Take a tour of the new wave of buildings designed to increase your health and happiness
Offices and homes can increase your health and happiness – we explore the new wave of buildings that are helping to improve lives in the UK and beyond
The building you’re in right now could be good for your health. It could be making you more productive, fitter, calmer, even happier. That is if its creators have followed the principles being adhered to by a new wave of architects, who are prioritising the mental and physical wellness of the people who will use their structures. They are flooding spaces with energising amounts of natural light, utilising comfortingly tactile surfaces and encouraging people to be active indoors. It’s an exciting, holistic approach to wellbeing.
Take the new Outdoor Care Retreats at the Oslo University Hospital (pictured) – designed by design practice Snøhetta, the secluded wooden shelters in the hospital’s grounds are surrounded by birch trees
and birdsong. The aim is that nature will put patients into a relaxed state, aiding their recovery. Another example is the Stamba Hotel in Tbilisi, designed by the Adjara Arch Group. It’s an industrial space transformed into an indoor jungle, which brings the soothing sensory experience of a rainforest into the centre of the city.
‘ We’ve all been in places where we feel instantly happy, calm and relaxed,’ says architect Oliver Heath. ‘Designers need to recognise drivers that can improve wellbeing and use them as the pillars for every project.’ This is not just a fringe idea, but part of an industry-recognised movement. Leading this new way is the Well Building Institute, the international body that created the Well Building Standard – a certification awarded to projects that fulfil certain criteria. These include optimal indoor air quality, access to well-filtered water and healthy food choices, good natural light, a soothing environment that encourages activity, and a wealth of relaxation spaces. So far, 1,286 buildings have achieved the standard worldwide, a handful of which are in the UK (though many more adhere to the institute’s principles).
Ben Allen of Studio Ben Allen was the first architect to be awarded the Well Building Standard for his London headquarters, designed for the engineering firm Cundall. Completed in 2016, it is an ‘active office’, with chairs replaced by communal benches that encourage people to move around more. Naturally antibacterial brass countertops are used in the kitchen and fittings throughout are made from wood, because it ages more beautifully than plastic furniture, which develops chips and scuffs. At Platform in Leeds, an office created by DLG Architects,
‘DESIGNERS NEED TO RECOGNISE DRIVERS THAT CAN IMPROVE WELLBEING’
vast windows show off the view of the city and the stairwell is decorated with the largest mural in Europe – to encourage people to walk up the stairs rather than use the lifts. ‘Experiencing beauty affects how someone feels about their surroundings, and compels them to feel good,’ explains David Bailey, a partner at DLG. ‘Employers are finally seeing the benefits of spending money on it.’
Oliver Heath’s work follows the theory of biophilic design, which proposes that while a direct link to nature is ideal, textures and colours that mimic it can evoke the same emotional response. Carpet tiles he created with flooring company Interface copy natural textures, introducing the organic from the ground up. At the Hackney Garden School, Heath turned an unused space into a sensory haven for autistic children, with booths lined with grass-like carpet, while at Re:mind, a stylish meditation centre in London’s Victoria, Heath installed lights made from Himalayan pink salt – their natural glow helps to put visitors at ease. For a recent residential project, he lowered all of the house’s windows so that its wheelchair-bound owner could look out at the garden she loves. ‘You could see the instant positive effect that had on her mental state,’ he says.
Allen adds that it’s important for people to follow wellness guidelines at home, too. ‘Avoid using lead-based paint and strong adhesives that emit toxic chemicals, and cut materials offsite as much as possible to reduce harmful dust. Also, decorate with colours and textures from nature – they can make you happy.’ He sums up: ‘If we feel good in our surroundings, at home and at work, our wellness can only be increased.’
NATURAL COLOURS, TEXTURE AND LOTS OF LIGHT CAN MAKE YOU HAPPY
Above Ben Allen’s design for engineering firm Cundall’s headquarters, with an abundance of wood and communal benches instead of chairs Right Wall-to-wall windows allow for almost uninterrupted views of the city at Platform’s offices in Leeds, designed by DLG Architects Opposite An urban rainforest aesthetic brings a sense of calm to Tbilisi’s Stamba Hotel
Top Carpet tiles created by architect Oliver Heath and flooring company Interface to mimic grass Above left Hackney Garden School’s sensory safe haven for autistic children, also by Oliver Heath Left Lights made of Himalayan rock salt emit a natural glow at the Re: Mind meditation centre