Spaces That Heal | Erin Peavey, HKS & TEDx

Erin K. Peavey is an architect, researcher, and advocate for human-centered design. She joined me on the podcast to share insights on how design can combat loneliness and foster community. Here's what I learned.

Early experiences shaped her passion
Peavey’s passion for this topic stems in part from personal experiences caring for her mother, who had stage 4 cancer, and the isolation she felt after her mother passed away. Daily walks with her newborn daughter helped provide small but meaningful human connections during this difficult time.

Research points to the power of design
This experience led Peavey to dive into academic research on topics like social health, social connection, and social cohesion. She found strong evidence that factors of our physical environment can help meet core human needs for safety, bonding, and community.

The 6 pillars of designing spaces to nurture human connection
1. Sense of Place: Reflect local culture to foster belonging.
2. Accessibility: Ensure the space is welcoming and accessible to all people.
3. Nature: Incorporate natural elements and imagery, which are soothing and grounding.
4. Activation: Create “happenstance” interactions through features like sculptures or fountains.
5. Choice: Offer options to provide a sense of control.
6. Human Scale: Add elements like railings or canopies that provide enclosure.

Applying the framework to any space
Peavey provides examples of how to apply this framework to enhance spaces, from small touches like adding a railing to a porch, to city-wide events like festivals. Her insights offer practical guidance to designers, planners, and community leaders seeking to strengthen social ties.

Peavey continues to share knowledge and stories about designing for connection through her newly launched LinkedIn Newsletter Design for Happiness and her podcast “Shared Space.”


Learn more about Erin Peavey and HKS.

Erin is also well known for her TEDx Talk "Can design heal loneliness?"

Listen to the full podcast below.


  • Doug Shapiro
  • Erin Peavey
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