Welfare society can also be designed
23 Sep 2021 /

Welfare society can also be designed

The welfare society. This is what we call that “place to be” to which we dedicate so much effort with a view to inhabiting it. However, as the years go by, we ask ourselves, welfare for whom?

Ilse Crawford says in the documentary “Abstact” on Nexflix that we spend 87% of our lives inside buildings and that their design affects how we feel, how we behave and also, if I may intrude, how we grow and how we are brought up. Because, at the end of the day, we become what our surroundings make us.

Dr Claudia Miller, immunologist and environmental health researcher at the University of Texas School of Medicine, refers in her projects and declarations to the need for professional designers to adopt a role in society as promotors of health and wellbeing. “Architects and designers have a greater ability to improve public health than medical professionals,” she alleges in her book ‘Chemical Exposures: Low Levels and High Stakes’

With this aim, one of the most efficient strategies is to ensure that all occupied spaces have access to light, air and nature via an operable window. Because, if there is one thing we should already know in the world of design, it is that simple things can make the difference in terms of health, productivity and happiness. 

Spaces need to consider our bodies because, as Ilse Crawford says: “We are our bodies.” However, it is curious that, once again, the body of an average heterosexual working-age male continues to be the reference point in our society. A society of 7.7 billion people, in which, according to 2020 data of the World Bank Group, 25.5% are children, 9.4% are over 65 and 65.1% are of working age (between 15 and 64 years of age). But, if we separate this last percentage by gender, we discover that working-age males make up just 33% of the world population. And I say “just” because designing the world while taking as a reference 33% of the population does not seem to be our most democratic action.

There are ways of doing things well, it is merely a matter of interiorising a thought of universal design when tackling any problem. Below, I have set out to dissect four examples of how to contribute through design to the wellbeing of the human habitat.


    Along the lines of listening to our bodies when seeking to humanise spaces, we find the work of Marta Parra and Ángela Müller, two architects who, after giving birth and becoming mothers, decided to redesign delivery rooms. 

A delivery room cannot be a stage. It is extremely complicated to relax in order to dilate and finally give birth on a stage, in front of an audience of strangers, with one’s genitals exposed.

They felt that somebody had forgotten to take care of privacy and intimacy at such a vital time. It was clear that they were not the first women who had felt this way and, if nobody did anything, they would not be the last. 

Parra and Müller, with their Arquitectura de Maternidades, collaborate with the Ministry of Health and apply Evidence-Based Design (EBD) to these very human hospital areas. From their studio, they work on reconditioning the delivery rooms of various hospitals, adapting them to the needs of women and thus producing welcoming and comfortable environments. 


Of all the time in our lives that, as we have said, we spend in buildings and indoor spaces, children spend (or should spend) most of it playing. However, our little ones are frequently treated as a second-class group, shut in to play in any corner of an adult world that does not take into account their particular needs, their education or their capabilities.

I would now like to introduce you to Alma Siedhoff-Buscher, a Bauhaus student, whose designs focused on the world of childhood, in the field of furniture and toys. Her most significant work was the Model House (Haus am Horn) 1923, a project of the school in which she participated by designing the children’s room.

Alma was convinced that a child learns more quickly and with better assimilation of the subject through experience. Therefore, she designed the children’s room taking very much into account the stimulation of infant imagination for which she sought functional creativity so that the walls were washable and could be turned into blackboards and the different pieces of furniture, such as the cupboard, changing table, cot, steps or rug, were also play elements. 

For Alma, playing understood as experimentation was beneficial for children, who should be allowed to develop their curiosity and creativity through their toys and furniture. The wealth of results arises precisely from their being intended for children, suiting their perspective and their size.


Older people face physical limitations and a society that frequently marginalises them, pushing them towards isolation and emotional solitude. The health risks of solitude have been scientifically shown, with a clear association with dementia, stroke, depression, suicide or premature death from any cause. 

We have acquired the dimension of the problem from data of the Spanish National Statistics Institute, INE (2020), according to which 2,131,400 people aged over 65 lived in one-person households. And, of these, 1,511,000 (70.9%) were women. It is forecast that this mode will increase in years to come, which sets a challenge as to how to accept and incorporate people in the social structure when, owing to their age, they cease to be productive for the system.

The Danish project The Future Sølund, designed by TREDJE NATUR and C.F. Møller, aims to provide a solution to the problem with a focus based on wellbeing; building a large and innovative residence for older people which, integrated in the city, offers elderly people with care needs a new opportunity to live and interact with other generations. 

The residential complex consists of over 500 homes, with various designs according to the different ages and capacities; as well as shops, day-care centres, cafeterias, workshops and almost all the other services people may need in their daily lives. It covers an area of 37,000 m2, a large part of which is dedicated to gardens and green areas that form an indispensable landscape that will contribute to the sensation of wellbeing of the future residents (the architects won the project tender in 2016, with the commitment to complete it in the next ten years).

The Future Sølund is intended to create a community and generate urban life with a clear premise: that nobody should be alone. 

We cannot forget that accessibility is a fundamental right and that disability arises when a person with an impairment meets a socially created barrier in the surroundings.


As examples of places designed with common sense and a spirit of integration, today I will present you the cases of the House of Disabled People’s Organizations of Copenhagen and the Enabling Village of Singapore.

Accessibility is a fundamental right and no citizen is disabled per se, rather they are deprived of capacities when faced by a socially created barrier in the surroundings.

The House of Disabled People’s Organizations of Copenhagen is a project that set out to demonstrate that a universal design adapted to the wellbeing of all does not entail a much higher expense than that of an ordinary building. It is simply a question of implementing this design from the outset, without stigmatising additions.

The ‘House’ is a building by the architects Cubo + Force4. It houses mainly offices, perfectly accessible to all from outside. Coloured lines on the floor lead from the street and serve as guides with slight tactile changes, with no barriers or obstacles for guide dogs or mobility sticks. 

The main atrium is shaped like a starfish with four arms, leading to the four office areas that make up the building. This shape, together with the whole design system based on colours, light and sound, facilitates orientation and integration by all. 

With this in mind, the importance of this space lies in the details: the double-height reception desk, which ensures that wheelchair users can be assisted in an equal manner at the level of their eye contact; door handles made from materials that can be operated with little force, designed for people with arthritis; lifts which are entered through one door and exited through another on the other side, so that wheelchairs do not have to manoeuvre to turn in such a limited space. 

Also of note is the design of the first equal evacuation system, with pressurised areas and functional lifts to ensure that nobody is left behind in the event of a fire. Thanks to this, the 300 employees (20% of whom have reduced mobility) can be evacuated in just 6 minutes. 

On the other side of the world, although sharing the same philosophy, is “The Enabling Village” in Singapore, signed by WOHA and defined as an inclusive community space. Here, as well as offices, areas are dedicated to education, catering, retail and lifestyle. 

For WOHA, universal design is the design of products and ambiences that are accessible and understandable for users, regardless of their age, size, ability or disability. And in their small oasis, they have applied these principles with barrier-free movement, replacing stairs with ramps (with an appropriate gradient), tactile floor indicators, signage in braille and an innovative system of audio induction loops to enable people with hearing difficulties to tune into the spaces with their hearing aids. 

Designing inclusive spaces is what will make our society a society of real well-being.

These cases shed a little light on us all, designers of change. We have a responsibility: that of not depriving any citizen of opportunities, contributing to the satisfaction of the rights of all individuals. At least when it comes to the design of the human habitat, and the rest, well… the rest is just the democracy of truth, from which to build foundations structured on diversity.


-Sara Antolín