Design for well-being in architecture refers to design in support of healthy lifestyles and the physical, mental and emotional effects that buildings have on their occupants. Health and well-being have always been central to sustainable design. Over the last few years, the growing adoption of systems such as WELL and Fitwell has helped to improve awareness and technical knowledge of well-being in architecture, and to make sure that the subject is incorporated into mainstream design. COVID-19 has accelerated even further the demand for sustainable design and healthy buildings. It has also created new technical challenges, new habits and attitudes to work-life balance that all affect the way we understand and design buildings. While the adoption of new well-being and COVID-related requirements are positive for health, occasionally they can negatively affect energy efficiency, sustainability and the aspiration to push for net-zero carbon buildings. Good sustainable building design should be able to find the right balance between all metrics.

At Bryden Wood, we believe in a holistic approach to healthy buildings and well-being in architecture, offering:

  • The best air quality.
  • Thermal, visual and acoustic comfort.
  • Hygiene standards.
  • Biophilia and access to nature.
  • A good work-life balance.
  • Amenities and outdoor space for an active lifestyle.


Healthy Architecture: Building Design for a POST-COVID World

With a new model for office-based working, the current design of buildings will play a very important role in the transition to a new normal, with a focus on providing adequate support for the physical and mental adaptation to new work-life scenarios. The growing importance given to well-being means that post-pandemic buildings need to be adaptable, healthy design spaces, and address the following key challenges:

Rethinking the Status Quo for More Sustainable Building Design

To rethink the status quo, we need to question how spaces have been designed traditionally, including their size, location, density and layout; and ultimately upgrade them to higher, more sustainable standards, using building physics, science and analytic tools.

Traditionally, offices in the UK are large spaces located in city centers, accommodating all staff in the same location, where connectivity and business opportunities are at hand. This idea is already being challenged by companies who are moving toward operating smaller hubs, strategically located at walking or cycling distance from the areas where staff live, often far from the city center.

With people having demonstrated they are able to work from home effectively (and sometimes more effectively), offices do not need to be sized to operate constantly at full occupancy. This approach is beneficial for improving sustainability and work-life balance, reduces time spent commuting and lessens corporate carbon emissions from heating, cooling and especially daily commuting, which typically accounts for the highest proportion of a company’s carbon footprint.

Bryden Wood carried out an internal carbon emissions audit, which showed that the adoption of working from home can reduce corporate emissions by 69% compared to working five days a week in the office. This is mainly due to the reduction in emissions from Scope 3 (commuting).

The price of land, especially in cities like London, has pushed developers to build deeper and taller buildings without much space for green infrastructure. Deep plan buildings do not prioritize design for well-being, as they reduce daylight availability and visual connection to the outdoors, and also limit the possibility of opening windows, making them unsuitable for creating healthy indoor environments. Moving office hubs to the urban periphery, where prices and density are lower, can create an opportunity for healthy architecture, as narrow-plate spaces provide better and healthier environmental conditions. Lower land prices also facilitate the development of open green spaces between buildings, bringing the added benefits of biophilic design.

Lower occupancy densities and the adoption of flexible working hours also mean new spatial requirements; reducing individually assigned spaces, more hot desking and creating flexible office spaces with adaptable layouts. These adaptations will require innovative HVAC design which can address changes in local environments with suitable sensors and control systems.

Newly adopted habits also affect residential design. In many cases, domestic buildings used to be empty during the central hours of the day, but as working from home is more frequently adopted, daylight, thermal comfort and air quality will become more important. The standards for daylight in residential buildings, for instance, have always been lower than in workspaces, and overheating is a growing phenomenon in new homes in the UK. With the changes in working patterns, it is possible that post-pandemic size, layouts, daylight and thermal requirements of residential buildings evolve to accommodate spaces better suited to work.

Improving Indoor Air Quality and Hygiene

The impact of the pandemic and the interest in well-being, combined with higher pollution levels in urban areas, has increased the importance of improving indoor and outdoor air quality.

In order to improve outdoor pollution, local planning policies in some areas of the UK are requesting that buildings become air quality neutral and even air quality positive. This can be achieved via the adoption of fully electric HVAC systems that do not pollute the local environment, the use of green infrastructure and vegetation, and facilitating the use of sustainable modes of transport.

It is widely reported that indoor air pollution is 3.5 times higher than outdoor air pollution. This is due to the lack of ventilation, cooking, the use of chemicals for cleaning, and emissions from construction materials and furniture, which cause an increase in the density of pollutants. The range of measures to improve indoor air quality and hygiene is quite wide. Primary prevention measures should include the selection of nontoxic materials, products with low levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), furnishings without fire retardants and cleaning products without harmful chemicals.

In areas with potentially high pollution levels, the adoption of adequate monitoring is recommended, combined with air filtration systems (HEPA filters for PM2.5 particles, carbon filters for VOCs and UV light filters for airborne pathogens).

Measures to improve hygiene and reduce the transmission of pathogens include the adoption of touchless technology (light switches, elevator buttons, doors), antiviral coatings and the provision of hand sanitizer dispensers. Attenuation measures include the provision of windows which open, increased fresh air rates and avoiding air recirculation.

Balancing Improvements to Air Quality and Energy Efficiency.

Some of the recommendations widely accepted in the industry for the re-occupation of buildings post-pandemic have a direct impact on energy efficiency. In order to improve indoor air quality and reduce the likelihood of pathogens, fresh air rates need to be increased and air filters should be installed. However, that increases energy consumption from fans. In naturally ventilated buildings, the recommendation is that windows should be opened frequently, even during winter, but this causes substantial heat loss and the inefficient operation of heating and cooling systems. It is also advised that in the event of further virus outbreaks, heat recovery devices are switched off — affecting the efficiency of HVAC systems.

Additionally, the recommendation to switch off recirculating cooling systems (fan coils and passive chilled beams) to limit the movement of airborne particles would affect thermal comfort and well-being due to overheating.

These healthy design requirements can have a large impact on energy efficiency and increase pressure on carbon reduction targets and aspirations to design net-zero carbon buildings. It is very important to balance these needs and think carefully about our HVAC management and controls. But most importantly, we need to design buildings which are resilient and adopt the principles of passive design. Buildings that adopt adequate solar control measures, good thermal insulation, good daylight levels and windows that open via narrow plates have the capacity to reduce peak heating and cooling gains and the dependence on mechanical ventilation, where feasible.

The Growing Importance of Physical and Mental Well-Being in Architecture and Design

Due to the side effects of COVID-19, physical and mental well-being are becoming a key priority for many building developers, designers and construction companies.

Buildings (residential and commercial) are places to live and work but increasingly also to play and move, with a strong focus on physical activity and active lifestyles. Active buildings include changing facilities and bike storage to foster sustainable and healthier modes of transport, prioritize the use of stairs, and have flexible layouts and spaces to accommodate sports activities.

Mental well-being can be promoted through healthy design by improving visual quality (daylight levels, views out and adoption of circadian lighting), thermal comfort (improved envelope performance and equipment efficiency, allowing natural ventilation and enabling adaptive comfort via flexible dress codes) and acoustic quality (reducing noise intrusion, and reverberation times, provision of quiet areas, etc.).

Additionally, a biophilic design with a strong connection to nature has multiple healing and psychological benefits to building occupants.

Figure 1. Holistic approach to design for well-being

Bryden Wood’s Design for Well-Being Experience

Bryden Wood has extensive experience in the design of hospitals, residential buildings and offices, all of which are typologies where design for well-being is becoming increasingly important. The following case studies show some of our recent lessons learned in the design of healthier buildings and the adoption of well-being standards.

Healthy Architecture and Design for Well-Being in Healthcare Buildings 

Bryden Wood designed Circle Reading Hospital and Circle Birmingham Hospital, and collaborates closely with NHS England. Our primary focus in healthcare projects is to adopt the principles of healthy architecture in order to improve the quality of the user experience for patients and staff. Hospitals are places to heal and recover, and the design of the building is of paramount importance in supporting this.

As part of our recent involvement in healthcare design, we analyzed the performance of typical ward layouts in terms of daylight quality and opportunities for views out:

  • Inboard design: rooms facing the corridor with bathrooms in the facade.
  • Outboard design: rooms facing outdoors with bathrooms adjacent to the corridor.
  • Nested design: rooms facing outdoors and connected to corridors. Bathrooms nested.

The first option represents a trend in hospital design in which patient rooms are open and easily accessible from corridors, in order to improve staff-patient visibility and increase operational efficiency. Unfortunately, this in turn means that the bathrooms are located on the facade, blocking daylight and views out, and thereby interfering with design for wellness principles.

The second option, traditionally adopted in many hospital wards, locates the bathrooms adjacent to the corridors and places the patient area closer to the facade. Although this partially supports design for wellness principles with patients benefiting from the connection to the outdoors, the layout is detrimental to the staff-patient connection and operational efficiency.

The third option, preferred by Bryden Wood, arranges the bathrooms in a nested position between wards. An excellent example of healthy architecture, this option fully supports design for well-being with beds open to both the facade and corridors. In this situation, patient well-being is prioritized on every level, as the nested bathroom positioning provides a connection to both the outdoor environment and hospital staff, improving both well-being and hospital management.

As shown in the following diagrams, daylight levels are better in the outboard and our preferred nested solution, and the nested option has an improved uniformity ratio. An adequately designed ward would also facilitate a variety of active views out, both to the outdoors and circulation areas, creating a connection to nature in line with biophilic design principles, as well as a better thermal experience.

Further ideas to improve visual comfort in hospital wards are: the adoption of circadian lighting, a better user experience of artificial lighting control and the use of further biophilic design techniques (color palettes, patterns and vegetation).

Figure 2: Daylight availability (SDA). From left to right: inboard design, outboard design, nested design.

Figure 3: Daylight rendering. From left to right: inboard design, outboard design, nested design.

Well-Being and Residential Buildings

Bryden Wood was the lead designer of Churchwood Gardens, described by the Housing Design Awards 2020 judges as ‘genius.’

Churchwood Gardens is a nature-centered residential development in London, which features multiple innovative design strategies and is a good example of a healthy residential design. The project adopted a holistic approach to sustainability with a wide range of design for well-being strategies, summarized below:

Better daylight levels are achieved with healthy architecture principles:

  • The facades feature full height windows to enhance daylight quality.
  • A strategically articulated layout improves privacy at the same time as promoting open views out.

Better air quality is facilitated via a variety of design for wellness strategies:

  • The use of a fully electric heating system helps reduce local pollution.
  • Windows which open, and the isolated nature of the development (reduced pollution and noise), enable effective natural ventilation.
  • Air quality is further improved via existing and new vegetation, green and brown roofs.
  • Pedestrianized common areas, traffic restrictions and the parking hidden in the undercroft level reduce local vehicle pollution.

Better connection to nature and outdoors is prioritized with biophilic design:

  • Retaining existing species and the arrangement of buildings around trees enhance connection to nature.
  • All apartments have a private outdoor space in the form of exterior decks and balconies.
  • The design takes advantage of the site’s natural slope to give direct access to all apartments, without the need for an elevator (healthy lifestyle).

Well-Being and Office Buildings

Before the pandemic, the commercial market in the UK experienced a growing interest in sustainability with intense competition to build best-in-class developments in terms of sustainability, energy efficiency and design for well-being credentials.

Bryden Wood is the lead designer of The Forge, an office building in central London, which has been designed to the highest sustainable design and well-being standards. The project aims to become net-zero carbon in line with the UKGBC Framework definition to net-zero, achieve BREEAM Excellent and WELL Gold. As a result of the adoption of strategies in line with WELL, the building will create a truly healthy working environment where the air quality, water, daylight, thermal and acoustic experiences will be of the highest design for well-being standards.

As part of the aspiration to design a healthy workspace, the design team has paid special attention to the selection of sustainable materials, looking at sustainability credentials and identifying products which are not detrimental to air quality.

In line with the client’s ambitions to use sustainable materials, building elements have been chosen to avoid products that come from areas of high risk for modern slavery and, where possible, they have been procured locally and specified with responsible sourcing certificates (all permanent timber will be FSC certified).

The sustainably focused design promotes the use of healthy materials, avoiding products identified in the client’s prohibited materials list, which includes materials labeled as acutely toxic, serious health hazard, Persistent Bioaccumulative (PBA), and the use of Chromium VI, PVC, Rayon, Asbestos, Mercury, Lead, Cadmium or other heavy metals. Finishes, paints and adhesives have been selected to meet the formaldehyde, Benzene and VOC thresholds from the WELL Standard.

The Future of Well-Being in Architectural Design

The impact of the pandemic has highlighted the importance of designing for well-being. While this is positive for building occupants, the lessons learned from COVID have shown that some of the design decisions taken to make buildings healthier, have implications for energy efficiency that can affect the aspiration to deliver low-carbon buildings.

Our response to the challenge is a holistic approach to sustainable design and well-being, with a strong focus on the use of passive design measures. We aim to give such a response to all different challenges, looking for synergies and using building physics and analytical tools to support our decisions.

The building of the future is energy efficient, but also a place with higher standards in terms of air quality, daylight and thermal experience, with a strong connection to nature. A new focus on healthy architecture will create buildings where materials are selected not just for their architectural and structural properties, but also with the potential effect on occupant health in mind.

Such a holistic approach to design for well-being will, ultimately, be of benefit to all of us.


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