Living in an urban environment is demanding. Busy and competitive lifestyles leave people numbed from the effects of stress. Individuals in urban areas are more prone to mental health issues and demonstrate a noticeable lack of personal connection. Rosy city lights and skyscrapers are thorned with rising stress levels, posing an essential question to architects - how do spaces affect wellbeing?
Urban environments are either over or under stimulating our senses, causing physical, mental, and emotional stress. "Contemporary architecture aims to look stunning, technologically advanced, and people-and-environment-friendly", shares Anja Humljan, an architect and founder at Retouch. “However it still falls short of stimulating our senses just enough, and thereby bring us into the present moment”, she tells ArchDaily.
Solutions to stress have urgently cropped up over the years. Yoga, meaning “union”, has been gaining prominence as a therapeutic practice that marries the body, mind, and soul. Philosophers argue that inner peace can be attained anywhere, after all, it is found within oneself. Architects and researchers, however, emphasize the profound impact our physical environment has on our mental state. Surely, rolling out a yoga mat in a subdued scenario seems more fruitful than in the middle of rush hour.
Like yoga, architecture has the power to promote wellbeing, mindfulness, and connection between the body and its surroundings. Mindfulness as a design practice seeks to discover ways of nudging users into a state of presence. On International Yoga Day, ArchDaily reflects on spatial typologies tactfully designed to promote physical and mental ease - yoga studios.
Yoga centers are designed to offer relaxation to users through their practices and material space. More than a form of exercise, yoga is seen as a process of uniting with the body and enhancing mindfulness. Aligned with simplicity, yoga studios illustrate places of peace using a series of tested factors:
Light is an influential element in architecture, inviting life and presence into buildings. Historically, sacred structures used light to 'illuminate' the soul along with the physical space. Architects can manipulate patterns of light and shadow to leave users with an atmospheric - even spiritual - experience. Exposure to natural light has been known to benefit a user’s energy, mood, and wellbeing, while making a space seem motivating.
Madeiguincho designed Garden Yoga Studio to capture the changing levels of natural light through time and seasons. The simple structure was designed to mimic a temple, with quiet spaces and moving dim light. Materials were chosen to filter and regulate the intensity of daylight while maintaining a connection to the sun, essential in many yoga flows.
Color psychology has been long utilized in design to compose perceptions of space. Besides bringing acoustic, thermal, and luminous comfort, colors can strongly dictate emotional responses and sensory experiences. When designing for mindfulness, architects lean towards colors of nature to create pacifying environs. Shades of white, cream, tan, blue, and green have been shown to calm the mind and body and foster a sense of decompression.
The Space Between by Jordan Ralph Studio boasts of serene white interiors that instantly grounds users and sends them inwards. Inspired by Savasana, the final pose of a flow, visual cues encourage users to drift into a meditative state. Whitened Irish Ash wood was used for the joinery, and the walls were painted matte white to create an ancient atmosphere. “I wanted it to feel like there was depth and soul within the walls of the space”, shares Jordan Ralph, Founder and Creative Director at Jordan Ralph Studio. The grey concrete floor and the gradient-colored mirror stand out from the chalky backdrop, symbolizing the metaphysical “in-between moments” in yoga.
Materials carry the identity of a space with their tactile and visual features. The sense of touch can make one feel more connected to their environment. Materials can engage the senses through experiencing their inherent attributes, commanding one’s attention. Earthy materials can provoke an illusion of being in the lap of nature with mentally soothing sensations.
Aiming to create a tranquil aura, Nan Arquitectos crafted Flow Yoga and Movement Studio to emulate nature and the peace it transmits. A series of materials and construction techniques were used to add warmth and simplicity to the space. The materials were used in their crude state: wood, concrete with imperfections, and brick paired with exposed industrial-style installations. The material palette reflects the rawness of yoga, and the personal relationship it promotes.
Seclusion and Privacy
When blended into spatial design, privacy and seclusion can offer respite from the stress inducers of daily routines. The idea of being away from triggering conditions can support efforts towards mindfulness. Meditative practices like yoga require a level of intimacy influenced by the space to feel a heightened sense of connection with oneself and their surroundings. Psychological ownership is also a critical factor in feeling welcomed and comforted in a space.
Blank Studio’s Yoga Deva offers an escape from the asphalt roads and commercial buildings that surround the center. An internal sequence of spaces remove the user from the exterior conditions, steering them into a practice of meditation. Light, color, and texture are employed to create an ethereal atmosphere that contrasts everyday scenes of the city.
Community makes spaces come alive. Perceptions of space are equally governed by its users and the interactions between them. People and the place come together to create a setting for mindful presence. When tackling mental health, a like-minded community can offer support, accountability, and motivation. The united energy carried by individuals in a room charges a positive ambiance.
BOS|QA pivoted their design for Health Life Yoga around the idea of community - connection to oneself through focused practice; connection to others through mentoring. The studio’s program is divided between public and private zones, encouraging interaction while carving a hushed spot for yoga. As a central element, steps are placed near the entry where users can hang out outside classes. Lockers are enclosed under the steps, forming another space for interaction.
The pieces of mindful architecture can build optimal conditions for self-reflection and awareness, nurturing a deeper relationship with the built environment. Mindfulness can fit into designs of all scales and programs to strategically impact the human experience. Rather than embodying passive infrastructure, architecture can be wielded as a tool in the battle for mental wellness. Like yoga, architecture can be a unifying force between person and place.