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Evidence-based design supports wellbeing and growth

A third of corporate executives rank productivity and health as top sustainability concern

Last week Footprint attended the third seminar in a series curated by Grigoriou Interiors’ entitled ‘Feeling Good - The Science and Economics of Wellbeing in Interiors’. Chaired by Elina Grigoriou and co-produced with The Building Centre and Gardiner & Theobald, the seminar drove home the idea that modern scientific research can be successfully used to develop ‘evidence-based design’ (EBD).

Speakers

Dr William Bird of Intelligent Health

Vicky Hume of Brompton & Harefield NHS Trust / London Arts in Health Forum

John Mardalijevic of Institute of Energy & Sustainable Development, De Montfort University

Richard Francis, Director of Sustainability at Gardiner & Theobald

Through reference to a wide range of published papers the morning’s speakers aimed to demonstrate the ways EBD is becoming increasingly beneficial in terms of user wellbeing and economics. Dr William Bird made a research-backed case for a return to the biophilic ways of our hunter-gatherer ancestors in order to deal with many modern illnesses, including, diabetes, obesity, asthma and chronic stress.

For city-dwellers, our apparent disconnection from nature has been scientifically proven to exacerbate conditions, such as chronic stress, which can in turn escalate illness and perpetuate unhealthy behaviour including overeating, drug and alcohol abuse. His message to GPs was that ‘the treatment room is the entire area where patients live’, and a greener environment is proven to reduce stress and negate the onset of illness.

Victoria Park: built specifically to improve residents' health

Victoria Park: built specifically to improve residents’ health

Dr Bird describes this as a dysfunction of people, place and purpose – one Lancet paper referenced showed that access to green space helps reduce health inequalities associated with urban areas. This is by no means a new concept, a historical precedent being Victoria Park.

Known as the ‘lung of the East End’, the park was an amenity created in response to overwhelming mortality rates in the area. This quest for a healthier city is informing local government policy; a given example being the London Health Inequalities Strategy.

Bates Smart's childrens' hospital in Melbourne integrates into parkland

Bates Smart’s childrens’ hospital in Melbourne integrates into parkland

Bates Smart’s Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne was offered as a built embodiment of this research. Located in a parkland setting, the building offers patients visual connection and easy access to the natural environment.

Case study: Bates Smart's childrens' hospital maintains good connections to the natural environment.

Case study: Bates Smart’s childrens’ hospital maintains good connections to the natural environment.

John Mardalijevic talked about the impacts of natural daylight and human Circadian rhythms on building design. Human tendency is to seek natural daylight as a seating preference indoors; Mardalijevic’s research showed that employing EBD helps maximise daylighting opportunities.

Connection to natural environment: Bates Smart's childrens' hospital in Melbourne

Connection to natural environment: Bates Smart’s childrens’ hospital in Melbourne

Studies into the relationship between light exposure and circadian rhythms show that exposure to light between six and ten in the morning properly resets and advances the circadian rhythm, while light between between 10am and 6pm is shown to increase alertness.

A case study model showed the benefits of using computer modelling software to test the introduction of extra daylighting into a single-aspect room via a rooflight, in order to prolong alertness in the afternoon.

Bates Smart's childrens' hospital in Melbourne

Bates Smart’s childrens’ hospital in Melbourne

Richard Francis, who is involved with BCO research into sustainable workplaces and spoke at the BCO Conference 2012, finished the session by discussing the relationship between wellbeing and finance.

Wellbeing, following in the wake of sustainability, is fast becoming a ‘soft issue with hard edges’. Indeed, human wellbeing is as much a part of sustainability as the natural environment – the two issues are inseparable.

A key fact shared was that a third of corporate executives rank employee productivity and health as top sustainability concern, and two thirds expect to see a benefit as such having employed sustainable principles in workplace design.

LEED-Platinum certified office building for the Christman Company in Michigan

Smith Group’s LEED-Platinum certified office building for the Christman Company in Michigan

This expectation has been proven to be valid, Michigan State University research into cost analysis of LEED-certified buildings showed a monetary benefit of up to $250,000 a year.

Looking at the issues from a different angle to the other speakers, Vicky Hume discussed instances where the presence of art in hospitals has been shown to be therapeutic, using practical examples from her work at Brompton and Harefield Hospital.

LEED-Platinum certified office building for the Christman Company in Michigan

LEED-Platinum certified office building by Smith Group for the Christman Company in Michigan

Also mentioned was Greenhill Jenner’s Barts Breast Cancer Care Centre, to demonstrate how art and architecture can be integrated - individual waiting areas with plenty light and strategically placed artwork might provide a calming environment for patients.

To summarise her argument, Vicky Hume cleverly quoted Richard Smith, editor of the British Medical Journal, who said, ‘More and more of life’s processes are being medicalised…medicine is not the answer.’ Evidence-based design shows us that healthy, sustainable architecture could well be.

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