Olaf Recktenwald, MArch, MPhil, PhD
Nominated From: University of Washington
Research Site: Peru
Research Area: The Built Environment and Mental Health
Primary Mentor: Joseph Zunt
The Impact of Communal Porches on Mental Health Conditions in a Floating Community at the Peruvian Amazon Basin
Iquitos, capital city of the Loreto Region and the largest urban settlement within the Peruvian Amazon rainforest, sits within a basin which draws its waters from the Amazon, Nanay and Itaya rivers. Throughout its past, Iquitos’ inhabitants have largely migrated by boat from rural jungle settings in search of employment, health care, education, and the like. In recent years this relocation has been exacerbated and more people have taken up residence in informal, legally unrecognized, urban “slum” settlements. In 2009, 56% of the city’s residents lived in impoverished conditions, 21% more than the country as a whole. Displaced from their native habitats and subject to discrimination from the denizens of Iquitos, many migrants ended up living in asentamientos flotantes, or floating settlements. There, poverty and sub-standard environmental circumstances often led to a variety of mental health concerns. In Peru, neuropsychiatric disorders are believed to encompass 22%, or the leading cause, of disease burden in the country. Mental, neurological, and substance use disorders affect 1 in 5 persons. Despite these known parameters, mental health conditions go largely undiagnosed and undertreated. The known impact that the built environment has on such conditions is dealt with even less. One particular floating community in Iquitos, that of Claverito, is located directly below the city center and holds approximately 50 houses and 250 persons. In low-tide season (June to November) the houses rest on the ground and in high-tide season (December to May) they float on water. Their houses are built in an ad hoc manner, often with materials scavenged from the city above, and contain poor sanitation and safety measures. Building technologies brought from rural rainforest settings merge with those learned in Iquitos. These architectural adaptations, however, focus solely on individual homes. Built communal spaces are all but non-existent. One specific communal space, however, does make a marginal appearance: the house porch. Historically, the porch is that architectural moment which allows for the occupants’ direct interaction with neighbors, a street, and a community. Even more so than a balcony, porches act as a communicative portion of the house, one which is both private and public and which blurs interior and exterior elements. The project will investigate the mental health impact of providing such communal porches for the inhabitants of Claverito, Iquitos.
Architecture influences a person’s mood: how they feel and how they are encouraged to act, behave and think. Through the application of healing design concepts to the built environment it is possible to improve the mental health of a community. This study will assess the degree to which communal spaces, or house porches, can improve mental well-being and enhance the sense of belonging to the city for the inhabitants.
Advice for Potential Candidates
First, identify your specific research and learning goals, then browse the mentors list and see who’s doing work that interests you. Schedule phone meetings if in-person is impossible (I’d highly recommend NOT doing it post-call, whoops), and find out where you overlap. Often, that first meeting helps provide direction for the next round of people to reach out to.
- Dr. Joseph Zunt, Department of Global Health, Neurology, Epidemiology, University of Washington, USA
- Dr. Benjamin Spencer, Department of Global Health and Landscape Architecture, University of Washington, USA
- Dr. Jorge Alarcón, Department of Global Health and Epidemiology, University of Washington, Universidad Mayor de San Marcos, USA, Peru