Do we need to think more about the people who occupy our buildings?

Buildings are much greener now, thanks to a drive by Building Regulations and Certification from the likes of BREEAM and LEAD, but how much have we really been thinking about the people who occupy the buildings?

Well-being as a concept and workplace buildings that encompass this concept are on the rise, with certifications like the Well Standard and GRESB being increasingly discussed in the world of architecture, master planning and construction.

So what is a 'well' building? We argue that it is a building that has lots of daylight, plenty of fresh air, good thermal comfort, access to high-quality outside spaces, opportunities for exercise, a prominent and appealing stair option as an alternative to taking the lift for instance.

Over the past 10 years we have designed and produced a series of workplace buildings that have explored and refined our approach to this way of design, the common themes being:

  • High thermal mass
  • Mechanical ventilation combined with opening windows
  • Some cooling to reduce peak summertime temperatures
  • Big windows, large daylight factors
  • External solar shading and glare control
  • Varied working environments – desk, break out, café, outside

Our work at Watermead Business Park considered some of the 'well' building ideas. The building has large south facing windows, which are shaded from the sun to avoid summertime overheating, and mechanical ventilation aided by Rehau earth tubes. These pre-cool summer air by drawing it through a network of underground pipes to ensure staff are always comfortable.

Some of our most recent projects to consider wellbeing include Rushcliffe Arena and North Cambridge School. Both have wellbeing as a key design driver as the builds include large windows to allow plenty of daylight in and access for people to enjoy outside spaces.

These buildings are, or will in the case of those currently in design, be great to use. With low maintenance, running costs and an effective interior design to create a positive environment, they are the right way to go, but how do they work in the city?

Noise is widely regarded as detrimental to productivity at work and to our general sense of well-being.; cities are noisy and often polluted places. The importance of some quiet is highlighted in the recently released film In “Pursuit of Silence” which addresses at the impact of noise on our lives and asserting that the balance of noise and silence in our lives has fallen dramatically out of sync.

Unfortunately, if you open the window you let in the noise, but perhaps there is good cause for optimism. Quiet electric cars are starting to look like technology that will prevail, even (thank goodness) that noisiest and smelliest of urban vehicles, the bus, is being replaced in my own city of Nottingham, with electric alternatives.

Next up is road noise. Quieter tyres are now being developed, but there is more work to be done here.

So perhaps in 20 years our cities will have electric vehicles running on super quiet tyres and us city workers will be able to throw open the windows and breathe in the sweet air.