Sustainable Design for Humans
In 2013, Delos established the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) to administer the WELL standard in late 2014. The IWBI describes the standard as “[marrying] best practices in design and construction with evidence-based medical and scientific research – harnessing the built environment as a vehicle to support human health and wellbeing.”
NAIOP asked Carol Rickard-Brideau, AIA, LEED BD+C, WELL AP (provisional), partner and global workplace practice leader at international architecture and design firm LITTLE, to share her thoughts on the WELL standard and how this investment in people pays off for businesses.
NAIOP: Why is the WELL Building Standard important?
As our evolutionary responses have developed, our bodies have been programmed to respond to cues in our environment – and much of what is designed today is giving our systems the wrong messages. This can lead to chronic health conditions like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and even certain cancers. The most alarming aspect to consider is that very few organizations or design professionals recognize the benefits of designing for wellness and actively apply these principles to the built environment. WELL building design isn’t something that’s just “cool” or “good PR” – it’s a tangible aspect of design that can help a building’s inhabitants operate at peak effectiveness, maintain physical and mental well-being, and actually help them lead happier, healthier and more productive lives. In an architectural sense, it is the ultimate investment in people.
NAIOP: How do companies and individual employees benefit from working in a WELL building?
Because of human neurology, the way that we design space has a direct impact on a wide number of physical and mental health and productivity factors. Things like memory and cognition, fatigue, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal health and even mood disorders can be directly affected by our environments. The most progressive organizations competing for the brightest hires are seeing wellness as a significant, measurable benefit to the people they are seeking to recruit and retain. Our clients increasingly encounter customers, investors, stakeholders or employees seeking to align themselves with organizations that focus on having a positive impact on the environment and the people who inhabit their spaces. In fact, wellness can be considered sustainable design for humans.
NAIOP: What are examples of the types of features or technologies that might be incorporated into a WELL building?
The WELL Building Standard emphasizes the whole human and takes seven different facets of the built environment and policy into account: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind, and there are a number of different features that can be built into a WELL Certified building.
Air: This takes into account things like the basic quality of the air circulating through a building, microbe and mold control. It also includes permanent entryway walk-off systems that help reduce particulates tracked into a building that then get introduced into an HVAC system, and cleaning protocols.
Water: The fundamental quality of the building’s water supply is examined for sediments and microorganisms, as well as organic and inorganic contaminants. Water treatment systems like active carbon filters, drinking water access and maintenance schedules can be used to help promote healthy drinking water.
Nourishment: In facilities with food service, providing a wide variety of healthy food choices that promote better eating habits and food culture are a part of this category’s focus. There are limits on processed foods and those that antagonize allergies, as well as on requirements for safe food preparation.
Light: Installing user-controlled task lighting for visual acuity is one of the features in this category, as well as ensuring that building occupants have exposure to natural daylight to stop circadian rhythm disruption. The control of solar glare through automated shading and dimming controls helps increase productivity and reduce eye strain.
Fitness: Promoting the use of stairs over elevators by making them interesting or creating a more useful way for people to get more active and less sedentary are part of the focus in this category. Also included is furniture that helps people change their posture – like sit/stand desks. Activity incentive programs, like gym reimbursements or other structured fitness opportunities, and fitness equipment help to reinforce a more active, less sedentary culture.
NAIOP: Are there ways that existing, outdated buildings – for which razing and rebuilding are not an option – can try to incorporate some of the features and technologies that exist in WELL buildings?
Absolutely – it’s a great sustainability strategy! We just recently completed a WELL Building renovation on a Superfund site. There are many ways to do that through the installation of new building systems and features. Making sure that everyone in a building has access to natural daylight by keeping the window line open, minimizing non-glazed interior walls, and allowing natural light to bounce as deeply into a space as possible or introducing light wells helps to minimize circadian disruption. Using biophilic finish materials and patterns helps to reduce blood pressure and stress levels. Getting people more active as an extension of their natural behaviors in a space – through the use of fitter furniture of other features – not only helps maintain physical health but also increases memory and cognition.
Read more about Building for Wellness in the summer 2016 issue of Development magazine.
Brielle Scott is Senior Communications Manager at NAIOP.