Janette Ray published in Colorado Real Estate Journal’s Interior Design Spotlight Issue

Posted April 16, 2014 by Kyle Hoogewind


The US worker spends about 90% of their time indoors and at least 30% of that time at work. The medical community advises that Healthy interior spaces are just as important as overall building sustainability and planners should take into consideration human sustainability also. The impact of the workplace on our health and stress levels has not been addressed until recently and has plenty of room for improvement. No matter how energy efficient a building may be, people don’t perceive a space as healthy if it doesn’t also enhance their overall quality of experiences within the workplace. The concept of designing buildings for sustainability only should be refocused to designing the interior built environment for Health and Wellness.

Forward thinking companies understand that their people are the “gears” that allow them to grow, innovate and perform. Most people, and especially the new millennial generation, are looking for companies that have initiatives that provide an environment that will enhance their performance, lower their stress, and add integrated health benefits to raise their quality of life. So the conversation continues with designers on how the workplace should better support recruitment, wellness, and ultimately human performance.

Davis Partnership’s Evidence Based Design research show us there are design elements that positively impact the workplace environment and are directly related to Healthy Environments. The following strategies filter through all of Davis Partnership’s developments from Healthcare to Education, Corporate, Civic and Hospitality:

  • Connecting with nature, even if just through views and art, improves cognitive function. In his book “Birthright: People and Nature in the Modern World,” Dr. Stephen Kellert advocates a new standard he calls “Restorative Environmental Design” which combines LEED metrics and Biophilic elements to achieve a truly healthy work environment. This includes offering an environment that has elements of nature and includes materials such as wood, cork, natural fibers, and nature based architectural elements. Also employing natural fractal patterns is known to reduce stress levels by 60 percent. Design of spaces that allow daylight and multiple views from all spaces on the floor is imperative for this biophilic connection.
  • Designers may want to rethink the office as a continuation of the collegiate campus and take cues from the learning styles of college students. Students are happiest and healthiest when they are without restraints, comfortable, and are able to incorporate wellness into their busy schedules. The focus is no longer on space flexibility but a person’s opportunity to have flexibility in where and how they work. Interior planners should provide cafe’s, outdoor gathering spaces, workplace laboratories and “collision nodes” for informal encounters and community spaces where people can meet for creative innovation. These options allow movement throughout the workplace and enable employees to choose their environment, lowering stress and increasing avenues for vitality and collaboration.
  • Design of spaces should allow adjustment to the personal workspaces by incorporating more movement options. This is more than ergonomics in furniture but opportunities to change the actual way a room functions. Also incorporating the concept of fitness in the layout of the space with “track” hallway design and open central stairs will allow seamless avenues for walking opportunities. Moving circulation to the perimeter of the space also reduces the perception of “crowding” which is known to add stress in the work environment.
  • We suggest smart lighting systems that have circadian lighting controls to adjust both color and intensity. Possibly include dynamic lighting zones that separate task and ambient light and provide varying light levels for visual acuity breaks. For example, providing higher light levels in the morning increases alertness, while gradually decreasing artificial light as the day progresses to match the decrease in natural daylighting.
  • The interior design of the space should also provide comfort. This includes noise reduction by developing wayfinding paths that allow traffic to bypass quiet areas. Provide options for thermal comfort with operable windows and access to exterior areas, while providing shade window coverings to maximize airflow temperatures.
  • Delegated standards for workstations will no longer be acceptable. Workstation pilots will become the norm and will address flexibility options which allow staff to personalize and customize their immediate workspace. A sit, stand and walk strategy can contribute to a higher level of wellness.
  • Branding the space to have a spirit and unique character instills a sense of pride in the workplace. Try to include spaces beyond the lobby that reinforce the brand, history, culture and purpose of the company and incorporate awards and recognition in a visible way that reinforce employee pride. Often organizing floor plates into team neighborhoods will help further foster identity and a sense of place and community which are elements of every healthy environment.

Well-being and the design of Healthy Environments is not a new idea to the architectural and design community, but how we approach it can be.