Lauren Friedrich (MArch ’16) on connections between architecture, physical movement, and health

Lauren Friedrich with a model of Gund Hall that she prepared for her Master in Architecture thesis. Photo: Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Lauren Friedrich (MArch ’16) has always been interested in physical fitness, the mechanics of the human body, and questions of human strength and flexibility. As her design education progressed, she grew increasingly interested in the interaction between the physical body and the built environment in which it lives. This interest would inspire her Master in Architecture thesis at the GSD.

“Architecture, as the foundation for most of the body’s experiences, possesses substantial opportunity to influence the physical health and mental acuity of both the body and the brain, to disrupt the human tendency toward homeostasis, to broaden adaptability, and to move the body variably, as it was designed to do,” Friedrich writes in her thesis-presentation summary boards.

“Unfortunately, we cannot expect that simply telling someone that their body is at risk will be enough to change their behavior. What we can do, however, is to design an environment that better accommodates the human body’s need to move, and to help the individual transition to a more intentional way of life.”

This concept—enabling and encouraging a range of movement, rather than routine, for the physical body—formed the framework for Friedrich’s thesis, which she discussed recently with the Harvard Gazette.

Friedrich’s curiosity about architecture’s physical impact led her to speak with a range of experts across Harvard. She talked with Jill Johnson, Harvard’s dance director, about dance and movement; with Mary Tomey-Streeto, senior safety officer at Harvard’s Office of Environmental Health & Safety, about ergonomics; with scientists and physicians at Harvard Medical School, faculty at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Graduate School of Education, and other experts throughout the University. She also consulted students and others about everyday habits and routines.

Friedrich categorized, and then reimagined, physical spaces in the GSD's Gund Hall based on what types of variable movement they might enable.
Friedrich categorized, and then reimagined, physical spaces in the GSD’s Gund Hall based on what types of variable movement they might enable.

A GSD class with professor of urban planning Ann Forsyth on healthy places helped Friedrich begin to connect much of this dialogue and research. She worked closely with thesis advisor Florian Idenburg, associate professor in practice of architecture, to synthesize her research into an approach to the built environment. She focused on these main solutions: stressing the body to moderation; progressive adaptation of movement; and variation in movement.

To learn more, visit Friedrich’s Q&A with the Harvard Gazette.