If you’ve been looking for an architect that thinks about building and design in the same way you have started to think about your own health and wellness, then you have been searching for a firm that practices Holistic Architecture.

As wellness focused architects, we see this part of our role as having prime importance. As we become more aware of the causes and widespread impacts of Sick Building Syndrome, we are seeing an increased demand for a different, better way of creating our buildings.

Sick Building syndrome is largely a product of a focused, non-holistic process, where, in trying to reduce energy demands, buildings were made airtight, wall and roof assemblies more complicated, became risks for mold growth. Combined with the use of offgassing paints, adhesives, foams, synthetic fabrics, a health hazard was inadvertently created.

We strive for the opposite: healthy building syndrome. In this scenario, architecture at it’s best isn’t neutral: architecture at it’s best is a tool that improves the lives, the health, the wellbeing of it’s occupants. This requires holistic thinking.

Holistically, this applies to many of the issues we see in the greater world: Habitat loss, car oriented cities, loss of communities and neighborliness, are all the product of modern, reductivist thinking; of dealing with immediate needs and losing sight of the long term vision. As such, people wanting to protect the environment, live healthier lives, build strong communities and neighborhoods, walk rather than drive, are looking for holistic architecture and design.

What is Holistic Architecture?

In the health world, treating something with holistic intent means, rather than treating a specific symptom, asking why that symptom is presenting itself, and looking at the whole body as an interconnected system.

Similarly, Holistic Architecture is an approach to building design and urban planning that considers every aspect of the project’s impact — covering everything from the protection of the environment to the health and comfort of those who use it. It’s founded on the principle that architecture should not only serve practical needs but also enhance the health of the
environment, the community and the quality of life for its inhabitants.

what is holistic architecture

Holistic vs. Conventional Architecture

Unlike conventional architecture, which is often built with a ‘cookie cutter’ approach in order to put up buildings quickly and cheaply, or has gone the other direction, chasing a certain style, or ‘cool’ factor, holistic architecture seeks deeper connections and purpose. It emphasizes the wellness of its occupants across all fronts, symbiosis with the greater environment and strengthening the greater community. Holistic architecture values long-term metrics over immediate solutions.

An argument can be made that traditional/historic architecture was more holistic than it’s current manifestation. This was both by necessity—Only natural materials were available: wood, stone, brick, mud, clay. Buildings had to respect time-tested methods to perform and to hold up against the elements—and because architecture was more precious. Buildings were built with future generations in mind. It therefore had a more holistic intent in it’s design: to provide shelter and comfort, to contribute to the community, to create a family heirloom. While not a perfect argument, there remains much to be learned from the traditional approach to design with regard to our quest to make holistic architecture.

Core Pillars of Holistic Architecture

When we were designing the Chopra House of Enlightenment we adapted Deepak Chopra’s ‘Seven Pillars of Well-Being’ into a set of guidelines for the design.

The Seven Pillars of Wellness Architecture

1. Emotional Regulation

  • Light: A well designed lighting scheme defines the space, providing ample natural light without harsh glare, and electric light creating an atmosphere for calm and introspection.
  • Space: Spatial layout according to site conditions, lifestyle needs and timeless principles enhance comfort and energetic connection.
  • Materials: Use of pure, natural materials improve air and environmental quality, enhancing wellness and cognitive function. Soft, subtle textures and depth and scale. Craftsmanship and artisanship bring detail and beauty that inspires.4
  • Nature: A connection to nature has been shown to stimulate mood and overall happiness.

2. Sleep

  • Acoustics: Enhanced privacy in bedrooms and solid construction materials create peace and quiet.
  • Materials: Enhanced air quality promotes clear breath and regenerative sleep. Materials in linens, mattress and furnishings also greatly improve sleep environment.
  • Lighting: Design of lighting and window coverings eliminates distractions from artificial light. Circadian de-
    signed lighting allows the body to follow natural rhythms and strengthen sleep routines.
  • Electromagnetic Field Mitigation: Room will be designed to remove dirty electricity and shield from unwant-
    ed radiation. This decreases inflammation and promotes the deepest possible sleep.

3. Mindfulness and Meditation

  • A Dedicated Space: Wellness architecture often includes dedicated space for meditation. This intentional design encourages routine, and promotes mindfulness practice through purpose-built features.
  • Materials: Environmental quality improves focus on breath and depth of local and non-local experience.
  • Intentional Design: Overall feel of spaces can provide a general sense of calm and vitality, preparing the
    mind and body for deeper meditative work.

4. Movement

  • Flow: The paths through the home make movement beautiful and enjoyable, revealing carefully selected- views of art, light, space and nature.
  • Use of Stair: Wellness architecture promotes additional exercise by prioritizing use of stair over mechanical means, when possible.
  • Nature & Landscape: Well designed landscape surrounding the house encourages walks outside and enjoyment of light, nature and views.

5. Nutrition

  • Wellness Kitchen: Innovation around layout and features promotes the healthy choice as the natural choice. Wellness Kitchen brings joy and ease to mindful eating and food prep.
  • Materials: We absorb substances in the environment in a similar way to how we absorb food. All materials are selected to maximize clean air and surfaces, while incorporating environmental psychology for a sooth- ing, nurturing space.
  • Water: Purified water filtered at the source.

6. Relationships

  • Layout: Feng Shui and Vastu principles guide room placement and spatial organization.
  • Materials: Solid materials and construction allow privacy and separation of intentionally designed spaces.
  • Light & Nature: Comfort and calm bring introspection for us and those we interact with.
  • Spaces: Gathering spaces are open and connected with no boundaries to symbolize unity. Private spaces
    turn inward to encourage repose and introspection.

7. Self Actualization

  • Vastu Layout: Orientation, East entry, central court, beds facing North, and more.
  • Sacred Geometry: Dimensions of building derived from Fibonacci sequence and Vitruvian Man proportions to increase resonance of space.
  • Numinous & Noetic Moments: Space is designed for uplifting and transformational experiences that elevate
    consciousness and empower engagement with highest potential.

While fairly comprehensive from the health and wellness standpoint, there were other elements to the project that went beyond this list. It was designed to be a Net-Zero home, it was built of Faswall masonry construction with natural plaster stucco—built with solid, time-tested materials with the potential to last for generations, there was a focus on landscaping with native plants, it was built in a style appropriate to the climate and the region.


Advantages of Holistic Architecture

Environmental Impact

A building can be ‘sustainable’ by many popular metrics and still be an unhealthy place to spend time. As with any singular focus, building only to conserve energy and produce less waste leaves out many important factors that help people thrive. Sustainability is an important goal, but still must be treated as just one piece of the puzzle in order to achieve a result that performs holistically.

Holistic architecture can reduce environmental impact by designing for performance, longevity, and minimizing toxic pollutants in its materials, finishes and construction methods. It considers landscaping that thrives naturally and needs fewer chemical treatments. It manages water. It is still a building, but strives in integrate harmoniously into its environment.

Community Benefits

Holistic architecture also offers profound social and community benefits. A beautiful, timeless, well constructed building adds value to the greater context in many ways. It beautifies the neighborhood, increases community pride which can be linked to improved quality of life, safety, and economic prosperity.

Economic Advantages

While holistic architecture might require a higher initial investment, it offers significant long-term economic benefits. A high-performance building has lower operating costs. A better quality construction will require less upkeep. A building people love will be better taken care of and won’t be torn down and replaced.

Psychological Well-being

Like Wellness Architecture, one of holistic architecture’s most important benefits is its focus on the psychological well-being of its users. By prioritizing natural light, clean air, movement, dedicated wellness spaces, connection to nature, human proportions and overall beauty, holistic designs can improve mood, increase productivity, and reduce stress levels among inhabitants.

Aesthetics and Spirituality

Holistic architecture recognizes the importance of aesthetics and spirituality in human spaces. Beyond mere functionality, buildings, and spaces are designed to be visually pleasing and to incorporate elements that uplift the human spirit, whether through its proportions, its materials, its connection to nature or the organization of its spaces.

Challenges in Holistic Architecture

Despite its many benefits, holistic architecture faces several challenges. The demand for unique materials, skilled craftspeople, customized design options can make it more expensive at the outset.

Anything different risks adding difficulties to the approval process with your jurisdiction. It might be harder to find a contractor that wants to buy in to your process.

That being said, when you come prepared to educate and help stakeholders understand that you are building something that goes above and beyond conventional requirements, we have found that people are generally excited to get on board with your vision.

Another challenge is that it can feel overwhelming to think of so many pieces and to bring together so many ideas.
You might be asking:
Does it need to be a perfect project to be considered holistic?

No. For one, perfection is impossible. There will always be a detail or an element that isn’t considered, or a compromise that needs to be made.

Holistic architecture is about the intention, it is about thinking and designing with a greater vision, seeing all parts of the design as being connected to a greater whole. One can not be expected to know everything. Architecture is a living tradition that draws on past and present wisdom to design appropriately for its time and place.
There is no single prescription for holistic architecture. Every project has different goals, circumstances, needs and restrictions. It is about you, and designing around your values.

Challenges in Holistic Architecture

The Future of Holistic Architecture

We’d like to believe that the future of architecture is holistic architecture. In our opinion, it benefits everyone and everything to look at the bigger picture and to strive for higher goals.

In general, awareness is growing. Values are shifting and people are seeing their design projects as opportunities to better their lives and their world, and this can only mean good things for the future of architecture.