Where we live, in Hong Kong, China, with the growing middle class economy and urbanisation, comes increasing human and environmental impact. For example, Type II diabetes in China has increased substantially over recent decades and is estimated to affect 1 in 10 Chinese adults; this compared with the UK, where diabetes affects about 1 in 20 adults, is alarming. Many of the changes in lifestyle and diet are a direct result of increased economic development and urbanisation, leading to a more sedentary lifestyle.
Another side-effect of increased development in China is air pollution. Here in Hong Kong we see it when the wind blows from the north; you can taste the smog in the air, and most people have apps on our phones tracking the air quality. Scarily, in the past 30 years the death rate due to lung cancer has increased by 465%, causing it to be China’s most deadly cancer. These cumulative impacts increased the public spending on health by an astounding 80% since 1996.
So what has this got to do with buildings? We spend around 90% of our lives indoors. Places of work, where we spend much of our waking hours, have lasting impacts on our bodies, our minds and can even affect how we sleep. In China, interestingly, the air quality inside, in most cases is better than outdoor air quality. There is therefore a real opportunity to increase human health with the way we design the built environment.
With the introduction of the WELL building standard, which has been developed by built environment professionals and doctors together, there is now a framework which we can use to assess how ‘healthy’ our building is for us. WELL is complementary to the sustainable building standards (such as LEED, BREEAM, Green Star ect.) which have been in the market place for the last 15 years or so and assess a building’s impact predominantly on environmental resources (such as water, energy and materials), and to a lesser extent the indoor environment and human health. Considering both frameworks, we have more information to develop buildings that look after both the environment and us. This is not a new concept as for years we have considered occupant comfort and health in buildings as the basics of good design. The big difference is to test that the installation is actually achieving the design intent by physically verifying the quality of the air, water and other factors. Furthermore we also need to think about how we interact with the built environment to get things like a better night’s sleep using circadian lighting, or not induce asthma via the accumulation of emissions from building finishes.
These frameworks however don’t coexist without some tension and it is imperative that we do not take our eye off the ball by improving health and well-being at the expense of the wider environment.
What provides a healthier workplace for a person may come at negative impact to communities or the planet at large. For example, providing increased air quality and quantity could result in higher ventilation and air purification energy consumption which, if taken from the electricity grid, means higher greenhouse gas emissions. A solution to this problem is to use passive measures to reduce pollutants in the air such as green walls.
With these increased human impacts, and the development of the WELL building standard, we are currently in the midst of a paradigm shift in the way we view our interaction with the built environment, which is a real opportunity to have wide ranging positive impacts particularly given the issues discussed earlier in China, which also apply to most countries globally.
At Cundall we are proud that One Carter Lane, our new London office, is one of the first buildings in Europe registered to pursue the WELL Building Standard. Because of this great success, with incredibly positive feedback from our staff, we are also reviewing our office in Hong Kong to see if we can apply the same principles in what is best for us and what is best for the environment, using our offices as a working lab, so to speak.
The thought we would like to leave you with is; let’s ensure that we incorporate both the sustainable design methods that we have spent over a decade perfecting, and the WELL standard concepts, concurrently and not in isolation of one another. We should all design buildings that are good for us, and for the world we live in too.
If you would like further information on the projects Cundall is working on, please visit our website here.