In The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of How Buildings Shape Our Behavior, Health, and Happiness, Emily Anthes examines how indoor spaces affect our bodies and minds, for better or worse, in so many ways. While researching this book, Anthes talked to leading researchers in building sciences and visited innovative spaces including a school, a commercial real estate company, a healthcare lab, a residence for people with disabilities, and a women’s prison.
People in the building industry will come away with new inspiration to create more humane and life-affirming buildings. At SageGlass, we love to be part of innovative projects with ambitious goals for occupant health and wellness. And in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, interest in healthy buildings is soaring. So Monique Salas, our Healthcare Business Development Manager, recently interviewed Anthes to learn more about this important new book.
Building Science in the Time of COVID-19
While the book was just released this summer, Anthes wrote it well before COVID-19 was an issue. Yet there are some very relevant concepts. “I do talk in the book pretty explicitly about how we can design spaces that reduce the spread of infectious disease, and so while I didn’t have COVID in mind, some of those lessons apply,” says Anthes. “But then the other piece of it is — even beyond the disease itself — we’re all spending so much more time in our homes. And so I think there are a lot of lessons from the book about how we can create homes and indoor spaces that are really restorative and help keep us healthy and happy. There’s plenty of stress during this time, but through some changes to — and attention to — our built environment, we can try to minimize that and create spaces where we feel safe and comfortable.”
Anthes has written several recent articles related to COVID-19:
- “The Pandemic’s Indoor Opportunity: How Design Affects the Safety of our Indoor Environments”
- “Coronavirus Lockdowns May Raise Exposure to Indoor Air Pollution”
- “Pandemics spread in hospitals. Changes in design and protocols can save lives.”
The Inspiration for the Book
Anthes is a science writer who spends a lot of time poring over scientific journals. Seven or eight years ago, she noticed a lot of new research on what’s often referred to as the indoor microbiome: the collection of microorganisms that inhabit the built environment.
“We spend all this time in our buildings — 90% of our time indoors — but I never really thought much about what was happening in them,” explains Anthes. “And it made me realize that these environments are so much richer and more complex than I had realized, and so that was the spark that prompted me to say, ‘What else is there to find out about these environments?’ and, ‘What power do they have that we often overlook?’”
Anthes has been researching and writing on the built environment for several years. For instance, four years ago she published an article in Nature called “The office experiment: Can science build the perfect workspace?” The Great Indoors is a culmination of everything she’s learned through thorough research and first-hand experience in some unique spaces.
Nuggets of Wisdom on Daylight and Views
As a business development professional in the electrochromic glass industry, Monique Salas thinks a lot about the significance of daylight and views. In the interview, she asks Anthes to share a couple nuggets of wisdom on the topic. “As it happens, daylight and views — and particularly views of nature — are two of the most important things you can provide building occupants,” says Anthes. “There are just reams and reams of scientific literature.”
Anthes goes on to explain that daylight can:
- boost our moods
- regulate our circadian rhythms
And views of nature can:
- reduce stress, anxiety, and pain
- boost concentration, focus, and productivity
“So basically, if there’s any positive outcome you want to encourage,” explains Anthes, “daylight and views can help do that. They’re really critical for building occupants.” While the research on the benefits of daylight and views is clear, access to these elements is often still seen as a luxury. (Consider, for instance, the corner office.)
Understanding the “So What?”
Anthes explains that a lot of the earliest research on daylight and views was done in hospitals. Patients in sunnier rooms require fewer painkillers, are discharged sooner, and have lower mortality rates. “Even if we’re not making much headway at convincing hospital administration that the humane thing to do is provide daylight and views,” says Anthes, “there’s a really compelling economic argument, too.”
Similar arguments can be made for other indoor environments like workplaces and schools. In fact, research has found that daylight and views affects our cognition. Anthes explains something called attention restoration theory. “It turns out that looking out a window, particularly at a natural landscape, engages us in a sort of effortless way,” she says, “and it allows our minds to rest, and then subsequently improves our focus, and our attention spans, and our productivity.”
A companion theory to attention restoration theory is the biophilia hypothesis. “That’s very much about how looking at nature relaxes us,” explains Anthes, “and then that relaxation has all sorts of downstream effects: reducing cortisol and dropping blood pressure.” Combined, the two theories make a compelling business case for designing indoor spaces that offer plenty of daylight and views of nature.
For more takeaways related to the commercial real estate, healthcare, and building industries, watch the entire 30-minute interview with Monique Salas and Emily Anthes.
About Emily Anthes
Emily Anthes is a science journalist and author. Her new book, The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of How Buildings Shape Our Behavior, Health, and Happiness, was published in June. She is also the author of Frankenstein’s Cat: Cuddling Up to Biotech’s Brave New Beasts, which was longlisted for the PEN/E.O Wilson Literary Science Writing Award. Emily’s work has also appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Wired, Nature, Slate, Businessweek, and elsewhere. Her magazine features have won several awards, including the AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award and the NASW Science in Society Journalism Award. Emily has a master’s degree in science writing from MIT and a bachelor’s degree in the history of science and medicine from Yale, where she also studied creative writing. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.