What’s Next in Building Design & Construction? Health & Wellness

Without a doubt, the biggest rising trend in the architecture, engineering and construction industry is health and wellness. In the mid-80s, the World Health Organization released a report on the impact of indoor air quality on building occupants. Perhaps the most damning portion of the report was the finding that “energy-efficient but sick buildings often cost society far more than it gains by energy savings.”

The so-called Sick Building Syndrome that WHO identified 30+ years ago is the result of a tight building envelope, and inadequate control of moisture and heat within the building. With the right conditions — primarily warmth and moisture —all sorts of nasty pathogens are able to thrive and thus create opportunities for drastically impacting human health.

Code-mandated and market-driven energy efficiency improvements therefore must be tempered with an intentional focus on a building’s impact on occupant health. Which is why the last several years has seen such a dramatic increase in the rhetoric surrounding building “wellness” and even the launch of third-party ratings systems such as the WELL Building Standard.

The Drive Toward Healthier Buildings

This past September, Dodge Data & Analytics released a report with a boatload of industry partners including the Canadian Green Building Council, Delos, CBRE, Dewberry, USGBC, with research from AIA, ASID, NAREIM and the World Green Building Council. Titled, The Drive Toward Healthier Buildings 2016, the report analyzes the demand for and the data available around building health trends.

In a press release from the launch of the report, Delos Founder and CEO Paul Scialla stated, “by focusing on people in design, construction, operations and development decisions, we have an unprecedented opportunity to drive innovation, add significant economic value to real estate assets, generate savings in personnel costs, and enhance the human experience.” Key takeaways include:

  • More than half of owners do not know the impact of their healthy building investments on business benefits like leasing rates and asset values However, among those that report an impact, 73 percent report faster rates and 62 percent report higher values.
  • Sixty-nine percent of owners that measure employee satisfaction and engagement report improved satisfaction and engagement due to their healthier building investments.
  • According to architects and interior designers, the top driver for greater investment in healthier buildings is improved public awareness of the health impacts of buildings.
  • Forty-two percent of building owners believe that more research on design/construction approaches that positively impact health is a top driver, and 40 percent are seeking research on productivity benefits.
  • According to public health professionals, the most common policies currently in place to support healthier building practices are requirements to avoid the use of hazardous materials in buildings (65 percent), and the key policy areas that are currently being considered include incentives that encourage physical activity (47 percent) and requirements for ongoing building air quality measurement (46 percent).
  • Ninety-two percent of public health professionals also report that their institutions are actively conducting research on building impacts on occupant health and well-being.
  • Case studies that demonstrate what can be achieved, including TD Bank Group’s office in Toronto, the first project to achieve WELL Certification in Canada.

What’s the Point?

Shortly before his passing, my friend and colleague Michael Burgess and I spoke quite a bit about the subject of building health. As one of the most respected mechanical engineering experts on the West Coast, he had seen first hand how value engineering or simply poorly thought-out designs created opportunities for negatively impacting occupant health.

There is certainly some irony in the fact that buildings designed to use less energy — which is better for the earth, and its inhabitants — can actually be more detrimental to the building’s inhabitants. That is unless building health and wellness is given a priority.