Nourishment: An Investment in your brain and your wellbeing

I recently got a great sales pitch from Nikita – a copywriter – who writes about why it’s important to invest in yourself (or business) by having her help write copy for your architectural website.  She steers the prospect away from why her services “cost” what they do and describes why spending money on her services is an “investment” in your business and how, with a smart website, the return on investment is well worth her fees.  She’s LinkedIn with me, so Nikita – expect a call, and thanks for the idea.

As the next concept in my series of the WELL Standards, Nourishment is a clear connect-the-dots investment in your wellbeing.  If there is a place in your life that will bring you the most benefit, it’s what fuel you add to your body that gives you life.  Invest in the good stuff, and your body will respond giving you energy, vitality and beauty.  Easy peasy!

But architecture?

You’re asking why an architect is writing about food. Connecting the dots from nourishment to architecture is a little fuzzy but – stay with me here – I’m going to make it really fuzzy with some neuroscience and remind you that design matters.

In commercial applications, the WELL Standard is a commitment that companies can make for their employees which includes items available for them to eat in lunch rooms etc. – and describes the spaces themselves and how they contribute to wellbeing.  There is literally a commitment to having X number of vegetables available and to employing good design for the places that you eat.  Same goes for the visual elements of the space, the light, sound and the connection to nature.   While neuroscience is not an element of WELL, I feel that the reason these things are important is that the embodiment of the architecture sends signals to the hippocampus part of the brain – where our spatial understanding, memory and mood are triggered – and the healthier the food that you eat, the more your hippocampus will experience neurogenesis (growing brain cells[i]), increasing the effects your mood. Yep – I just chicken and egged this whole concept. Good food – and good architecture lead to good brain and good mood. Got it? Good!

When we eat well, we grow the part of our brain that experiences architecture and if it’s good architecture, our brain likes it and our mood gets better.

Since the WELL standard is not residential-specific, I get to take a little license with the nourishment concept and how I apply it in design.  My goal is to do whatever it takes to make your spaces enhance your wellbeing – and knowing that nourishment and architecture are connected to the area of the brain that specifically effects mood, I consider kitchen design as one of the most important areas of the home.

The best design has a few steps.

First – I make sure to ask lots of questions about who cooks, what they cook and how they cook it, to make sure that the kitchen is designed to trigger joy – because the space must be tailored to the people using it. Examples: Are you entertaining, or are you making school lunch? How many cooks are in the kitchen? What is the favorite meal, who cooks, who cleans? Is the stove a social item in their household or do they like to be focused without distraction and need everyone out of the kitchen? Setting up a kitchen to “fit” those that are using (and not the other way around) demands thoughtful consideration.

Second – I design the space so that the healthiest foods are readily accessible. A refrigerator drawer in an island filled with fruit may be the easiest way to grab n’ go vs getting the chips which could be a few steps out of the kids main thoroughfare.

Third – I encourage my clients to have space for, and to invest in an indoor hydroponic garden for the cold season – and an outside garden for the warm season.  Bringing nature into your house benefits your brain and cooking your own food is a great way to invest in your health.

Fourth – While it’s not always feasible, custom height countertops in some area of the kitchen can help with the comfort of meal prep for some cooks. At some point someone decided the standard height for counters should be 3’  – and our appliances were designed with this in mind.  Some of us, however, are vertically challenged and 3’ puts a little more burden on our shoulders if we’re chopping veggies, not to mention reaching for items out of upper cabinets.  A lower (or higher) countertop area near the main cooking zone may be the right call for some families. Our island is slightly taller for my 6’-3” husband who loves to cook – but due to my 5’-3” height, we skipped all uppers and have drawers for everything; pantry, dishes, pots and pans, glasses, etc.

Setting up your home with a properly designed kitchen that both stimulates the hippocampus part of the brain and contributes to your healthy eating habits is a great investment toward your health and wellbeing.

( WELL applies the science of how physical and social environments affect human health, well-being and performance. Developed over 10 years and backed by the latest scientific research, WELL outlines key building-level and organizational strategies across 10 categories.)