By: Kelly Martin, M.S., NCIDQ, IDEC, ASID, IIDA, CD, LEED AP
Interior Design Lecturer, Auburn University

For the past several years, I have had the honor of teaching the Interior Design for Health and Wellness class to interior design students at Auburn University. In this class, we have focused on a variety of topics over the years, from design of senior living communities to design of healthcare clinics with a focus on mental health and wellness.  At the beginning of each semester, I like to introduce the course in terms of big picture concepts: how we can help people live long and live well through design, how we can support both physical and mental health, and perhaps most importantly, but also most challenging, how we can promote health equity through interior design.

Each year in the class, Dr. David Chae, a Harvard graduate who is now Associate Dean for Research at the School of Public Health at Tulane University, gives a presentation explaining health disparities, what they are and how they come about in the first place.  You have likely heard quite a bit about health disparities on the news over the past year in relation to COVID-19.  However, to be clear, I like to refer to Margaret Whitehead’s (1991) definition of health disparities as differences in health that “are unnecessary and avoidable but, in addition, are also considered unfair and unjust.”  An introduction of this topic with Dr. Chae always leads to a healthy dialogue in the classroom.  The question arising each year from students is “we understand what health disparities are but how can we address this issue through interior design?”  To that question, the students and I are still trying to find the answer.

I believe, in many ways, the interior design profession is already combating health disparities through its very definition: “Qualified by means of education, experience, and examination, interior designers have a moral and ethical responsibility to protect consumers and occupants through the design of code-compliant, accessible, and inclusive interior environments that address well-being, while considering the complex physical, mental, and emotional needs of people” (cidq.org).  By designing public spaces that are compliant with accessibility guidelines, we ensure all are welcome regardless of background or ability level.  By meeting standards for fire and life safety, we make choices that indiscriminately save lives.  I am hopeful that, as interior designers, we will continue to listen to the needs of the communities in which we design and seek opportunities to support health equity for all.

I invite you to join me and my students at Auburn University to develop design solutions for the problem of health disparities.  To hear Dr. Chae’s explanation of health disparities, you can view his TED Talk here:  https://youtu.be/ClBjIdpjb78.  If you have any ideas or are interested in working with my class, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].

References:

University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. County Health Rankings State Report 2020, https://www.countyhealthrankings.org/sites/default/files/media/document/CHR2020_AL_v2.pdf

Whitehead, M. (1991). The concepts and principles of equity and health. Health promotion international6(3), 217-228.

 

Kelly Martin is an award-winning Interior Design Lecturer at Auburn University. She holds her B.S. and M.S. degrees from Auburn and is currently working toward a Ph.D. Her professional background involves working in the interior design industries in New York, Birmingham, and San Francisco. She is passionate about healthcare interior design and is driven to generate design research that supports the health and well-being of people throughout the beautiful state of Alabama.  256-577-8630 (cell)  [email protected]