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Design with Health and Wellness in Mind

© Elkus Manfredi Architects
By Alana Spencer, LEED AP BD+C / Sustainability Leader
September 21, 2017

We spend 90% of our lives indoors. N-i-n-e-ty percent. Now, take notice of your current surroundings.  Think about the following topics:  cleanliness of the air coming in through the vents, paints/sealants/adhesives used within the space; potentially harmful ingredients you are breathing in, contaminants in the water you are currently drinking, the temperature of your location, proximity to natural light and the outdoors throughout the day, your production level. Are you happy after reflection? If not….

Welcome to the age of wellness. With the emergence of health as a driver in planning, design, construction, and operations, sustainable design is ushering in new frameworks and requirements to address and measure wellness-promoting features and strategies.

As we spend a large portion of our lives in the workplace, commercial and corporate interior spaces are focusing on wellness to retain/ attract talent while increasing productivity. Founded on the basis of scientific and medical research, frameworks such as WELL and Fitwel are dedicated to health, while other systems such as LEED, SITES, and Living Building Challenge have certain features that address health, but mainly focus on the environment. There are similarities within each rating system, focused on health and wellness; and here are the highlights.

The WELL Building Standard is focused exclusively on the health and well-being of building occupants. It's grounded in evidence-based research that demonstrates the connection between the buildings/spaces and health and wellness impacts on us as occupants.  It's preconditions and optimizations cover: improved indoor air quality; enhanced water quality; promotion of healthy eating habits; lighting/surroundings to improve energy, mood and productivity; encouragement of physical activity in daily life; distraction-free, productive, and comfortable indoor environment; and mental/emotional health.

Fitwel is also focused solely on health and well-being of building occupants. Labeled as "the cost-effective, high impact, and health promoting building certification", Fitwel offers a unique approach to health and wellness. It's Health Impact Categories address: community health; instilling feelings of well-being; increased physical activity; reducing morbidity + absenteeism; providing healthy food options; supporting social equality for vulnerable populations; and promoting occupant safety.

SITES targets sustainable land design and development. Used by landscape architects, designers, engineers, architects, developers, and policy-makers, SITES offers a comprehensive rating system which acknowledges that people are a part of, not apart from, the environment. While mainly focused on the environment, SITES does contain a section of design metrics that address the human health attributes of site design. There are eight categories and the Human Health + Well-Being  category focuses on: re-connection of humans to nature; enhanced physical, mental, and social well-being; education that promotes understanding of natural systems, value of landscapes; encouraging cultural integrity and regional identity; and community involvement and advocacy.

LEED, a veteran of green building standards, focuses on the environment with portions dedicated to health and wellbeing within two credit categories.  Materials and Resources promotes the selection of healthy materials and Indoor Air Quality addresses air quality, acoustical and thermal comfort, and low emitting material selection.

Living Building Challenge like LEED focuses on the environmental impact of the building but its requirements are more robust.  There are several petals that address health and wellness. These include: healthy interior environment, restricted materials, universal access to nature and art / design for human delight.

In order to successfully deliver high performance design with integrated health and wellness features, there are best practices that must be considered at the beginning of each project. These include: initial feasibility analysis to determine what is achievable for the project space and its budget; early integration of all consultants to align at the onset; dedicated energy and water roadmap assessment and also addressing a construction masterplan in design.

Overall, during this push towards wellness, we’ll witness commercial and corporate interior projects taking a closer look into design and construction with a focus on the health and well-being of occupants. It’s new age.