Designing for Wellness

There is a growing awareness that wellness and design can – and should – go hand in hand. That the built environment, and the materials that inhabit it, play an important role in our mental and physical health. Skylights, atriums, and greenhouses, for example, bring sunlight and a piece of the outside world indoors. Mixed-used communities with bike lanes and pedestrian pathways enable us to cycle or walk to work, to school, to the grocery store, and to the playground.

Much as architects can build for wellness, designers can select materials that contribute to human health. For example, are you designing offices that give individual employees their own workspaces? Does your building carry sound or have you added noise-dampening elements? In long-term care design, a task force established by the Mayer-Rothschild Foundation in cooperation with the Facility Guidelines Institute is evaluating specific acoustic recommendations. Their aim is to incorporate new acoustic guidelines into the 2018 Residential Guidelines. Similarly, the International Living Future Institute partnered with the International WELL Building Institute to prepare guidance on how WELL features and Living Building Challenge imperatives align.

From hotels to shopping malls to your own home, your wallcovering, flooring, furniture, and fabric choices can also be easier or harder to maintain. Nowhere is this as critical, of course, than in hospitals, long-term care facilities, and other places where infection control can mean the difference between life and death.

The Winter 2016 issue of Green Operations has a lengthy, informative article on the role of floor covering in promoting wellness. The article looks at the role of patient experience, durability, maintenance, and the role of sustainability and lifecycle assessments in decision making. The article quotes Carol Tobin of Tobin Parnes Design, talking about how vinyl “has evolved to create a resilient solution that does an excellent job at mimicking natural flooring options typically found in residential and hospitality settings at an affordable cost.”

Vinyl has a big role to play in wellness.

Indeed, resilient vinyl flooring is being used more and more in hospitals and other health care settings. Luxury vinyl products, available in tile, sheet, and planks, are increasingly in demand for their durability, ease of cleaning, and aesthetics. Vinyl upholstery fabrics, furniture, and wall protection are likewise materials of choice for long-term care facilities due to their ease of maintenance and their role in infection control. Slip-resistant vinyl floors help residents move safety without falling, and cushioned vinyl flooring can reduce injuries in case of falls.

Vinyl fabrics and other products aren’t just easy to clean – they can be cleaned without harsh cleaners. This reduces exposure to abrasive chemicals, leaving cleaning crews, patients, and heath care workers healthier.