Smart buildings: health and wellbeing

An apple a day

30 November 2017

Making our buildings smart can contribute to our health and wellbeing, according to Catriona Brady and Dr Naghman Khan

The phrase ‘health and wellbeing’ might bring to mind a rhyme about the doctor-dodging powers conferred by a daily apple. Yet these proverbial days are seemingly behind us, as health and wellbeing has become a frequently used term in the building industry instead.

Client demand for quality office spaces, retail areas and homes that enhance human health and productivity is growing. The vision of health and wellbeing is to provide productive and comfortable environments for the building occupant over the long term; well-designed and operated environments should inspire positive lifestyle choices, resulting in healthier, more productive building users.

Design considerations

Human health and wellbeing can be affected by many factors, and as building designers it is outside our remit to influence the diets and fitness of occupants. But implementing health and wellbeing in buildings is an holistic concept, and will have tangible effects on areas that do lie in our scope (see Figure 1).

Health and wellbeing influences in the built environment

Figure 1: Health and wellbeing influences in the built environment. Source: XCO2

Demand for buildings that encourage health is increasing, and we must respond accordingly to clients’ requirements. We should shift our focus from the way that the building works to the way the user lives. Easier said than done perhaps, but we do have a tried, tested and industry-trusted tool at our disposal – namely, simulation.

The role of simulation

Modelling and simulation support building design. To improve such design with occupants in mind, there is clearly an opportunity to integrate cutting-edge building technologies into our work.

Areas that could benefit from a simulation-based predictive approach could include:

  • using computational fluid dynamics to assess indoor air quality;
  • performing analysis of discrete zones to assess the thermal comfort of individual occupants;
  • examining the feasibility and performance of different ventilation strategies;
  • managing moisture and condensation;
  • assessing reverberation and acoustic impacts; and
  • measuring and designing ambient or circadian lighting.

An assortment of modelling prospects demonstrates that simulation could support healthy building design. However, questions of feasibility and practicality – such as the development of new metrics, issues of cost and resource-effectiveness – highlight that the integration of health and wellbeing simulation into our current skill set will face some challenges. Our hope is that an industry-wide interest in this area will encourage the necessary development of new metrics, as a way of supporting a better standard of living for building occupants.

Doing WELL

Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES), a company working in 3D building performance simulation, has already achieved WELL Building Standard credits by measuring health and wellbeing through its Virtual Environment software. The Virtual Environment technology offers many outputs relevant to designing buildings for health and wellbeing, including thermal and visual comfort, indoor air quality, daylight availability, sky view, comfort indices, the percentage of people dissatisfied with a building’s interior and the mean age of air.

This technology is also designed to tackle future challenges for healthy design, and can model a range of scenarios developed by the UK Climate Impacts Programme to ensure that we as an industry are designing long-lasting, sustainable buildings.

But this is not just technology for the future. IES consultants have helped clients secure WELL credits for circadian lighting, daylight modelling and thermal comfort across half a dozen projects, including several office developments in Paris. Virtual Environment technology offers users the power to explore the WELL standard at design stage, and integrate health and wellbeing concepts into their projects.

A healthy future

Simulation is a great way to demonstrate the tangible benefits of health and wellbeing applications across an array of potential uses. But the ultimate goal is to create a productive and comfortable built environment. Simulation can certainly contribute to this, but the benefits of a well-designed building are easily negated by poor use; in contrast, they can be optimised by fitness trackers and health apps, for instance.

Simulation should become a tool to support healthy design, but most importantly, contribute to the holistic approach to wellbeing necessary for optimal human health. As our building designs advance in enabling healthy living, our old proverb may just need a rewrite. Forget the apples: it’s the engineers keeping illness at bay.

Catriona Brady is Sustainability Consultant at XCO2 and Dr Naghman Khan is Business Development Manager and Building Simulation Expert at IES

Further information