In the recent years health and wellbeing have been main topics of discussion in relation to building design, both in residential and commercial buildings. A large amount of research has been carried out on the relationships between building parameters and associated thermal comfort and wellbeing, however considering the subjectivity and vulnerability of some of those, it is definitely not being an easy job.
In this context, the Well Building Standard (WELL) has emerged as a way to measure people’s comfort in office building and it is informed by 7 years of research related to the impacts of the built environment on human health.
The standard puts health and wellness at the centre of design and construction decisions, in an effort to create more productive offices for staff, but also pushing for better quality in buildings, whereas others, such as BSRIA’s Rod Bunn, believe something as subjective as wellbeing cannot – and should not – be measured and compacted into a single rating.
Cundall Engineering office at One Carter Lane in London (just opposite of San Paul’s Cathedral) is one of the first projects in Europe registered to pursue the Well accreditation, whereas in USA few buildings have already achieved the standard.
The parameters tested were: air, water, nourishment, fitness, mind, light and comfort.
Natural materials have been preferred such as oak and birch ply for furnitures and recycled nylon for carpets. In this way, the levels of VOC (volatile organic compounds) have been kept as low as possible to ensure no toxic particles are present and good indoor air quality is maintained through the operational phase of the building life. Also CO2 levels are monitored, so when high quantities of carbon dioxide (which are the cause of dizziness and feel of sleepiness) are detected through CO2 sensors, fresh air is drawn into the room to bring them down.
According to the Well Standard, plants play a big part in the wellbeing of human beings, as a result green walls have been spread across the office as they have restorative effects on people. According to Cundall the most benefits derive from the roots of the plants, when the oxygenation process takes place. So fans have been install in the proximity of the roots to pull air from the office and recirculating it back into the room.
It’s also interesting to see how spaces are organised in the building in order to get at least 30% of the staff to eat lunch together as required by the Well standard. A specific eating/kitchen area has been designed in the foyer with benches and tables so people can have a separate space were having their lunch and a chat to completly switch off from work. This is also supposed to bring people to eat healthier as it has been seen that when peers eat together, they try to go for healthier food choices.
Obviously, all of this has a cost which represent an investment in an healthy working environment for the employees and an ethical and marketing choice for the firm, which aims to attract the best professionals in the field. Will this pay off in terms of productivity of the staff? ‘If you give people a better environment to work in they are going to be more productive and are going to enjoy more coming to work’. So looking at the long term payback for companies there should be an increase in productivity, but most importantly this could become a mainstream trend which has the potential to rise quality of life in workspaces and to incentive a more human being focused design. Setting a new benchmark for sustainable design dictated not only by the reduction in carbon emissions but also by an happier and healthier work environment.
Cibse Journal issue September 2016
Featured Image of this post via Cundall website, credit Dirk Lindner