Designs on Health and Wellness

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James Stawniczy, Senior Consultant, Wellness in the New York office of HOK, gives us his view from across the pond

The two main contributors to people’s health are our physical and social environments. Genetics, surprisingly, accounts for only 10%. The recent introduction of healthy building rating systems, such as the International WELL Building Institute’s WELL Building Standard, gives architects and interior designers new opportunities to improve the health and wellness of building occupants.

The performance verification step of the certification process requires a WELL Assessor to visit the site and do a series of spot checks and performance tests on aspects of acoustics, air quality, water quality and lighting.

Workplace designers know, for example, that many knowledge workers are bothered by sounds – whether from noisy co-workers, mechanical equipment or busy city streets – in the open plan workplace. We apply many different programmatic, architectural and mechanical interventions to counteract these acoustic challenges.

Another way we can design for health and wellness is by creating ‘collision spaces’ for impromptu gatherings. Most of us are guilty of sitting for too many hours during the working day. The negative effects of remaining on our posterior range from higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels, to an increased risk of cancer. And when we’re deskbound, we’re less likely to experience the type of spontaneous interactions with colleagues that often lead to fresh thinking and innovative solutions. By providing more collaboration areas equipped with movable seating and tables, workplace designers can encourage movement and foster the innovation that emerges when people get together and share ideas.

People are the most valuable assets in any workplace. By using a certification system like WELL as a framework, designers can create pleasant, stress-free spaces that support the wellbeing of the occupants. This, in turn, drives innovation and productivity in client organisations.