the fields involved in both architecture and medicine for full systems solutions in creating, building, retrofitting and evaluating the healthy, green and sustainable built environment.

More details on Architectural Medicine can be found throughout this website, with an overview of Architectural Medicine at this link.

A big part of why the Architectural Medicine project includes all three groups; the general public, the building fields and the medical fields, is based on another aspect of building that can reflect the above issues of slow development to change.

The reality is that buildings are much more challenging to change than eating habits, at least from a physical standpoint. And being that it can often be quite a challenge to change one’s eating habits, the process for many groups to change in unison can be even more daunting. The ideal approach requires an integrated process with a similar goal. If each profession works together, there can be a focus on developing systems to help facilitate the process for healthier, greener and more sustainable buildings.

Creating the Healthy Built Environment

To make changes in a building (unless you are a building professional), you have to have a specialist to make these changes, updates or retrofits. And a challenge in the building industry is that builders typically do not make big changes in how they work. This is mainly because they need to know how a material and method will perform in both the short and long term. After all, they are responsible for the building product longer, than say, a chef is responsible for food that they make.

The other factor is based on efficiency to both install and to work with the product. Many of the reasons why synthetic materials were created was to ensure a more consistent product and an easier to install material, as well as more cost effective solution. Yet many of these products and processes do not consider the long term costs of these materials, and this over time, can be more costly in the long term.

Many of the traditional building materials and methods can be done by a professional in a fair amount of time, yet much of the newer materials are quicker to install and require less skill to do so. Yet if we are to properly view the long tail of architecture, it’s important to realize the long term impact this will have on the inhabitants, and the impact the structure will have on the local ecology over time.

Architectural Medicine has it’s Roots in Integrative Architecture and Integrative Medicine

There are many of these changes that will have to be a concerted and collaborative effort. The general public has increasingly become more aware of their own personal health, such as transitioning to organic food and adding activities such as yoga and meditation to keep and maintain their physical, mental and emotional health.

Soon enough many will view the surroundings that they live and work in as a big part of this equation of health, particularly when an increasing number of people are spending up to 90 percent of their time indoors.

So, when there is a demand for healthier built environments, will the Architecture and Building professions be ready to supply it?

And when the Medical fields begin to connect their patient’s health with the built environment, will they be prepared to supply proper evaluations and subsequent solutions?

There has also been a slow process of information available to the general public about the topics of the healthy built environment and how this may influence and affect their health, whether it be mentally, physically or emotionally. These topics are often left to the professionals to determine and evaluate. Yet even if there was a demand for a better living environments in terms of health and wellness, the world of building is much more challenging than the decision of what to eat each day. Therefore the solution process is more complex and involved.

Part of the challenge with healthy building is the education of the architecture and building fields, combined with the above comments on the complexities and costs of making changes. However, the field of Integrative Medicine has paved the way for many of these concepts to be better understood and digested.

Solutions and Moving Forward

As stated above, the world of Architecture is both complex and often expensive to retrofit. However, with more people demanding better built environments for their health and the planet’s health, there will need to be solutions provided with a game plan to address such changes.

Integrative Architecture and Architectural Medicine both strive to provide information and education about these topics, and to support the solution process in an integrated format.

When groups of professionals from different fields can work together to provide cohesive solutions, it can begin the pathway towards solutions for both current and future architecture to better support health and wellness in the built environment. And this, combined with more energy efficient and sustainable designs, can provide a better built environment for human and planetary health and wellness.