Can a building standard help you live a healthier life?

April 13, 2015 IAQLiveWire
Sun, Apr 12, 2015 at 05:10 PM

WELL this is a nice, healthy-looking apartment. (Photo: DELOS Meatpacking Loft)

When the WELL building standard was first announced, I thought it was a bit, well, strange. It was out there in a touchy-feely sort of way, concerned about health and well-being in ways that went way beyond other standards, like LEED for example, with aromatherapy built into the ventilation, and vitamin C built into the showers. They called it the “world’s first building standard focused exclusively on enhancing people’s health and well-being.”
I was pretty dismissive of it when they put the first apartments designed to the WELL standard up for sale, ranging from $15.5 million to $50 million for the penthouse. Sure, it had the purest air and water, soundproofing, circadian lighting and posture-supportive flooring and was as healthy as can be, but I concluded:
The rich are different than you and me; they can afford healthy buildings. The rest of us have to eat the CO2 and mercury produced making the electricity needed to run 10,000-square-foot apartments with built-in juicing stations, 78-bottle wine coolers, giant saunas and circadian lighting systems.
However, when they finally released the WELL standard in February, it didn’t look so wacky. Once I looked at the standard itself instead of what they did with it for the prototypes, it began to grow on me. The aromatherapy and vitamin-infused showers were gone, and what was left makes a whole lot of sense if you want to live a healthy life. For years I have been saying that green building is about a lot more than just energy, and the Well Standard carries it a lot further into health and lifestyle than any standard has before.
I teach sustainable design at Ryerson School of Interior Design, and I had a group of my students look closely at the standard. They summarized the various components that the Standard measures:
Air: The WELL building standard for air establishes requirements to create optimal indoor air quality to support the health and well-being of building occupants.
Water: The WELL building standard for water promotes safe and clean water through proper filtration and other methods, requiring the appropriate quality of water for various uses.
Nourishment: The standard for nourishment requires the availability of fresh wholesome foods, limits unhealthy ingredients and encourages better eating habits and food culture.
Lighting: The standard for light provides illumination guidelines that aim to minimize disruption to the body’s daily system and enhance productivity and provide appropriate visual perception where needed. It also requires specialized lighting systems designed to increase alertness, enhance occupant experience and promote sleep.
Fitness: The standard for fitness allows for the seamless integration of exercise and fitness into everyday life by providing the physical features and components to support an active and healthy lifestyle.
Comfort: The standard for comfort establishes requirements designed to create a distraction-free, productive and comfortable indoor environment.
Mind: The standard for mind requires design, technology and treatment strategies designed to provide physical environment that optimize cognitive and emotional health.
Now this is all wonderful stuff, but how do you design and measure a building to ensure that fresh food is available, that people can exercise, and that the building doesn’t make you crazy? It’s hard. WELL does it by recertifying the building every three years, checking the contents of the fridge and the mileage on the treadmill. As my students noted:
By being so holistic in its approach to the built environment, this standard goes beyond the idea of simply being environmentally sustainable. WELL standard takes into consideration the biological impacts the interior environment and buildings have on humans. The WELL standard promotes the consistent action of improving bodily health, acting almost like a health physician in the form of a building.
And it’s not so crazy. Instead of being another certification in competition with LEED, it builds on top of it, and the two organizations entered into an agreement to work together last week. Rick Fedrizzi of the USGBC, which runs LEED, said in a news release:
We always say green buildings are healthier for their inhabitants, but until now, we didn’t have an aggressive system that looked at wellness and the human condition from a completely separate lens. WELL rating system will bring a better understanding of what it means to be healthy — and the ability to achieve wellness through technology and design — to the front burner.
If you thumb through the pages of MNN and sister site TreeHugger, you will find numerous stories about health, wellness, diet and exercise. These things matter, and our buildings and homes can help, can encourage and aid us in living healthier lives. LEED and the Living Building Challenge take health into account, but the Well Building Standard goes a whole lot further, building on top of the other systems and digging deeper into health and wellness, going beyond just the basic building. It’s not so wacky after all.
Read an executive summary of the Well Standard here.
Thanks to my students Katrina Clancy, McKayla Durant, Emma Hannaford, Rhiana Hendriks, Ellen Pitt and Lauren Poetker for their help.
Related on MNN and TreeHugger:

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