Environmental design and the connection that our places of residence, care and respite have with the natural environment has become increasingly considered and prioritised within the last century. From the modernist Le Corbusier’s, overhead windows in his 1963 conceptual Venice hospital, to the ‘healing design’ research of environmental psychologist Robert Ulrich, we have arrived at a time where ‘Healthy Buildings’ mean healthier and happier people and where we strive to enhance our lives by getting closer to nature in all types of spaces. Inside homes, in our places of care and even in our workplaces we aim to reconnect to nature through better access to things like natural daylight and ventilation, through biophilic design (bringing nature closer) and by creating more easily accessible outdoor spaces.

If we strip back the NDIS’s Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) Design Standard to some of its fundamental intentions including, ‘improving the lives of participants,’ ‘creating the conditions required for participants to lead vibrant, safe and independent lives and ‘providing a home environment that maximises the capacity of the individual to live as independently as possible,’ it becomes apparent that the connection to the natural environment will play a large part in ensuring that SDA dwellings and associated providers achieve the ideal outcomes for occupants.

Natural Light and Ventilation

Sufficient access to natural light as well as effective cross-ventilation are two of the most important and achievable elements in good environmental design. These elements are not only passive environmental control and energy efficiency methods, but are also of paramount importance when it comes to improving the physical and mental wellbeing of occupants. They do this by improving sleep, by controlling the body’s circadian system, by effecting mood and perception and by even enabling critical chemical reactions in the body such as the metabolism of Vitamin D. More obvious and physical factors that also have a positive effect on occupant well-being include effective temperature regulation and the simple presence of a fresh breeze. Within an SDA context, natural light and cross-ventilation can be provided and regulated through simple inclusions such as wide-opening, automated windows/doors on opposing perimeters, skylights, and automated blinds with varying levels of transparency – all enabling the occupant more access to and more control of the natural elements.

Biophilic Design – Bringing the Outside In

In summary, ‘biophilic design’ is simply the concept of increasing occupant connectivity with the natural, outside environment. Natural light, views and ventilation all fall under this category however more direct examples of this include the integration of green walls on balconies and outdoor courtyards, the inclusion of large indoor plants in internal living spaces and the provision of easily accessible and wheelchair friendly gardens, planter boxes or outdoor areas with natural views.

Communal Gardening and Shared Outdoor Spaces

In addition to being more connected to the natural environment while being inside, having a more involved and tactile connection to the environment while being outside can be extremely beneficial for an individual’s mental and physical wellbeing. From an SDA perspective, having a shared garden or a range of accessible planter boxes with herbs, flowers or small harvestable fruit and vegetables can help occupants with mental and physical challenges. This occurs by enabling a sense of agency to an occupant-gardener, by potentially providing a healthy food source and by simply making an occupant-gardener happier by relieving stress and building self-esteem. The final and perhaps most important aspect of a shared garden is the community and social benefit for an occupant: an invaluable aspect to the quality of any lifestyle.

Vera Living

In addition to providing innovative and stylish homes, Vera Living strive to deliver places that connect occupants with the environment, are energy efficient and enable vibrant and social lives. We coordinate the design, build and management of SDA properties around Australia. Please get in touch to discuss your SDA journey with us.

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