We’ve all heard of the campaign to “green” our buildings, legitimized in part by certification systems like LEED and the Living Building Challenge. But increasingly there’s a movement for designers to improve the wellbeing, not only of the environment, but of ourselves along with it. Drawing upon the WELL Building Standard guidelines, here are four key areas in building design that greatly impact the health, wellness and productivity of human beings.
We breathe more than 15,000 litres of it every day, so it’s not surprising to learn that poor air quality can lead to diminished work productivity, irritated eyes, skin and airways, and headache and fatigue. Ensuring proper ventilation and air filtration design, reducing mould on HVAC cooling coils using ultraviolet lamps, and selecting the right materials, paints and sealants are just some of the ways to design for improved air quality in the workplace.
Not only poor water quality, but even slight dehydration can have negative effects such as muscle cramps, dry skin and headaches. By implementing robust filtration systems and promoting water consumption through increased access to (and proper maintenance of) water dispensers, employers can help improve the health and functionality of their staff.
As is well known, poor diet is linked to a wide variety of health issues. Fortunately a number of design solutions are available. By making fresh and wholesome foods more readily available and promoting them through experience-design techniques such as placing vegetable-based dishes at the beginning of the service line, or supplying plates no more than 24 centimetres in diameter, we can gently intervene in human habits to make healthier, more informed choices.
Humans have internal clocks that synchronize physiological functions on a roughly 24-hour cycle called the circadian rhythm. In order to maintain that rhythm, the body responds to a number of external cues – among which light is the most important. Through a variety of design strategies, such as the simple act of providing workers with better access to windows, or choosing surfaces with higher light reflectance values (LRVs), designers can ensure that the light is sufficiently bright, free of glare, and appropriately coloured. That means higher alertness, improved mood – and most importantly, better sleep.
Presented with the opportunity to improve engagement in the workplace, employers are taking note. In May 2016, the 23rd floor of the TD Bank Centre in Toronto was announced the world’s first WELL-certified project under WELL v1. The renovation of 2,322 square metres of corporate office space met the necessary criteria across WELL’s seven core categories – air, water, food, light, fitness, comfort and mind – to earn it a Gold-level certification. Modifications included the installation of a carbon filtration system, adjustable height desks, healthier food and beverage options, and the addition of a technology-free “tranquility room.”