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Wellbeing

Healthy buildings

The impact of the built environment on our health and wellbeing is under the spotlight more than ever. Atelier Ten's Younha Rhee talks us through the latest thinking in the design of healthy buildings


When I was a student at Yale, I used to attend lectures in the School of Art And Architecture, a building designed by famous brutalist architect Paul Rudolph, and I, as well as many others, used to fall asleep in Hastings Hall located at the basement of the building where most of the lectures were held.

As an architecture student pulling all-nighters, I attributed the fact I often fell asleep in the hall to my tiredness and excused everyone else for the same reason. I never questioned whether it might be due to bad ventilation or air quality in the space.

Having become an environmental designer focusing on the design of ‘healthy buildings’, I now realise that my sleepiness was probably the result of high CO2 levels due to poor ventilation in the basement, and that the design of the building did impact my levels of alertness.

CLEARING UP THE CONFUSION
Sustainable buildings and ‘green’ living have been popular trends in real estate for years now, but the latest buzzwords focus on healthy building and wellness/wellbeing environments. While the term healthy building has become commonplace, it is often interspersed or indeed mixed up with terms such as ‘sustainable buildings’ and ‘green building’.

The World Green Building Council’s publication Health, Wellbeing and Productivity recognises that there are reputable, robust studies that suggest the green design features of buildings lead to healthier, more productive occupants. However, the World Green Building Council also warns that low carbon and resource-efficient buildings don’t automatically achieve healthier or more productive environments.

PRODUCTIVITY
Addressing indoor air quality could lead to a less energy efficient building, for example. A meta-analysis in 2006 of 24 studies, including six office studies, found that poor air quality (and elevated temperatures) consistently lowered performance by up to 10 per cent on measures such as typing speed and unit output.

This analysis appeared to demonstrate that the optimum ventilation rate is between 20 and 30 litres per second (l/s), with benefits tailing off from 30 up to 50 l/s. As a comparison, the British Council for Offices’ Guide to Specification recommends 12 l/s. In order to achieve an increased ventilation rate of 20-30 l/s, there is an energy penalty for additional auxiliary power. Fitting additional filers into air handling units to purify air coming into a building can further increase auxiliary power requirements.

However, there are plenty of win-wins. Providing individual thermal control for thermal comfort can create a microclimate zone around a single space (ie a hotel room). In this way the energy is deployed only where it is needed, which can result in less energy usage while the individual’s needs for thermal comfort are fulfilled. One study found that individual control over temperature (in a 4°C range) led to an increase of about 3 per cent in logical thinking performance and 7 per cent in typing performance.

THE IMPORTANCE OF GREENERY
Providing natural elements within a building or providing views to natural elements is another win-win. There’s a growing volume of research that demonstrates the importance of greenery and the natural environment to health and wellbeing. A recent study in Wisconsin of 2,500 residents showed that across social groups, people who lived in neighbourhoods with less than 10 per cent tree canopy were more likely to report symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety. Introducing natural elements within or outside buildings can lead to increased biodiversity, which improves environmental and human health.

THE ROLE OF LIGHT
Daylighting is another important aspect in the design of healthy buildings.

Maximising daylighting within a building could seem another easy win. However, it’s not that simple. Pushing for more daylighting has led to over-glazed buildings in the last two decades where visual comfort has been compromised. Excessive sunlight in these over-glazed buildings leads the building occupants to put up blinds all day, leading to the turning on of electrical lighting, which defeats the original purpose of the design – access to daylight and electrical lighting energy savings. Plus it destroys the view and the associated benefits of any greenery.

LEISURE AND PUBLIC BUILDINGS
Among leisure and public buildings, hotel development is leading this healthy building movement. Hilton and Hyatt hotels, for example, are already providing allergy-free hotel rooms with in-room filtration systems that remove potential allergens or pollutants. Maximising views is the top priority in these high-end hotels. When Atelier One were working on a Park Hyatt hotel in Doha with John McAslan & Partners, we were asked to study views, daylight and energy performance of the building. While maximising views and daylight with full height glazing, we worked with the design team to optimise energy performance and thermal comfort with high performance glazing, solar shading with set-back windows, automatically operated curtains with good thermal performance and individual thermal controls in each room.

We apply our creativity to the critical issue of health. We’ve long believed that health and sustainability are interconnected, and both must be achieved together. We promote win-win cases such as integrating biophilia and individual thermal controls wherever possible. We also tackle the challenges associated with optimising human health and environmental sustainability, such as indoor air quality, daylighting and the energy performance of the building.

In order to do so, we analyse daylight access, energy saving, visual and thermal comfort with the right level of detail at each phase of design. We help architects optimise their façades and internal layout to better respond to the climate. We develop our own tools to harness parametric-based approaches to allow rapid assessment of the benefits of multiple alternatives for building envelope and/or systems. We pick the variables and look at how they can be combined to achieve desired or required outcomes in terms of daylight or thermal comfort.

As Winston Churchill said, “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.”

GOING FORWARD
According to the Global Wellness Institute, the global wellness industry is a £2.5 trillion market, or 3.4 times larger than the worldwide pharmaceutical industry. The building sector is one that has the greatest impact on human health.

Atelier Ten are working to improve the health of people and communities in the built environment through innovative design strategies. Our team includes specialists in industrial hygiene, environmental health, building science, lighting design, environmental management, and building systems engineering who understand the relationship between the built environment and human health. We’re committed to solutions that protect occupant health, promote occupant wellness, and prevent environmental harm.

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Company profile: Robert D. Henry Architects + Interiors
Robert D Henry Architects (RDH-Architects) was founded in 1990 in New York City by Bob Henry, known as the “sensuous architect of serenity.”
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