What's Up UA? - UA Institute to Explore Link Between Physical Environment, Health - Tucson Local Media: University Of Arizona

What's Up UA? - UA Institute to Explore Link Between Physical Environment, Health

Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Saturday, February 2, 2013 1:20 pm

A new interdisciplinary institute in development at the University of Arizona will explore the connection between human health and well-being and the physical environment.

The Institute for Place and Wellbeing – a joint venture of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine in the UA College of Medicine; the UA College of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape Architecture; and the UA Institute of the Environment – will engage in research to measure the effects of the built and green environment on human health, emotions and spirituality, while training professionals in the health-care and architecture fields to consider the place and well-being connection in their work.

The institute will be led by Dr. Esther Sternberg, who joined the UA in the fall as director of research for the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, and Eve Edelstein, a neuroscientist and architect who has joined the UA College of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape Architecture as an associate professor.

Edelstein is teaching a new course at the UA this semester, "Neuro-Architecture: Brains, Bodies and the Biosphere," designed to introduce students from all majors and professional backgrounds to the type of work the institute will do.

Quantifying human responses to environment

Ample evidence exists to suggest that one's physical environment can impact his or her health and well-being. The connection has been studied seriously for more than 20 years, since landmark research in 1984 found that patients recovering from gall bladder surgery healed on average one day sooner when their hospital rooms had a view of a grove of trees as opposed to a view of a brick wall.

Studies have since examined how physical space and building design elements – like windows, lighting and navigability – can impact people's stress levels and health.

Most of the data is qualitative, based on feelings reported by individuals, and much of the work has focused on hospital settings, where health of the building's residents is the primary concern.

The Institute for Place and Wellbeing will focus on getting more quantitative measures of human responses to environment – collecting data using tools like heart rate monitors, EEG, biosensors and virtual reality models – and applying that data in a variety of design settings, such as offices, schools and residential buildings, in addition to hospitals.

The institute's research plan grows out of Sternberg's previously published quantitative research on the effects of office space on the brain's stress response.

"The concept is to develop a toolbox of noninvasive, sensitive, quantitative methods to measure people's emotional, physiological, immune behavioral and health responses to the physical environment, whether it’s the green environment or the built environment," said Sternberg, who is world-renowned for her discoveries in the science of mind-body interaction. "In order to understand how the physical environment affects health, you also have to understand how the physical environment affects emotions, which in turn affect health."

Sternberg, whose work has resulted in several publications, including the book "Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Wellbeing," and a PBS special, "The Science of Healing: Understanding the Mind Body Connection," hopes to see her research taken to the next level at the UA.

"We need the evidence. We need the ammunition to show that, in fact, changes in the built environment do reduce stress and improve health and healing and emotional well-being as well," she said.

"This is a natural next step for the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine," said Dr. Victoria Maizes, executive director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. "We have long taught that environment matters to health. This ranges from the invisible environmental chemicals we are exposed to from building materials to the beautiful vistas of the mountains we glimpse from our windows. We are delighted to collaborate with the College of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape Architecture to create this new institute in which we will explore the mechanisms by which health is impacted."

Advancing the design professions

Research by the Institute for Place and Wellbeing has the potential to transform the fields of architecture, landscape architecture and urban planning, said Jan Cervelli, dean of the UA College of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape Architecture, or CAPLA.

The one-credit neuro-architecture course offered by CAPLA this semester is just the tip of the iceberg of the college’s planned curriculum around place and well-being, which is expected to eventually include a certificate, master's degree and even a doctoral program, Cervelli said.

"One of the objectives of the certificate program will be to recruit not just design professionals, but health professionals," she said. "If we can transform the thinking of CEOs of hospital corporations and presidents of hospitals and show them that this is important for their operations and success, it can serve both fields."

Designing spaces with human responses in mind is not only a healthy decision, but a financially sound one, Cervelli said. Anecdotal evidence suggests, for example, that employees who work in offices with ample windows and natural light are more productive and take fewer sick days, thus saving the company money.

The institute’s research will make it easier to quantify return on investment, Cervelli said.

"It's transformational to the professions. In today's world of built environment, being able to have value added to your professions and being able to bring something that’s this transformative to the environment is huge," she said.

Edelstein, who has for years worked with Sternberg through the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture, said that as design students learn about the connection between place and well-being, they eventually will be able to test their own design concepts in the UA's AZ-LIVE virtual reality lab, where they can isolate distinct design elements and human responses to them.

"Using technology, we can start to pull apart the elements of the built environment and correlate them with elements of human responses, and we've not been able to do that before," she said. "With AZ-LIVE, we can mock up and model different environments before the first brick is laid."

Edelstein and Sternberg said the goal is for the Institute for Place and Wellbeing to serve as a resource for researchers and design practitioners across campus, across institutions and across the globe.

"This is unique, to create an institute with the goal to educate, inform, develop curricula on place and well-being and at the same time to do research and gather the data that’s needed to implement these principles into practice," Sternberg said. "It's unique, and it’s very exciting."


© 2017 Tucson Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

More about

Welcome to the discussion.

Saturday 09/26/2015

Little goes right for the Wildcats

Saturday 09/19/2015

Records fall in lopsided win

Friday 09/04/2015

Arizona challenged by Roadrunners

Tuesday 08/18/2015

Arizona has few questions at QB

Thursday 08/06/2015

Cats open fall drills

Monday 03/09/2015

McConnell, Johnson finalists for awards Johnson Named FOY, Four Wildcats Honored by Pac-12

Monday 01/19/2015

Johnson named Player of the Week

Friday 01/16/2015

Wildcats down shorthanded Colorado

Monday 01/05/2015

Vote for Sean Miller & win $100,000 for the Tucson Ronald McDonald House

Monday 12/15/2014

Arts and Sciences Are Writing a New Love Story Together

Thursday 12/11/2014

More hardware for UA's Wright

Wednesday 12/10/2014

S.H.I.E.L.D half season finale delivers Cats get a glimpse of the future in blowout

Friday 11/14/2014

UA Eller College To Share Economic Outlook for 2015-2016

Wednesday 11/12/2014

UA Humanities Seminars

Tuesday 11/04/2014

What's Up UA? - Hiring Interns? Top 8 Tips for Companies

Wednesday 10/15/2014

What's Up UA? - Close Encounter 'One in a Million'

Monday 10/13/2014

What's Up UA? - Austin Hill: The Comeback Kid

Monday 10/06/2014

What's Up UA? - Health, Wellness Practices Highlighted by Chinese Culture Festival

Thursday 10/02/2014

What's Up UA? - Ready for a Super-Fast Internet? UA Scientists Are Fast at Work on It

Tuesday 09/30/2014

What's Up UA? - Using the Force: UA Police Officer Completes NASA Project

Monday 09/29/2014

What's Up UA? - How New Social Movements Take Root

Friday 09/26/2014

What's Up UA? - PBS 'NewsHour' to Feature Inspirational UA Student

Wednesday 09/24/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Paves Way to Redefine STEM Education

Monday 09/22/2014

What's Up UA? - Wildcats Rally, Hail Mary TD Defeats Cal, 49-45

Thursday 09/18/2014

What's Up UA? - When Job Loss Equals Weight Gain

Monday 09/15/2014

What's Up UA? - Don’t Underestimate Your Mind’s Eye

Thursday 09/11/2014

What's Up UA? - 'What I Wish I Had Known as a Freshman'

Tuesday 09/09/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Undergraduate Researchers Take to the Radio

Thursday 09/04/2014

What's Up UA? - Send Your Tweet – and Your Name – to an Asteroid

Tuesday 09/02/2014

What's Up UA? - Brown Foundations' $2.5 Million Kicks Off Catapult Corp

Thursday 08/28/2014

What's Up UA? - New Veterinary Degree Program Made Possible by $9M Gift is Critical for State

Monday 08/25/2014

What's Up UA? - Laser 'Lightning Rods' Channel Electricity Through Thin Air

Thursday 08/21/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Fall Enrollment Sets Record for Diversity, Number of Freshmen

Tuesday 08/19/2014

What's Up UA? - Remarkable Résumé: UA Student Journalist's Career Includes CNN, NYT Phoenix

Friday 08/15/2014

What's Up UA? - Through Innovative Partnership, 'Hot Shot' Team Tackles Yuma Produce Perils

Wednesday 08/13/2014

What's Up UA? - The UA Named a Top College by The Princeton Review

Monday 08/11/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Researchers Study Increasing Lifespan and Immune Function What's Up UA? - UA Undergrads Conducting Microgravity Research Aboard NASA's G-Force One

Monday 06/09/2014

What's up UA? - UA to Host U.S. and Mexico Officials Exploring Collaborations in Education, Innovation, Research

Thursday 06/05/2014

What's Up UA? - New Wilderness Medicine Class Hones Patient Care Skills in Rugged Conditions

Tuesday 06/03/2014

Track Cats Send Eight Athletes to TrackTown USA

Monday 06/02/2014

What's Up UA? - Bringing a Spacecraft Back From the Dead

Friday 05/30/2014

What's Up UA? - Heart Attack Patient Defies Odds with Tailored Surgical Treatment at UA Medical Center

Thursday 05/29/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Marketing Students Win National AT&T Competition

Tuesday 05/27/2014

What's Up UA? - Scientists Discover Genetic Basis of Pest Resistance to Biotech Cotton

Friday 05/23/2014

What's up UA? - Four UA Students Picked for Pat Tillman Foundation Scholarships

Wednesday 05/21/2014

What's Up UA? - Scientists Discover Genetic Basis of Pest Resistance to Biotech Cotton

Monday 05/19/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Tunnels Get Carbon Fiber Makeover


Follow us on Facebook

Online poll