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?

‘Well-being’ has been widely debated in recent years. It has caught the interest of many employers and employees, as well as policy makers, politicians and planners.

It’s no surprise that the subject of well-being has also entered the discussions within the construction industry. It was the focus of last year’s BCO conference, as well as being the topic of many articles, talks and presentations.

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.” This means that all aspects of our lives contribute to the sense of well-being we feel.

The power of the built environment

The built environment has a lot of power; it can evoke emotions and shape behaviours – both positive and negative. It can help ‘build communities’ or create a sense of exclusion.

Think about the powerful and majestic Egyptian pyramids, the idyllic but orderly garden cities in England or the exclusive, but excluding, gated communities in South Africa.

All of these historic structures were designed to have an impact on their communities. In today’s terms, they would both positively and negatively impact different people’s ‘well-being’.

Building well-being into construction projects

There are several ways in which this can be approached.

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 in the well-being and health of the occupants of the building. The main factors under consideration are: 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. It is said to be a more ‘user friendly’ version of the WELL standards, however the categories for assessment are not identical. The two standards differ in the interventions they propose to achieve given credits, with Fitwell said to be more practical in its approach.

Well-being in construction – is it here to stay?

In short: yes. There is more new and conclusive research into the impact of the environment on our well-being, and that gives us, as designers and built environment professionals, opportunity to create better designed buildings for all.

In truth, the numbers of WELL and Fitwel certified buildings in the UK are low, however the interest from the Clients and Design Teams in exploring these is high.

Like many new innovations, the cost of achieving these standards is still high. However, over time, this cost will reduce once the industry, as a whole, makes a commitment to it.

If the claim that all aspects of life shape well-being is true, then it can only mean that the environment we help to create will contribute to that as well.

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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