Volume 1, Issue 2
It seems that many employers are now offering wellness programs in order to help reduce healthcare costs. Many employees are participating in these initiatives to maximize on the over-reaching benefits of these plans. So what would happen if the structures we inhabit integrated some of these initiatives and improved our health?
Health & Wellness . . .
First, we have to look at what exactly is health and wellness. The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Wellness initiatives focus more on preventative measures such as smoking cessation or weight loss to improve one’s overall condition. Sustainable buildings have been identified as part of this wellness equation but how effective are they in improving our well-being?
Lately it seems that “wellness” has become a sort of trendy topic which is currently being addressed under a variety of designations inclusive of various building rating systems. It would behoove us to consider how salutogenic design (a new term I just discovered) may affect our health since we spend 90% of our day indoors in some sort of structure.
It’s also been an on-going topic in regards to the correlation of communities and structures that promote healthy benefits. In 2008, I had the pleasure of attending a local lecture by Dr. Richard Jackson on ailing communities. His presentation appropriately titled: “Designing Healthy Communities” addressed how our built environment distresses our health – obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, cancer and depression are all linked in part to this notion.
Recently, I also read an article about the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index which provides data as to what makes up healthy (and unhealthy) communities. The Healthways index measures outcomes based on five key well-being elements which include: purpose, social, financial, community and physical activities that keep people healthy. Clearly, it seems that we need to include our living/working structures as part of the equation. Will buildings be considered alternative medicine?
Buildings & Wellness . . .
There’s a variety of sustainable building ratings that address this topic but not entirely focusing on the health of the occupants. We’re most familiar with the USGBC’s LEED® rating system which has focused on encouraging energy and resource-efficient buildings reducing stress on the environment. It also promotes enhanced materials and better indoor air quality. The Living Building Challenge® (LBC), is a more rigorous performance standard that promotes a symbiotic relationship between people and all aspects of the built environment. It excludes materials that pose a health risk to humans as identified in its Red List. Interestingly enough, a recent article in Building Green touts how LBC embraces the concept of “Hygge” (a Danish term) which is about what’s optimal for our well-being. (Note to self: turn off phone and enjoy surroundings.)
Then, we have the International Well Building Institute’s (IWBI), WELL Building Standard® which was founded by Delos and officially launched at Greenbuild about a year ago. It’s touted as a complimentary rating to LEED. This rating is meant to bridge that disconnect between healthy buildings and healthy occupants. It’s based on seven concepts– air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind – focusing on the effects to the human element. Design professionals will be challenged in not just thinking about good indoor air quality but purified air that has contaminants removed, building elements that promote walking and social engagement and lighting design that takes into account the body’s circadian rhythms. Will the future provide “stay-well” structures that will improve our well-being?
It will be interesting to see how incorporating alternative health concepts into building design and construction will improve our lives and will it be a luxury for those that can afford it or wellness for all. The idea has been percolating for a while but it’ll be interesting to see the results.
“To keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear”. – Buddha