3 key indicators that building standards are shifting their focus to well-being

Clerkenwell collection in office

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​October 2018 saw the Manchester launch of a new report from the British Council for Offices (BCO) called Wellness Matters: Health and Well-being in offices and what to do about it. It is one of the most recent indications that the focus of property designers, owners, managers and occupiers is no longer solely on the environment and performance characteristics of the building, but also on its impact on the mental and physical well-being of the people that inhabit it. 

The BCO’s focus on this issue is neither pioneering nor out of the ordinary. For several years, the Green Building Council has been linking the green credentials of a building with the pursuit for well-being. Earlier this year, the BRE and the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) released a new briefing paper that outlines how projects may achieve both a certified BREEAM rating and WELL Certification.

WELL Building Standard book

The updated document, Assessing Health and Well-being in Buildings – Alignment between BREEAM and the WELL Building Standard, was developed as ‘part of a commitment to continuous improvement by IWBI and BRE’ using industry feedback from professionals working to achieve joint certification. The two issues now go hand in glove. Aside from the increased focus on WELL building standards, there are many other key indicators that themes of well-being are becoming more prominent in building standards on the whole and in this blog we discuss the 3 key indicators that building standards are shifting focus to well-being.

1. Changes in managerial thinking 

Well-being is also a preoccupation in mainstream managerial thinking. In 2018 the RSA published its report Measuring Good Work, which highlights how what people do for a living and how we go about it has a major impact on people’s well-being and quality of life. Similarly, CBI and BUPA published a new guide, called Front of Mind: Prioritising workplace health & well-being, based on a study of 347 businesses employing nearly 1.7 million people to understand what steps they are taking to improve workplace health and well-being.

two men talking at a table in an office

DODS, London.
Carpet Collection - Artistic Liberties, Without Reserve.

The BCO study applies this thinking to great effect in its guide for building owners and occupiers. It offers a practical and professional guide to creating a healthy environment across the different stages of a building’s life cycle, from design, construction and leasing to the most important aspect by time and value: occupation and asset management.

2. Lobbying for improved working conditions and wellness in the workplace

The BCO study also offers some guidance for governments, and lobbying is never far from these issues - arguing that the benefits from improved office wellness (and the costs of a failure to act) flow not only to individuals and organisations, but also to communities and the country as a whole. These impacts can be quantified, for example, through reduced costs of health and social care and increased productivity.

Designing for well-being is not just good for the individual and their employer, but the economy and society as a whole.

3. Increased presence of wellness in the workplace themes in art

Given the amount of time we spend in buildings, it is perhaps inevitable that this issue is now taking up so much of our energy and attention. This fact is the assumption underlying a new exhibition curated by the Wellcome Collection in London called Living with Buildings which ran until March 2019. The exhibition set out to ask what effect buildings have on our physical and mental health, drawing on the work of artists and photographers such as Andreas Gursky and Rachel Whiteread to explore how we relate to our surroundings. 

Colour Compositions collection in office

Deloitte, London. WELL accredited.
Carpet Collection - Colour Compositions.

It explores the history of thought on the subject, offering examples from the ancient world to highlight how this issue has been a longstanding concern for humanity. What is interesting from a 21st Century perspective is how the locus of this discussion has shifted from hygiene to well-being in a way that mirrors the shift of health and safety practices from preventing harm to creating positive outcomes.

The exhibition also highlighted the blurring of design idioms so that the workplace, the home, the hotel, the school and public space all start to look alike. Although this is in large part a result of the falling demarcations between those spaces in our lives, it is also an admission that we are re-imagining the workspace to become more humane and less institutionalised.

This is now the defining characteristic of 21st Century workplace design; how do we create a place in which people can come together to collaborate and identify with each other, but also know that the building itself is designed and managed in a way that cares about their physical and mental well-being.

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Header image - Deloitte, London. WELL accredited.
Carpet Collection - Clerkenwell.