Just as there is an expanded awareness in medicine, allowing best practices of Eastern, alternative healing and even faith-based traditions to complement the science of surgery and pharmaceuticals, there is a growing tendency to address the built environment in a more holistic way. We welcome this shift from the purely mechanical to the more inclusive, a focus that considers human needs.
But will this broader concern bring about new building standards? What about the costs? Ultimately, what does it mean for architects, builders, buyers and sellers, workers and residents in the homes, offices and factories of the future?
Under current building codes, a framework of environmental goals seeks to reduce energy and water consumption, encourage sustainable materials, monitor air quality and prevent toxic emissions. Architects design to meet or exceed these mandated standards; local, state and federal guidelines set goals and track performance. One such standard is LEED, short for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a third-party verification program adopted for use worldwide by the U.S.Green Building Council. With a comprehensive set of interrelated standards developed between 1994 and 2015, LEED holds a pre-eminent position for environmental awareness and, although it is not the only standard, it is widely used and highly visible.
We are all aware of Energy Star labeling, R-values, Low-E ratings, carbon footprint, greenhouse gases, green building standards and “eco-friendly” options. Sustainability, reuse and recycling have become mainstream, if not yet universally required. These are the buzzwords not only in the industry, but in the public vocabulary. But this awareness has come at a cost
Beyond the Building
WELL certification takes it one step further “by placing people at the heart of design, construction, operations and development decisions.” It is a performance-based system designed to measure and monitor specific features of the built environment that affect physical and mental health, performance, fitness and comfort. In schools, for example, there might be “tests” designed to assess the effects on learning of light, temperature, air quality and noise levels, as well as an attempt to and monitor disease-prevention building techniques, options such as more effective air filters and hygienic surfaces. There will certainly be some additional costs, at least initially.
Because it is estimated that humans spend 90 percent of their time indoors, WELL relies heavily on medical research that explores the “connections” between buildings and their occupants. The goal is to promote “shell environments” that lead to higher productivity, positive attitudes and interaction in the business environment. In the home, target health areas will address “focus, energy, form, sleep, stress, longevity, development, beauty, vitality, resilience, and alignment” in an effort to improve nutrition, fitness, mood and sleep patterns.
A three-tier rating system awards WELL certification to individual buildings and to larger developments, and a credentialing program has been designed to identify professionals who subscribe to a defined set of standards. The program is administered by the same third-party entity, Green Business Certification Incorporation, that oversees LEED standards.
It seems logical that, as scientific studies find more ways to measure physical well-being and mental acuity, we will also find more effective ways to integrate our lives and lifestyles with the buildings we inhabit. Whether tomorrow’s high-rise buildings and ground-level developments will adopt a new building standard that measures the health and happiness of the humans within their walls remains to be seen.
This new sensitivity to human needs may develop naturally. Twenty years in the future, architects, designers, builders and developers — as well as the next generation — may wonder what the fuss was all about.
Here at NEBS, we think it’s only natural to focus on human needs. That’s what we try to do, every day and every way. Stop by and see us at our “in the heart of the city” location. We’ll respond to all your design and building questions.