Designing for wellbeing and performance

Close your eyes and think of the last place that made you feel calm, relaxed and totally at ease with the world.

When I do this, like most people, I think of a natural environment, typically a forest or a water landscape.

It is surprising, then, that when we spend less than 10% of our time outdoors, we automatically think of natural, rather than built environments, as those that are most beneficial to our wellbeing.

Over the last few weeks I’ve attended the Health and wellness by design symposium at BRE and the Higher Education design Quality Forum (HEDQF) annual conference, both events showcased the importance of considering and being aware of the impact of spaces, workplace and buildings on our wellbeing and performance.

Did you know? These ideas have a long history. In 1948 The World Health Organisation (WHO) defined health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’.

There are plenty of examples and guidance on how design can influence people’s well-being.

The concept of biophilic design[1], increasing occupant connectivity to the natural environment using direct nature, indirect nature, and space and place conditions seems to be coming to the fore. Used at both building and city-scale, it is argued that this idea has health, environmental, and economic benefits for building occupants and urban environments, with little drawbacks.

Although the term has recently been created, indicators of biophilic design have been seen in architecture from as far back as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

I know from my own experience the impact that different indoor environments can have on me.

I am attracted to work in spaces with good natural daylight, well ventilated, with views to outside.

However, many people do not get a choice.

Recent guidance published by British Council for Offices highlights the importance of, and investment case for, good indoor environments. When this is combined with the evidence flowing from the current work on biophilic design we can see that design can have a very large impact on our wellbeing and performance.

Evidence-based design principles for wellbeing and performance can be applied to new spaces, workplaces and buildings. Equally, they can be applied to those that already exist to correct the mistakes of the past.

In conclusion, think about how you want your spaces, workplace and buildings to impact your people’s wellbeing and performance and ensure you articulate this in your new build and refurbishment briefs to your design teams.

The alternative is to just get what you’re given, that is not always a recipe for success.

John is the founder and MD of LCMB Building Performance Ltd. Our mission is to help our clients create spaces, workplaces and buildings that make their people and organisations thrive. If you’d like to explore how to make your spaces work harder and improve your return on investment, then contact John on t: 01295 722 823, e: [email protected]

Explore how to make your spaces work harder and improve your return on investment

[1] The term “biophilia” means “love of life or living systems” and was first used by Erich Fromm to describe a psychological orientation of being attracted to all that is alive and vital. Edward O. Wilson introduced and popularised the hypothesis in his book, Biophilia (1984). He defines biophilia as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”. Wilson uses the term in the same sense when he suggests that biophilia describes “the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life.” He proposed the possibility that the deep affiliations humans have with other life forms and nature are rooted in our biology.

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