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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.

There is a growing awareness that wellness and design can – and should – go hand in hand. That the built environment plays an important role in our mental and physical health. Skylights, atriums, and greenhouses, for example, bring in daylight, provide outdoor views, and allow for the inclusion of indoor plants. Mixed-use 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. Indoor environmental quality, for example, is directly impacted by the materials that are selected, so specifying low-emitting materials will support low or no VOCs and reduce off-gassing. This in turn supports good air quality within user-occupied spaces. 

Designers can also use an integrated design approach to design spaces and select materials that contribute to human health and wellness. Indeed, the federal government included health and wellness requirements within the revised Guiding Principles for Sustainable Federal Buildings under Principle IV: Enhance Indoor Environmental Quality: Occupant Health and Wellness. The goal of the requirement is to “promote opportunities for voluntary increased physical movement of building occupants, such as making stairwells an option for circulation, active workstations, fitness centers, and bicycle commuter facilities; and support convenient access to healthy dining options, potable water, daylight, plants, and exterior views.”  

For example, are you designing work spaces with layouts that promote physical movement? What’s the physical design of your furniture, and how close or far are water stations located? Are you designing with acoustic privacy in mind? Do you have signage encouraging people to use the stairs? These and other design features can serve to promote and improve both health and wellness.

Maintenance is another critical wellness factor. The types and amounts of cleaning chemicals used, the cleaning process itself, and the presence (or absence) of an integrated pest management program can all contribute to the overall indoor environmental quality of an interior space. From hotels to retail settings to healthcare facilities to your own home, wallcovering, flooring, furniture, and fabric choices should be selected for ease of maintenance. Factors to be considered include product application and the requirements of the space. Nowhere is this more critical than in hospitals, long-term care facilities, and other settings 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 life cycle 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. 

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 the materials of choice for healthcare and long-term care facilities due to their ease of maintenance and their role in infection control. Slip-resistant vinyl floors reduce the risk of falls and facilitate ease of movement for residents using assistive devices, while cushioned vinyl flooring can reduce staff fatigue and reduce injuries in case of falls.

Because vinyl upholstery and other interior finish products are easy to clean, specifying and installing vinyl products can also reduce staff time for cleaning and disinfection. By following Centers for Disease Control (CDC) protocols, vinyl products can be safely cleaned, supporting the health and wellness of environmental service teams, patients, residents, and health care providers.