Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts


Interior Design

First Advisor

Roberto Ventura

Second Advisor

Kristin Carleton

Third Advisor

Emily Smith

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Sara Reed

Fifth Advisor

Timothy Hamnett

Sixth Advisor

Laura Battaglia




Currently in the US, 4 million families in need of affordable housing are not housed in affordable units and are spending 30-50% of their monthly income toward rent (Aurand, 2023.) Due to this shortage of affordable housing and the trajectory of its growth, advocacy groups and policy makers are making a push to fund more affordable housing projects. What if the designs of these projects were informed in such a way that individual and community mental health and wellness could be addressed in addition to meeting the demand for affordable, safe shelter? In this way, the return on investment for the funding of these projects would be significantly increased, in the form of the ripple effects caused by increased community well-being.


Government standards for affordable housing projects (and thus, funding initiatives) focus solely on the economics of the building and the physical health and safety of residents (, 2023.) Given the growing body of evidence pointing toward the mental health and well-being benefits of biophilic design, this project makes a call to action to amend current HUD building standards to include biophilic design characteristics so that mental health and well-being are also addressed by tax-payer funded building projects.


Evidence-based design practices within the healthcare and workplace industries have made significant strides in the last few decades, developing and implementing strategies for successfully bridging research and design practices. (Hamilton, 2009) This has resulted in better informed design decisions that positively affect the health of patients and staff (healthcare) and increased productivity and retention (workplace.) With the general goal of an overall increase in community mental health and wellbeing, to what extent could similar evidence-based design efforts be applied within the affordable housing design industry? And what specific benefits could residents and communities realize as a result of this implementation?


Using relevant existing research, precedents of “social housing” projects in Austria, interviews with current residents of affordable housing projects, and interviews with affordable housing designers Kia Weatherspoon & Sarah McInerney, this project will identify and define specific biophilic design methods in the context of affordable housing design which are particularly likely to have a significant beneficial impact on the overall mental health and well-being of residents, and thus surrounding communities.


Research around the impact of home environments on its residents indicates that the built environment has a significant impact on overall mental health and well-being (Amerio, 2020.) Analysis and reviews of research in the areas of environmental psychology, restorative environments, and evidence-based design applied in various building types consistently indicate the principles of biophilic design as an effective framework for making design decisions in the built environment (Hamilton, 2009, Peters, 2021.) Biophilic Design principles include design characteristics that promote the human-nature relationship via exposure to nature itself, natural light, views of nature, and nature imagery/natural patterns.


Specified, evidence-based, biophilic design methods will inform specific suggestions for additions to the current HUD requirements for affordable housing building projects. Additionally, set within the context of a Mid-Atlantic City of 250,000, a proposal of an affordable housing/adaptive reuse design project will demonstrate a prototype of the identified evidence-based, biophilic design methods.


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