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Ashleigh James

MA work

Public happiness: A Sanatorium for the city

My thesis explores the recent surge in importance of happiness at the level of the individual, the nation and focusing on it’s inclusion within the wider umbrella on health and the potential implications on healthcare provisions to provide for a societies well being.

Since 1998 internet searches for the word ‘happiness’ have tripled since, a recent survey identified happiness as the main driver behind videos and images going viral, Harvard now offers the first positive psychology degree, Google has appointed chief happiness officers, Gross Domestic Happiness may replace Gross Domestic Product in measuring a country’s success, and the UN has acknowledged the pursuit of happiness as a fundamental human goal. 

Driven by greater scientific understanding of the subject, commercial commodification of our universal desire to be happier, and a global shift in political thinking towards the importance of happiness, our desire for happiness is more present than ever. It is manifesting in the ridiculous to the radical: from the apps on our phone, books on our shelves, our pharmacy prescriptions, public policy and political agendas. 

The mounting importance of the ‘happy’ groundswell is seen in our current institutions and organisations as they adopt and embrace happiness in advertising campaigns, school curriculums, public health acts and company wellness contracts. 

With an increasing body of research supporting the importance of our environment on the healing process and a growing dissatisfaction with out current hospitals, we are on the verge of a new period in healthcare spaces that moves away from the post war institutions, towards patient centred healing environments driven by engaged and therapeutic architectural design.

My project explores the potentials of emerging healthcare typologies addressing this changing definition of health, it aims to challenge current societal expectations of healthcare and provide a new health setting that reconnects health, in particular public well-being to the city.


  • MA Degree


    School of Architecture


    MA Architecture, 2016

  • My studies at the RCA have been an opportunity to explore my growing interest in healthcare and design: from every day objects through to the distribution of healthcare infrastructure and public policy. I am interested in how, through the design process, we can challenge and progress our expectations and current provisions of healthcare.

  • Degrees

  • BSc (Hons) Architecture, The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, 2011; DipHE Medical Sciences, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, 2014
  • Experience

  • Architectural assistant, Brian O'Reilly Architects, London, 2012; Architectural assistant, MASS Design Group, Kigali, Summer 2015
  • Awards

  • WCCA Stuart Murphy Travel Award 2015