Interview with Valentina Cereda, Integrative Architect
Valentina Cereda is the Founder of Energy & Space, and has worked as an Architect for the past 15 years. She has designed and delivered spaces for some of the biggest names in corporate, hospitality, and residential developments.
Her experience and knowledge in all scales of design, from the scale of a tea spoon to a masterplan development, combined with her passion for nature, led Valentina to travel the globe in the past ten years, to study and specialise in ancient and contemporary sciences to be integrated in the architectural practice, to help her clients creating conscious natural spaces that truly support health and wellbeing. Valentina describes herself as an Integrative Architect, as she integrates her architectural skills with Building Biology and Electromagnetic radiations, Classical Feng Shui, Dowsing, and Land Energy sciences, to create happy conscious environments.
Part of Valentina’s work and unique approach is to integrate health and well-being into each layer of the design, from the master plan to the finishes selection and electrical systems, supporting her clients to create spaces that naturally “feel good”, where people feel whole, present and nurtured.
Let’s start with the basics – what is an ‘Integrative Architect’ and Wellness Architecture?
To understand what an ‘Integrative Architect’ is, or what wellness architecture is, we need to look back at the last 100 years of building and design, and how it has become so disconnected from nature and the land. Unfortunately, the materials we have all been using to create our homes, workplaces and buildings to house hospitality have been filled with toxins and chemicals that can lead to us becoming ill. No one has questioned these decisions until recently, and I believe it is so important to incorporate scientific learnings and take into account the environment around us when creating new builds and working on older buildings.
Wellness architecture is the practice of architecture that relies on the art and science of designing built environments with conscious systems and materials, to promote the harmonious balance between physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual wellbeing, while regenerating the natural environment. Human health, wellbeing and comfort are key design considerations that augment a foundation rooted in regenerative design practices that promote health and wellbeing.
Tell us more about how you believe the building environment affects our health and wellbeing?
There are quite a few examples of how buildings can affect our health, such as highly toxic mould which can lead to many respiratory problems. Mould is a big problem and it is often the fault of the design and decisions made during the build. You need to design buildings with the external environment in mind – the same materials can’t be used in a damp English city, as in a skyscraper in the UAE, for example.
Another thing to consider is how our bodies absorb toxins. As humans, we do this in four ways; through eating, through inhalation, through absorption and choosing to inject things. Two out of the four, inhalation and absorption, are all through our environment – yet we spend so little time considering these elements and how they affect our health. Most people concentrate on the external (so, what you choose to eat or drink), rather than the environment. For example, the environment in your house or office, or what the room you sleep in is like. To live healthier lives, we need to combine the physical, natural, spiritual and environmental.
There are lots of studies that show how access to natural light and nature can help us concentrate and focus, as well as improve our mood and overall happiness, which can be easy to incorporate into design. However, what we don’t do is look at the invisible elements; what is in the paint, are there a lot of electromagnetic fields present, is the electric wiring up to the right standard? We don’t realise how much these things affect us and our health.
What inspired you to want to align your builds more with nature and how do you put it into practice?
I was inspired many years ago, while I was in Switzerland. I was walking through a forest and suddenly the trees stopped, the road ahead curved and there was a beautiful lake in front of me. The natural smells, the sight of the trees and the turquoise of the lake gave me such a feeling of awe, I just had to stop and soak it all in. It was so powerful and a moment that really changed me. I realised the buildings we are always surrounded by should also give us that feeling of awe! At the time I was working with some huge corporations and completed incredible projects, but every time we visited our new builds, there was always the smell of new paint and a disconnect from the natural world, which just wasn’t sitting right. In that moment, I realised I wanted to do it a different way, connecting to nature and improving our health at the same time.
As well as working with companies and developers, we often work with individuals who have been referred through their doctors. They have been through lots of tests and the doctors have realised it must be something in their living or working environment affecting their health, so we investigate what could be causing this. We can take their symptoms and work backwards, to find the causes in their environment. We find issues in both new and existing buildings, there is a lot of work to be done!
How do you manage the balance of sustainable materials with healthy materials?
Sustainability is really important, but it can be very different from healthy. For example, a recycled carpet tile is sustainable, but can contain a high concentration of chemicals, so we need to find a balance of what is good for nature and what is good for health. This is why we offer bespoke wellness design strategies – we can tailor it, so for an individual’s home it would be better to use a porcelain tile for the health benefits, but for a more corporate or hospitality, the larger quantity needed means a recycled carpet tile would be better.
Are there any particular wellbeing materials you love working with, or think should be used more in the future?
I believe that natural paint is where we should all be starting! The biggest surfaces in our homes are always painted, so it would make a big difference if we used paint made out of natural materials and minerals, rather than water based acrylic paints which are actually plastic and not healthy. There are downsides in that mineral-based paint, as it has a short shelf life, which is why it would be best if every country made their own based on the materials available to them from their own resources. There is so much we can do but this is a great place to begin!
Can you tell us about some projects in the last year you’re particularly proud of?
There are three from 2022 that I’m particularly proud of!
Firstly, we worked with a developer on a well-being design contract to create healthy homes. It is fantastic when developers invest in making homes healthier, as it often costs more in materials (sometimes around 25 – 30% more) but is such a fantastic investment in the long term health of the people who will live in them.
Secondly, something completely different was a wellness consultation for a farm in the UAE. The farm was home to cattle and camels, and we worked with both the land and farm buildings, ensuring the health of the workers and the animals. There were so many things to consider, such as the use of solar panels and how they affect the animal’s health – in some ways it was so different when you’re working with animals but it ends up being very similar to humans!
Lastly, there was a hospitality project where we helped update older rooms to ensure a good night’s sleep. Hotels can be fundamentally bad for sleep because of the electromagnetic waves, so we were able to put in healthier strategies for better sleep by reducing these elements.
What do you think will be the big trends in wellness architecture in 2023?
I believe a big trend will be incorporating a feeling of ‘awe’ into design and architecture – we need emotional connections, both through the natural materials we use and the feeling of bringing the ‘outside in’. The trend of biophilia has been around for a long time in design, where people work to bring nature inside our spaces, but I feel this needs to be taken another step forward and make sure nature is included in all the elements – including the materials used!
How do you work with Raison d’Etre?
We are in the process of working towards wellness design guidelines with Raison d’Etre, so watch this space!
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