We read John Casson's letter (aj 4.2.99) with interest. We agree with all the points of his thorough review of the environmental needs of mental- health patients and their carers. We are writing in response to his invitation to do so, but in particular because the heading the letter carries might suggest that mental-health patient care is the delimitation of architecture's impact.
Architecture's role in the inducement and maintenance of mental health in ordinary everyday life has a wider and a probably more crucial impact. The built environment used by children and adults for a wide and normal variety of activities and purposes, has a significant bearing upon mental and psychological development, which plays its part in reducing future demand upon mental health services.
The mental health of children and adults is fostered through self regard, enjoyment of spaces and places alone or in the company of others, free from anxiety and stress and with the opportunity for relaxation and recreation in colourful, well-lit, warm, well-maintained and accessible buildings and external spaces.
However, many buildings, such as nurseries, playgroups, primary and secondary schools, libraries and museums, sports facilities, surgeries, clinics and hospitals, are often left over from some previous age or purpose, are worn out, are invariably overcrowded and under-resourced, and are often not easily accessible. Even those that are new and purpose-built, often do not achieve a quality of environment conducive to mental well- being. Moreover, the quality of housing, both old and new, and the lack of supporting infrastructure are often conducive to mental health. This, in spite of the outstanding but isolated examples that appear from time to time in the aj!
There is more to architecture's impact on mental health than its provision for patient care. After all, in addition to ourselves, all there is to work with is the environment.
SARAH AND JAMES LEWIS