Constructing well-being

Peter Medland

Written by Agnieszka Supiya

An artist's impression of exigere's Nottingdale Village co-working project

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What is well-being?

The concept of well-being has been widely and increasingly debated in recent years.

Although there is no one consolidated definition, The World Health Organisation defines well-being as: “A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

In practice, this can mean having confidence in yourself and positive self-esteem; feeling engaged and interested in the world around you; the ability to express emotions, to build and maintain relationships and cope with the stresses of day-to-day life.

Given that positive well-being can lead to happy and engaged employees it is no surprise that it has entered discussions within the construction industry. It has caught the attention of planners and policy makers, been the topic of articles, talks and presentations, and was the focus of last year’s BCO conference.

Building well-being into projects

There are several ways to install well-being into a project design.

One includes architecture and urban planning that takes account of the ‘human factor’ and the needs of communities.

Another is creating better internal environments with standards such as WELL or Fitwel helping to drive the change.

The WELL Building Standard is a performance-based system developed in the United States. Its objective is to focus on the well-being and health of building occupants, concentrating on factors such as air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind.

Fitwel is the latest health and well-being standard developed to provide a rating system for buildings and is thought of as more ‘user friendly’ than WELL standards. Fitwel differs in the interventions it proposes to achieve credits, trading rigid metrics for a greater focus on practicality.

The power of the built environment

The built environment has a powerful influence on our sense of well-being. It can help ‘build communities’ or create a sense of exclusion.

Consider the commanding, majestic Egyptian pyramids, England’s idyllic and ordered garden cities or the exclusive, yet excluding gated communities in South Africa.

All the above are physical expressions of concepts and were designed to evoke emotions and shape the behaviours of those living within their communities, directly impacting their well-being.

This equally applies to the offices and spaces that we work in. Access to natural lighting, noise reduction, internal and external open social areas, and biophilic interiors can massively influence our happiness and productivity.

As built environment professionals, we are uniquely positioned to influence and engineer how future structures provide for the population’s health and well-being.

At exigere, we were delighted to be involved in Landsec’s landmark 80-100 Victoria Street which achieved a global first, attaining the WELL Certified Silver and BREEAM Outstanding.

Landsec introduced a series of elements to support staff well-being; access to a social hub providing healthy snacks and a juice bar, installation of bicycle racks and shower rooms, and a rooftop garden.

The project also addressed lighting and acoustics. White-noise machines were fitted across open-plan spaces reducing background distractions, and quiet rooms and sound-proof booths provided. Partitions were removed to maximise natural lighting, with circadian lighting systems installed to reflect the time of day.

Staff working in an open plan office at Landsec's BREEAM Outstanding and WELL Certified Silver 80-100 Victoria Street.
Staff working in an open plan office at Landsec's BREEAM Outstanding and WELL Certified Silver 80-100 Victoria Street.

At exigere, we were delighted to be involved in Landsec’s landmark 80-100 Victoria Street which achieved a global first, attaining the WELL Certified Silver and BREEAM Outstanding.

Landsec introduced a series of elements to support staff well-being; access to a social hub providing healthy snacks and a juice bar, installation of bicycle racks and shower rooms, and a rooftop garden.

The project also addressed lighting and acoustics. White-noise machines were fitted across open-plan spaces reducing background distractions, and quiet rooms and sound-proof booths provided. Partitions were removed to maximise natural lighting, with circadian lighting systems installed to reflect the time of day.

The future of well-being in construction…

With new and evermore conclusive research emerging around the impact our environments have upon our well-being, there is increasing scope for us as construction professionals to create better buildings for all.

In truth, the numbers of WELL and Fitwel certified building in the UK are low, however interest from clients and design teams in exploring these is growing.

Like many new innovations, the current cost of achieving these standards is high. However, costs will reduce once a commitment to these programmes is made across the industry. Moreover, adoption of best practice towards well-being will ensure enhanced value of the built asset.

Peter Medland

Agnieszka Supiya

Agnieszka Supiya is a Senior Project Surveyor at exigere. She is a ‘Cultural Anthropologist turned Quantity Surveyor’ with particular interest in the social aspect of the built environment and urban/nature connection.

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