Why Wellbeing is the new standard for building design

Thomas Vazakas, Technical Director, explains why he thinks the WELL Building Standard, promoting wellness at the heart of design considerations, will become the norm.

Over the last 20 years legislators, developers and landlords have typically focused on providing energy efficient and environmentally certified buildings, demonstrated by the prevalence of building performance assessment methods such as BREEAM and LEED. However in recent years we have seen a growing awareness of how the built environment can impact upon wellbeing. As such, the focus has shifted toward designing and creating buildings that have a positive impact on the people that occupy them; resulting in greater demand for ‘healthy buildings’.

Arguably, the most significant step in this direction has been the introduction and uptake of the WELL Building Standard (WELL), launched in 2014. The result of years of research and development in collaboration with major universities, hospitals and other institutions; WELL provides a set of guidelines and standards for designing buildings that aim to make people happier, healthier, and more productive under seven categories: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.

Although its features can be applied across many building sectors, WELL version 1.0 is specifically applicable to commercial and institutional building - within which employees are one of the primary groups of occupants.

The benefits of a healthy work environment can be felt by both employer and employee; a healthier workforce can mean increased employee engagement, productivity and often satisfaction – all of which can aid staff retention. Add to this the fact that personnel costs significantly outweigh the costs for design, construction, operation and maintenance over the lifetime of a building and the commercial incentive becomes clear.

By placing people at the heart of design and development decisions, WELL can provide a meaningful return on investment to the tenant and building owner. It is no surprise then that within less than three years since it was introduced, 35 buildings worldwide have achieved WELL certification and another 500 are working towards it.

The cost and practicality of design measures to achieve certification means that, to begin with, WELL will more likely be achieved in new, high profile buildings – rather than as standard..

However, in the future we could see occupiers considering the achievement of wellbeing criteria as much a part of the norm for prime space as a minimum BREEAM or EPC rating is today.

RPS is a WELL AP (Accredited Professional) organisation. Find out more about our services.

Developing buildings that optimise our wellbeing may still be in its infancy stages, but I believe we have taken a step towards a new generation of buildings that help people work, live, perform and feel their best.

Thomas Vazakas

Technical Director - Energy & Sustainability

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