Evidence of how buildings affect our health and wellbeing


Is health and wellbeing in buildings fact or fad?

For once, I am going to come down hard on one side of this question: FACT. But before we get to the science part, let us zoom far out to the earliest ‘modern’ civilisations. The most cursory of glances at building design in the ancient world, both private and public, will quickly reveal that the use of space, light and ventilation was a key factor. A virtual walk around a few Egyptian temples, Greek markets or Roman villas will soon demonstrate the fundamental impact these factors had on their inhabitants and visitors.

So when we zoom fast forward to a society where our every step and meal is now trackable, one might wonder why it has taken the science part so long to catch up. To be fair, the medical evidence on the impact of biophilia on the human species is not new but it is only now that scientists are beginning to dig into the bowels of our working lives to better understand quite what we are doing to ourselves. In the most positive interpretation, this could even be part of a global movement towards more individual responsibility for our bodies in general, and what we put into and around them specifically.

The evidence base is growing around us daily: the WHO reports of critical levels of pollution in our cities and the longer term, fatal impact on our populations. Obesity abounds all around. Depression and mental health issues are at an all-time high. Combined with the relatively new ability to both discuss, share and track every waking and sleeping moment in our lives, the more appropriate question is perhaps: why would you not want to improve your workspace as much as your home? If we have a health sensor on our wrist or sitting room table, why would we not have one on our desk?

The confluence of evidence and population trends has brought this theme barrelling into the real estate sector. To respond, practitioners must deploy the corresponding combination of evidence and experience: Human Resources – bringing focus back

  • Human Resources – bringing focus back onto a company’s most valuable and expensive asset, its workforce
  • Building Design - both external and internal architecture and fitouts need to embed personal and personnel requirements into the project from the very start
  • Physical Parameters – from ancient times, the environment’s impact on our species has been well-documented. In the 21st Century, a growing evidence base now underpins this knowledge and provides a basis for healthier operating procedures
  • Evidence-based decisions – the medical community is now converging with the real estate sector to provide empirical evidence on which to base decisions.

At its heart, the focus on health & wellbeing should re-balance building design and operation onto the end user, whether this is a residential, retail or office space. With over 50% of the global population living in cities, building users are naturally starting to look to their homes and workplaces to protect them from the detrimental effects of our modern lives.

Fad? Nope.

Fact? For sure, and it looks like it is here to stay.