A human-centric approach will have a big impact on future design and building processes

January 1, 1

The growing focus on how buildings and indoor environments contribute to our health and well-being has arisen an interesting question: how do we design environments that allow people to concentrate, feel comfortable, and heal efficiently?

Future nursing home in Nørresundby

Rethink the institution - The Nursing Home of the Future, Nørresundby, Denmark

Our Global Acoustics Ambassador, Pascal van Dort had a talk with Anja Dirks about what she thinks will determine the design and building process in the future. It is not only about the aesthetics anymore but also the understanding of users’ needs and their usage of the spaces, now as well as in future.

Anja Dirks is the owner of Studio id+, an agency specialising in designing healthy environments based on the experience of people. Her focus is on connecting research with design. Anja Dirks is passionate about the physical interior of buildings and strive to connect research into interior architecture.

Evidence-based design – how to make a human-centric design?

When executing a renovation or a new build, there are a lot of considerations that need to be encountered and evaluated.

The continuous interaction between occupants and the indoor environment influences the way we work and the way we heal, meaning the need for optimal conditions that support a patient’s recovery is critical.

Evidence-based design is a process of taking decisions relying on credible research when designing and constructing physical environments, that empower optimisation of the surroundings for the best possible outcomes. The growing awareness of how the physical environment contributes to our well-being and health has created a demand for more human-centric designs.[1]

Can you explain why your company Studio id+ are designing healthy environments from human experience?

 “Some rely their design on the fantastic light coming from the pavement outside and then convince themselves that buildings should be seen as much more than just a shield to host office spaces. As interior designers, architects, and constructors, we should see the experience of the inhabitants as a whole before considering a project, as the work environment contributes to their health and well-being.

Spaces are our most consumed product. Our designers realise the full potential of the design of a space and how they affect our lives and well-being. When designing we must consider the inhabitants' experience, so students get a better experience in the school areas and vulnerable groups at the hospital can depend on the areas to contribute to the better healing process.

Designing a new building should comply with the newest research within the field of work forms, as existing knowledge enables us to design for healthier, safer and better work environments. Our ambition is that our designs are tested.

I remember an experiment with dementia and interior design. A room had a very nice interior design with eight chairs, however, the furniture and surroundings were typical healthcare premises. It confused the patients as they couldn’t recall where to sit as it all looked the same. So the experiment was focusing on what impact a chair can have to comfort people with dementia. The inhabitants were told to bring their chair to the common area. The results were positive as the inhabitants knew where to sit in the room as they could recognise their chair and felt comfortable in the surroundings.

At Studio id+ we believe, that a design of a room continues to develop and the realisation of a space doesn’t stop, it continues to be alive. The interaction with the occupants is what we call human experience and that must be the driving force behind every element and future design of a space.”

Now sound and acoustics are more relevant than ever.

Anja Dirks

Owner of Studio id+

How do you build with your users in mind?

“It is crucial to do research and I know Antwerp Researchers who are investigating various working forms, and what to consider when designing office spaces as the design is identified as a high contributor for higher work performance. It is best if you look at what the term “home” means to the individual as they need to work here and then it is beneficial to base the design on top of those explanations.

In our sector, I see an on-going tendency where projects are based on research. It is the security to be sure that existing knowledge has proven that the solutions are beneficial. Our ambition is that our designs should be tested and it still stands. Always founded research will reflect on our designs as being able to make research into understandable information, so we can continue to build for happy inhabitants.

I see many projects where there is no correlation between the customer’s vision and the benefit of the users. Therefore, it is our job to seek the “why” behind the problem.

The “why” reveal the purpose of the building, and it is easier to draw a design reflecting the benefits for both the customer and the user. Research can help consider the different aspects and make a clear positioning. However, it will continue to be a battle, and general training is required to provide architects with this mindset. At Studio id+  we have a starting point on the technical side as it’s all about sharing knowledge regarding a complex market so specialization can occur and more beautiful buildings with the soul can be created.”

This year is “The Year of Sound”. How important are sound and acoustics when designing an interior?

Anja Dirks predicts that evidence-based design is going to be a natural step in the process of designing. Being able to build aesthetic, beautiful, and better, it is crucial to rely on previous steps and knowledge to avoid making the same mistake. She thinks research should be made visible and measurable for projects.

“Why would an interior architect hear a completely different sound? This year it is “The Year of Sound”, and now sound and acoustics are more relevant than ever. The density of people living in cities is growing and because of this the amount of sensorial stimuli is very high. Sometimes we don’t even realise it. When the acoustics in a room is good people don’t even know. They only become aware of it if something is wrong like not being able to understand what someone is saying or you are being annoyed by the noise in your surroundings.

Acoustics is often neglected, but it makes a major contribution to the reduction of those sensorial stimuli. Creating awareness of the impact that acoustics have on your daily lives is very important. The users’ needs to feel, hear, look and experience the building where all senses are encountered in the design.”

"At Studio id+ we have a starting point on the technical side as it’s all about sharing knowledge regarding a complex market so specialization can occur and more beautiful buildings with the soul can be created.”

Anja Dirks

Owner of Studio id+

What tendencies do you see in the future?

Concentration is an interesting hot topic, whereas the degree of concentration needs to be considered when open-office plans are designed. Because what happens if your workers can concentrate in the office?

“I believe that cooperation is the path to create even stronger buildings with better indoor environments. To share knowledge and specialisation is a way to combine skills and competences for a better future. Because why would an interior architect and an architect design for a different sound? Acoustics and sound are more relevant than ever as more people sit on small square meters and that contribute to a higher sound level. In the future, people must be aware of the circumstances.

And in the future, research seems to go side by side with architecture as the intention within interior architecture needs to consider the needs the users and the long-term effects on how it has an impact on people. As it might be that you will get bad results where your employees are less productive, getting sick faster and people with a need for care simply urge a higher demand for care. Therefore in the future, I recommend to don’t just look at your construction budget, but also consider aspects such as long-term effect and costs in an early stage.

Sometimes, I ask architects if they consider acoustic design as important. With nine out of ten times, the answer is not quite clear from the start. And then I say yes, why not? Because if you make a building primarily out of data, you're seven years old in terms of acoustics.

The collaboration between the architect and the interior is crucial, as the market has become complex and more competitive where knowledge and specialisation are features that can make a difference. Because what you do and how you succeed with your building process depends on what you have. Often, you have different clients however, it doesn’t mean that you need to change your work structure. Otherwise, you quickly lose the soul of the building. We need to maintain high quality on the building materials and the aesthetics of the building to ensure happy users.”   


Studio id+

Studio id+ is an architectural firm specializing in the design of healthy environments based on the experience of people. With a focus on the user and a penchant for the interior, the firm designs innovative projects based on medical and scientific knowledge and (own) research. With an enthusiastic team from the heart of Utrecht, we work daily on a variety of projects.