A former Richmond woman has attracted media attention in Australia for her work designing buildings that help to achieve better outcomes for mental health services and their patients. Stephanie Liddicoat, whose parents still live in Richmond, last month was the focus of a story in the Herald Sun in Melbourne, which looked at her research designing environments to support health and well-being.
Stephanie, who runs her own consultancy practice and will be awarded a PhD next month, says as part of her research she spoke to patients, their carers and loved ones, therapists, clinicians, architects who design mental health service environments, and design researchers, to better understand how to design buildings that improve well-being. Through this she developed a set of design guidelines to facilitate more supportive therapeutic environments, across inpatient and outpatient/community settings.
“I am driven by the idea that the buildings we inhabit can change how we feel,” Stephanie says. “To shape meaningful architecture is to understand this responsibility, and use it to instigate innovation and change. What if architecture could help patients when they are at their most vulnerable? How might such spaces be designed?” Evidence-based design is an emerging area of research, she says.
“Fundamentally, we know that the buildings we inhabit can shape our everyday lives; how we interact with each other, how we live, how we see ourselves, and how we represent and experience our communities. “In parallel, the rapidly increasing rates of mental illness is fast becoming an urgent global concern, with significant health and economic impacts worldwide.” Compounding that is a rapidly ageing population, and other health sectors that rely on supportive, effective-built infrastructure to meet community needs.
“We are investing billions of dollars in new healthcare facilities, and need to ensure this investment is well spent. My work links contemporary research into building design, which can enhance and support well-being, with architectural practice.”
The demand for that type of expertise is growing, she says. “Governments and healthcare agencies are seeing the value that comes with good design of health facilities: improved patient recovery, reduced complications post-surgery, increased communication between patients and their healthcare team, reduced incidences of violence and aggression, and increased staff well-being and retention.
“In some instances, good design practice can even save lives.” Following her schooling in Richmond and Nelson, Stephanie studied at Victoria University in Wellington, before heading to Melbourne. Her architectural career started at grass roots level. A Nelson College for Girls field trip to the school of architecture at Victoria University in Wellington sealed the deal.
“From this moment on I absorbed all the architectural details of Richmond that I could, engaged with the local Tasman District Council to conduct an inventory of the 100-plus historically-listed hop-kilns throughout the area, and even returned to Nelson years later to examine a series of therapeutic environments as part of my research at The University of Melbourne.
“My humble home town is rich with opportunities and was the starting point for my career trajectory.”