Towards built ecologies: a consideration of multi-systemic bioresponsive behaviors within architectural systems

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Pretorius, Mandi
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Electronic thesis
Architectural sciences
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The Built Environment shapes our lived experience both as a subjective measure of personal experience, and as an objective measure of biological interactions catalyzed within an environment. An individual’s sense of well-being, their physiological and psychological health, is as mutually reinforced by the systemic response of their physical constitution in an environment, as it is a personalized interactional response of themselves within their environmental world-view. The research addresses the need to comprehend the holistic influence of built environments on the human body and mind, responding to increased patterns of urban living and the reliance that the individual and the social collective places on these as lifelong habitats. Within this context, population-level epidemiological studies that focus on the welfare of urban dwellers have shown an increased risk of non-communicable diseases associated with various aspects of urban lifestyles, such as stress and pollutant exposures. A bi-directionality of correlational data across factors has similarly been shown, wherein lifestyle and/or mental outlook mutually reinforce the risk of disease (i.e. reinforces the likelihood of diseases OR reinforces the risk of disease) or the reverse, whereby disease reinforces particular impediments to livelihood, such as an increased probability of depression and antisocial lifestyle changes. These areas of research form part of numerous initiatives which initiatives, which are collaboratively attempting to work across disciplines, ones which take a Salutogenic approach towards interpreting the multifactorial influences on our sense of well-being, and of the value in collaboratively partaking from all professional standpoints. The research is lensed within the scope of architectural design and interdisciplinary sciences, a field which draws on historic and contemporary theoretical discourse within the humanities, alongside that of the paralleled evolutions in the sciences and applied technology. Primacy is placed on the human body, both for the satisfaction of personalized embodied experience as a humanist interest and as an instrument to measure collective health outcomes. The experiential has long formed part of architectural discourse, attempting to derive qualities from the subjective understanding of the body in a space, as the instrumentation of perception and as the basis by which we cognitively derive meaning. In providing a starting point, the Phenomenological theory of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty is introduced, relevant to the modern paradigm preferencing the experience of the individual over the cultural collective. Traversing the theoretical to that which is critically applied to society, Heidegger and Latour inform this distinction then are given to examining the natural and unnatural as outcomes of humankind’s making; the technological products of the alienated (dis)embodiment of their makers, impacting qualities of the built environment. Conceived of as multi-systemic bioresponsive considerations, firstly necessitates characterizing the human individual as a system through which bioresponsive qualities can be considered and mapped qualitatively or measured quantitatively, and secondly, considerations towards multiple systems being engaged in a set of changing interrelated relationships, the human system being one of these. A relationship is thirdly suggested between these multiple systems and the environment, the latter’s behaviors and characteristics similarly interrelated to that of the systems that are present. The environment as a physical and immediate setting, is viewed as a dynamic continuum of stimuli, both rhythmic and varying, engaged with, and described as, natural phenomena that is aligned with the biophysical understanding of these phenomena, which interact with the body’s nervous system as sense perception over time. These factors are shown to be of both a physically and cognitively perceived nature, with continued debate on the primacy of one over the other, be that affective or cognitive primacy. Relevant to the creative anthropocentric act of making one’s own environment to suit the ideological and physical needs of oneself and one’s community, this is thus argued as of special interest to both architectural theory and building practice. The discussion will focus on the built environment’s capacity and willful objective to create indoor conditions which are ecologically inclusive by nature, as a means of meeting the needs of the (multi-systemic) occupancy it is designed for. Further to this, as a use case, the research will focus on an multi-systemic experimental inquiry into the effects of air quality constituents on human health and wellbeing. Their transfer and deposition has increasingly been shown as impactful at all scales of human and ecological health, suggesting the interdependency of inclusivity as well as the risks associated with the opposite - alienation. Particular focus is placed on a growing area of concern, that of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). Numerous studies have shown a direct causal relationship with certain aspects of poor air quality, which are linked to reduced cognitive function, to immune and long-term health. For these reasons, addressing IAQ is a relevant use case to this research as it provides both a medium across which to gauge the interactions between the human body and environment, as well as a quantifiable description of what airborne properties, to what specific degree, influence the human body. It provides a strong point of departure for a research thesis which might otherwise be side-lined to theoretical or hypothetical system’s concepts. The full breadth of this is addressed in detail through the Case Study which looks comparatively at the Air Quality of several environments and the quantified impacts these have on the human occupants.
School of Architecture
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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
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