Designing for a happier life

A new book by architect Ben Channon, Happy By Design, explores the ways in which buildings, spaces and cities affect our moods and reveals how design can make us happy and support mental health. Andy Walker reviews the book here. 

Ben Channon of Assael Architecture and the author of Happy By Design.

Happy By Design: A Guide to Architecture and Mental Wellbeing, published by RIBA Publishing, is a brilliant little book which looks at the ways that buildings, spaces and cities affect our wellbeing and mental health. Presented through a series of easy-to-understand design advice and information and illustrated by handy illustrations, Happy By Design is a great resource for architects, engineers, builders and indeed anybody who wants to understand the relationship between buildings and happiness.

In short, according to Happy By Design, good design really matters and there are lots and lots of things that architects, builders, home owners and tenants can do to make the places they live in happier places in which to dwell. Many of them need not cost the earth either and in many cases the measures outlined in the book are more cost effective in the long run. 

The book’s author, architect Ben Channon of Assael Architecture, certainly knows his stuff. He’s the mental wellbeing ambassador for his company and he’s also an accredited mindfulness practitioner. In his very well-illustrated book, which is broken down into seven features of design that affect wellbeing, Channon highlights the things to consider in every building if you want to optimise good wellbeing. 

His seven fundamental design elements include light, comfort, control, nature, aesthetics, activity and psychology. Channon describes how these broad areas are interlinked and helpfully colour codes the different sections of the book and uses symbols for the seven categories alongside design tips. Including just one of the seven features will make a real difference to the people that use your space or home and you don’t need to be a building industry professional to follow Channon’s advice. 

Happy By Design provides a toolkit of ways in which designers can support people’s wellbeing through the buildings they create. Channon’s key concepts to consider include creating good lighting, considering the importance of touch, making spaces comfortable, giving people control over their buildings, involving plants and wildlife in design, creating visible interest and joy, encouraging physical activity, having calm spaces for escape and relaxation, providing good storage and creating a sense of home.

His tips and handy advice are all easy to follow and reading the book I couldn’t help thinking that if only all buildings were designed this way we would go a long way towards improving people’s mental wellbeing and creating a better world. Maybe that’s a grand statement but it’s clear from reading Channon’s book that such lofty aims are entirely possible using good design and the will to carry it through to a conclusion.

One of the best bits of the book for me was the comprehensive notes and references section at the end which lists numerous books, guides and online papers that have helped to inform Channon’s work or inspire him. Fellow architects and engineers have produced some excellent advice and information on how to make buildings happier and Channon generously lists website links and references useful books to add to the reader’s experience and knowledge.

I’ve already ordered two of his recommended books - on getting rid of clutter and how to think about exercise - and I can’t wait to read them. So, both for the book itself and also for Channon’s very useful tips for further reading and research, I can heartily recommend Happy By Design. It really is a brilliant little book that will help people to live better and feel better and it would make an excellent Christmas gift. Anyone with an interest in the built environment must read it.

Happy By Design is available from the RIBA Bookshop, price £20. Order online at www.ribabookshops.com 

If you would like to contact Andy Walker about this, or any other story, please email awalker@infrastructure-intelligence.com.