Our Third Skin
Western architectural schools, overwhelmed in the last two centuries by an intense and chaotic urbanization, have lost sight of one major fact – a house should fulfil three primary human needs: health, peace of mind and harmony with one’s environment.
Often the biological aspects of a house are neglected, because we forget that an unhealthy environment can have negative effects on our health.
Architect and interior designer Lucia De Nardi explains how important it is for the home to be an organism that is safe and sound.
Our homes perform the same functions as our outer skin. That’s why, in bio-architectural terms, the home is regarded as our “third skin,” the “second skin” being the clothes we wear. These “skins” protect our bodies from harmful external agents and guarantee our health and well being. The quality of the spaces we live in, the kind of fabrics our clothes are made of, as well as all those creams and cosmetics we put on our skin, have direct bearing on the health and quality of our lives.
Numerous international studies have shown that the ideal atmospheric conditions for humans correspond to a ratio of 60% negatively charged ions to 40% positively charged ions. This naturally occurring balance is often disturbed when there is static electricity present, thereby impoverishing the air we breathe. The net result is that we can develop a strong feeling of fatigue and discomfort. It has also been shown that living in rooms with particularly heavy static electricity predisposes us to illnesses such as stress, nervous conditions, high blood pressure, insomnia, and heart circulation problems.
[singlepic id=3 w=600 h=450 float=center]
There are two main characteristics to this “third skin” essential to making us feel good, allowing us “to breathe.” First, the “third skin” forms a kind of self-contained osmotic membrane that plays an active part in the biology of its inhabitants. Secondly, as much as possible, it is an environment as devoid of static electricity or electromagnetic fields. The result is a home where its residents sleep well, concentrate easily on their work and studies, and relax effortlessly.
Well-being, feeling comfortable and at home, depends also on furnishings and wall coverings. Preference should be given to eco-friendly, natural materials that are free from chemical solvents and additives.
In the last few years, wood has undergone a complete re-evaluation as a versatile material with aesthetically and structurally ideal qualities. Thanks to its suppleness, its tensile strength, and its capacity for energy dissipation, wood is now preferred above concrete in the construction of quake-proof buildings
It is a living material, and as such can adapt to continual changes in the microclimate that is our living space. Wood absorbs excess humidity in the air, and then can top it up when the air gets dry. Furniture, finishes, and furnishings made of naturally matured wood treated with beeswax, shellac, linseed oil and other herb-based solutions have the additional benefit of not releasing polluting chemicals into the environment. What’s more, they don’t register permanent surface static electricity, and thereby reduce the chance of dust accumulation.
In the kitchen, wood is a guarantor of hygiene, due to its ability to filter out bad smells and keep bacteria away. Vegetable baskets made of solid wood keep produce fresh for much longer.
Scientific confirmation that wood furnishings have a positive impact on one’s health comes from the Joanneum Research Institute for Noninvasive Diagnosis, Weiz, Austria. Over a period of twelve months, researchers from this Austrian study monitored and compared two secondary school classrooms. The first classroom had a wooden parquet floor, wooden furniture and cladding, whereas the second one had a floor covered with synthetic material, walls made of plasterboard, and PVC furnishings. The pupils in the first class were shown to have a more relaxed heartbeat: in fact, six beats a minute slower than those in the second classroom. This clearly demonstrated how wood furnishings produce a calming effect and reduce stress.
In a controlled study the same team analysed physical and psychological activity, such as sleep patterns, of adult volunteers during a three-week period. Volunteers were observed in rooms finished in Swiss stonepine (Pinus Cembra, the cembra pine), a conifer so well distributed over the whole Alpine region that it is known as “the queen of the Alps.” This study confirmed that furnishing materials have a significant impact, and provided evidence quality of sleep improved when using Swiss stonepine beds as compared to beds made of other materials.
[singlepic id=92 w=640 h=560 float=right]For healthy sleeping, choose a bed made of wood, with no glued components and with no steel or iron in the frame. To futher avoid electro-magnetic fields in your sleep area, look for carpentry joints and frames using wooden pins and pure rubber straps. Try not to keep clock radios, TVs, and telephones in the bedroom. Avoid putting electric cable in the wall area behind the headboard, such as electrical wires. If you prefer a bed without a headboard, don’t push it right up against the wall. Consider installing wood panelling or boarding, four to five cm thick – perfect insulation that could also provide for imaginative decoration above your headboard.
Metal frames are banned! Instead, choose supple, wooden staves, which used in combination with the right mattress will give you “sweet dreams.” The mattress, too, plays an important part. An ideal solution is to have a futon with a triple-decker structure – its heart being a natural latex rubber, between layers of wool and cotton. The latex from real rubber trees ensures a higher elasticity allowing your muscles to relax. The pure virgin wool maintains a constant temperature – cool in summer and warm in winter. The cotton breathes and absorbs excess humidity. And don’t rush your choice of covering! Your bed should be clothed in materials that are a hundred per cent natural fibres – linen sheets, cotton and natural silk (even better if they are organic), blankets made of pure virgin wool, and genuine goose-feather duvets.
Bio-architecture, replicating principals found in nature, concerns itself with how vital it is to our well-being to live in a healthy environment. This implies making design choices and taking measures to restore our health. We need to be discerning in our choices with regard to the quality of manufactured materials and objects that surround us. The criteria we use to make these choices should be based in the logic of eco-sustainability, with particular attention paid to the impact, and repercussions, materials may have on our health over the long term. After all we’d be off our heads if we put any cream on our skin that could harm us. That’s why well-considered built environments, using eco-materials in appropriate combinations, will safeguard the health of people living in them.