Designing for Health and Wellbeing



On 6th January this year, London exceeded its annual air pollution target in the first five days of the year. Just two weeks later, London Mayor Sadiq Khan triggered an unprecedented ‘very high’ air pollution alert. The public were advised to “take precautions to protect themselves from the filthy air”.  Air quality was displayed across the capital on 2,500 Bus stops, 140 road-side dot matrix signs and in all 270 London Underground stations. Clearly this is an extraordinary step taken by the Mayor to confront policy makers in central government and drive change.

Unfortunately, the air inside a building is often worse than the most polluted street and has significantly higher levels of toxic airborne compounds. Indoor air pollution has been linked to a wide variety of health effects. Typical symptoms range from headaches and lethargy to long term chronic conditions such as asthma and lung disease. Urea formaldehyde, for example, is found in foam insulation, plywood, MDF and virtually all cupboards and furniture, rugs, carpets, curtains, clothes and cosmetics. The need to adequately ventilate is essential to prevent build-up of these harmful chemicals. This is particularly significant, given that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to report that the average American spends 90% of their life indoors. The UK is likely to have a similar demographic. Last year The Guardian newspaper reported that 74% of British school children spend less time outside than the average prison inmate. As a species, we appear to be designing the natural world out of our existence.

WELL Building Standard

In the US, the focus on designing healthy environments is being led by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), through a programme called the ‘WELL Building Standard’. The WELL Building Standard is an evidence-based approach providing a framework for health-centred design. It is organised around the effect environmental systems have on the biological systems of the human body. IWBI are collaborating with LEED in the US and BREEAM in the UK – two hugely influential environmental green building certification organisations.

I will be exploring the WELL Standard in the next post. Le Lay Architects are committed to designing buildings that support healthy lifestyles. If you would like to know more about how to make your buildings healthier please get in touch.