July 25th 2016

What next for building design? WELL?

What next for building design? WELL?

Health & Wellbeing is the new frontier for making our buildings even better. A rich body of academic research and business case studies have arisen over the last five years, showing the physical, physiological, cognitive, health and wellness benefits of positive interactions between Humans and the built environment. The WELL standard is a specific example of capturing and formalising this complex issue into a documented rating system, much overdue and warmly received. It follows similar approaches to common rating systems such as LEED and BREEAM in that a ‘credit’ style approach is used during the design and operation stage of the building to demonstrate compliance.

Industry is looking fast at the Health & Wellbeing movement for several key reasons. Firstly, the elusive and mythical creature, which we call ‘productivity’ is showing its face more and more and, finally, we have some numbers (£££) to go with it. Having long existed as a hard to quantify concept, recent studies have taken productivity and formalised it as a function of some very common variables including temperature, indoor air quality, daylight levels, time of day and a few others. Such variables have been related to worker output. Immediately, we can see the enormous benefits this has in the corporate world, noting that for many services based industries in particular, employee remuneration is by far the largest company overhead. A minor improvement in the productivity of workers can amplify into very large returns through increased motivation, output and, reduced employee absenteeism, not forgetting post lunch dips in performance (We will revisit this later).

Secondly, the data has become more accessible. Public health data, academic journal papers, long lists of references and such have never really been that accessible to architects, designers or consultants, let alone the decision making end clients. Recent studies and engagement by trade bodies including UKGBC, CIBSE and BRE (BREEAM already has Health and Wellbeing credits) have made this data accessible, by basing it on actual case studies and articulating the business benefits using phrases like return on investment, payback and co-benefits. This has opened the door to a wider range of energy, sustainability and investment consultants becoming more interested and raising the topic up the corporate agenda.

As global thought leaders in measuring sustainability in the built environment, Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES) has been researching and developing our approach to understanding Health and Wellbeing through our World leading Virtual Environment (VE) software. The VE is widely used to optimise the design and performance of buildings including energy, carbon, water, thermal and now, Health & Wellbeing performance.

Health & Wellbeing and the WELL Standard

WELLNESS is a complex issue and the WELL standard offers a comprehensive evaluation of the interactions between Humans and the environment. This includes a description of the main bodily systems (Cardio, Digestive, Endocrine, Immune, Integumentary, Muscular, Nervous, Reproductive, Respiratory, Skeletal and Urinary) and demonstrates how each system is positively impacted through WELL credits. This is a big leap forward in the design of our buildings and more importantly in the consideration of its occupants.

The standard is organised into seven main ‘concepts’: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort and Mind and these are applicable to three categories; new and existing buildings, new and existing interiors and core and shell compliance across a range of building types. One can see from the list of concepts that Health & Wellbeing is a truly multi-disciplinary subject, with WELL Accredited Professionals (WELL AP) immensely upskilling their skills and employability.

Each of the seven concepts has a mix of ‘preconditions’ and ‘optimisations’ which must be met to achieve a certain level of certification. Preconditions are the minimum which must be met while gaining a number of optimisations in each concept allows you to progress to Gold certification. The evidence base for gaining preconditions and optimisations comprises the relevant annotated documentation (policy documents, commissioning reports, operating schedules, remediation reports etc.), letters of assurance (evidence from the project team including simulation outputs, specifically mentioned are M&E Consultants, Architects & Contractors) and on-site checks (e.g. performance tests, visual inspections, spot checks etc.). All of this culminating in the much anticipated WELL Scorecard and a rating which needs revisiting every 3 years, aligning with our own philosophy of continuous improvement and optimisation.

Unleashing the Virtual Environment (VE)

The Virtual Environment (VE) already offers many outputs which are relevant. Thermal comfort, visual comfort, indoor air quality, daylight availability, sky view, comfort indices, percentage of people dissatisfied, mean age of air are just some examples of appropriate modelling outputs. The resolution in space and time is also customisable, allowing a designer to probe with finer detail, the spatial and time series evolution of the above variables under various climatic and internal conditions.

A rich feature of the VE is the ability to model a new or existing building using a range of future climate change scenarios developed by the UK Climate Impacts Programme. This ability is useful for understanding the impact of a clearly changing climate on health & wellbeing in the workplace or for the design of our future learning and educational spaces.

The AIR concept has some specific credits which lend themselves to modelling. Air quality standards, ventilation effectiveness, air filtration, demand control, operable windows and displacement ventilation are all easily and accurately modelled, quantified and optimised in the VE. Modelling CO2 is easy, as is designing a range of natural ventilation, mixed mode ventilation and full HVAC solutions optimised for the occupant’s health and wellbeing. Recent additions include the ability to model the performance of advanced air filtration components, a key feature in AIR.

The LIGHT concept is one of the more interesting. Intriguing words such as Circadian Rhythms finally make an appearance into a standard with suggestions on how to re-energise the workforce after a big lunch using fancy lighting colours and controls.  With the VE’s range of daylight and lighting design tools including the full Radiance suite, the following credits can be assessed; Visual lighting design, Circadian lighting design, electric light glare control, solar glare control, low glare workstation design, automated shading and dimming controls, right to light, daylight modelling and daylighting fenestration. With the integrated daylighting, thermal, energy and occupant comfort capabilities of the VE, a truer picture of the complex and interactive effects of these concepts surfaces, pushing designers to fully consider these variables whilst providing an easy to use and accurate platform. Do not underestimate the power of having ONE single platform for your modelling requirements.

The COMFORT concept has more emphasis on individual comfort with physical, sound, ergonomic, Olfactory and thermal as we might expect. Thermal and radiant comfort credits are well understood and finely handled in the VE with outputs including air, mean, radiant, and operating and comfort temperatures. The VE can output individual surface temperatures, solar insolation by surface, has the ability to model the thermal, optical, physical and solar properties of materials and constructions and can be used to thermally discretise individual work stations if need be, to gain a better understanding of individual localised comfort. Individuals with varying metabolic rates and activities can also be set to distinguish the needs of a range of physical body and activity types.

Create your own metrics

A thoroughly empowering feature of the VE, is Custom Variables, the ability to use any of the hundreds of variables in the VE and construct one’s own using mathematical and logical operators. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iq4fRq8Qnl0). In fact, there is almost no limit now to the kind of metrics you can define and report out of the VE, a feature which is incredibly practical for standards with many new metrics the industry is not used to modelling.

I have created my own custom variables to report on ‘productivity’ and other concepts/credits in the WELL standard including a range of project specific KPIs. Take a look at the video link above and have a go yourself.


IES has already helped our clients achieve Credit 54 (Circadian Lighting Design), Credit 62 (Daylight Modelling) and Credit 76 (Thermal Comfort) across half a dozen projects.

VE users Worldwide have the power of the VE to fully explore the WELL standard at design stage and integrate Health and Wellbeing concepts into their projects. On top of this, our cloud based building monitoring platform can be used to monitor, verify and optimise your building performance, providing valuable real-time feedback to enhance your productivity and working environment.

If you’re an Architect, Consultant, Contractor or building owner, contact me to find out how IES can assist you in enabling and embedding good practice Health and Wellbeing concepts in your projects and buildings.

Ongoing Work

As for the NOURISHMENT, FITNESS and MIND concepts, for the time being you’ll have to rely on good old fashioned healthy eating, using the stairs and positive thinking. We’re open to suggestions?

Join us in central London on Wednesday 28th September for our World Green Building Week educational event, ‘How to do WELL with IES. In the session, we’ll be taking a closer look at the application of the Virtual Environment for designing for health and wellbeing, with a particular focus on the WELL Building Standard™. Registration is FREE. Click here for further details and to register your place.