The WELL Building Standard informs project designers and owners as they strive to include natural elements and processes in the built world.

November 15, 2022

WELL Building Standards Help Quantify Benefits of Biophilic Design

WELL concepts address the needs of people in a built environment and set forth a common foundation for measuring physical and mental wellness.

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People are innately driven to interact with nature, and biophilic design is an approach that accommodates this desire by integrating natural elements and processes into the built world. Nowhere is that more critical than in healthcare settings, where a lack of access to daylight, natural materials and outdoor areas can increase stress, disrupt circadian rhythms and inhibit healing.

Many healthcare industry leaders understand these concepts and the benefit they represent to staff and patients. But just understanding the importance of incorporating nature in the healthcare environment may not be enough to acquire the funding to enact these changes, as quantifying the benefits to secure the money can be difficult. This is where the WELL Building Standard comes in.

You may have seen the commercials for WELL, featuring Robert DeNiro, Jennifer Lopez, and Lady Gaga, encouraging you to look for the WELL Health-Safety Seal on buildings. But what does that mean?

WELL goes further than other building standards when looking at what is needed in the built environment to better support the people residing and working in these spaces. WELL concepts address the individual needs of the people within a built environment while also setting forth a common foundation for measuring physical and mental wellness.

WELL complements sustainable building standards and is “a vehicle for buildings and organizations to deliver more thoughtful and intentional spaces that enhance human health and well-being.” It encompasses seven categories: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. The first three categories – air, water, and nourishment – are focused on occupants’ physical health and well-being.

  • The air concept establishes requirements that promote clean air and reduce sources of indoor air pollution.
  • The water standards ensure building occupants have access to safe and clean water through proper filtration techniques and regular testing. This concept covers access to potable water and hand-washing standards, including signage that encourages people to maintain healthy practices.
  • Nourishment is crucial to health maintenance and chronic disease prevention. This concept has standards that not only encourage nutrition among occupants but also ensure proper food storage.

We must provide clean air, fresh water, and nourishment to keep a building’s occupants healthy, but there is an unbreakable connection between our physical and mental well-being. WELL addresses mental well-being because the body’s physiological response to stress can be very similar to its physiological response to physical trauma. This is what the other four WELL concepts address.

  • The light concept provides guidelines that minimize disruption to the body’s circadian system, enhance productivity, support good sleep quality and provide appropriate visual acuity.
  • Fitness promotes integrating physical activity into everyday life by providing opportunities for an active lifestyle and discouraging sedentary behaviors while simultaneously preventing injury.
  • Comfort addresses accessible design, ergonomic design, dampening noise pollution and thermal comfort.
  • Mind recognizes how the built environment can affect mental well-being and identifies workplace policies that can be implemented to enable overall occupant health and well-being. This concept encourages biophilic design, which recognizes that people are inherently drawn to nature and seek out balance with natural cycles and rhythms and therefore integrates access to nature within design.

WELL accreditation gives Haskell’s designers access to resources that can help quantify the benefits of designing with the health and well-being of people in mind. These are valuable statistics and data points used in client presentations and to inform design thinking.

Haskell designers have been pioneers in sustainability and have been integrating WELL concepts into designs for many years. For example, the recently completed Baptist Health’s Jacksonville Entry Building/Wolfson Children’s Critical Care Tower integrates WELL standards and recognizes the value of design and its effects on the end users.

One consideration to keep in mind is that following WELL Building Standards can come with higher costs. At a time when cost escalation is making it difficult to stay within budgets, it can be hard to justify the added design expense when the benefits are difficult to quantify. For example, a facility may need a larger footprint that would allow greater access to natural light and views, which comes with a higher cost. However, those features play a critical role in promoting patient recovery and families’ mental stability while also helping staff avoid burnout.

Every project has a balance between what is desired and what is affordable, but information can facilitate conversations with clients, some of whom already know intuitively that they want to do better from a design standpoint for their people – the patient, the family, and the staff.

Some of our clients may be less aware of these strategies or have more challenging budgets that will make it more difficult to institute the features. That will be where we must use creative problem-solving powers to work within tighter budgets to make some of these possible. Being able to reference concrete statistics to quantify the benefits of using the features will help advance those conversations.

Contact Haskell’s Healthcare Consulting and Design teams to explore how your health system can overcome cost challenges and incorporate natural components into the built environment.

Haskell delivers more than $1 billion annually in Architecture, Engineering, Construction (AEC) and Consulting solutions to assure certainty of outcome for complex capital projects worldwide. Haskell is a global, fully integrated, single-source design-build and EPC firm with over 2,000 highly specialized, in-house design, construction and administrative professionals across industrial and commercial markets. With 20+ office locations around the globe, Haskell is a trusted partner for global and emerging clients.

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