Parkin Blog

The Impact of the Built Environment on Occupant Health

Evidence suggests the built environment has a significant impact on the health and well-being of its occupants. As architects and designers, we must consider multiple factors when creating a space to respond to users’ needs, behaviours and requirements, while prioritizing their health and well-being.

Established certification systems, including the WELL Building Standard, The Living Building Challenge, and LEED, support and promote the health and happiness of users through specific design elements. Here are the most common concepts and how they impact occupant wellness:

Noise

There is ample research documenting the role of noise pollution in the built environment and its effects on occupants, especially in healthcare design where excess noise from equipment, hard surfaces and paging systems can create a stressful environment that negatively impacts the recovery of patients. We are challenged with creating an acoustic environment that balances the appropriate level of sound control with consideration of infection control guidelines, durability and facility maintenance. Due to the detrimental effects of noise it is vital to control noise through design, thereby helping to mitigate negative effects.

Air Quality and Ventilation

Indoor air quality has a direct impact on occupants and their level of comfort. Proper ventilation is a means to improve indoor air quality by controlling humidity and airborne contaminants—both potential health hazards. Additionally, in healthcare settings, control of odours is an important factor that requires care in the design of the ventilation systems for washrooms, housekeeping, soiled and waste storage areas to contain odours from migrating into patient care areas.

Studies have shown higher ventilation rates can positively impact work and school performance and attendance. Additionally, it can reduce the rates of respiratory illness, and Sick Building Syndrome symptoms.

Thermal Comfort

Maintaining comfortable, stimulating indoor conditions is important for supporting occupants’ health. Minor changes can affect stress level, performance and safety.

We can utilize high efficiency building envelope construction and systems to improve the thermal control of the interior environment. Passive cooling strategies, like natural ventilation, building orientation, solar shades and landscaping features, help to mitigate excess solar gain on more exposed building faces.

Designing for Active Living

Active Design can help create a built environment to encourage physical activity and combat a sedentary lifestyle, which is connected to a number of chronic health conditions, including obesity.

Incorporating attractive lobbies, inviting outdoor spaces and staircases can encourage circulation and movement. This creates an enjoyable experience where physical activity is rewarding and helps to stave off the negative effects of sitting for long periods of time.

 

Stairs at Woodstock Hospital, Woodstock, ON

Light

Natural light is an important element in the design of many facilities due to its positive influence on human health. Specifically, research shows it can reduce depression, decrease fatigue, improve alertness and foster healthy sleep cycles. Evidence-based research indicates patients in healthcare facilities require less medicine, and recover faster, when their room has a window.

Daylight helps connect those inside to the outdoors and acts as a passive, energy-efficient form of lighting a space.

Hamilton Health Sciences, McMaster Children’s Hospital

Nature

The concept of biophilic design suggests that nature has a profound impact on our physical, mental and social health. The idea stems from the green architecture movement and seeks to reconnect us with nature, fulfilling an innate need. Incorporating natural elements can help reduce stress, improve cognitive function and enhance well-being. In healthcare settings, outdoor views have been shown to expedite the healing process.

Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital, Oakville, ON

Ways to incorporate nature into the built environment:

• Outdoor walking areas
• Gardens
• Large windows with outdoors views
• Landscaped courtyards between buildings
• Design elements which visually mimic nature
• Materials found in nature, i.e. wood and stone

Providence Care Hospital, Kingston, ON

There are a number of opportunities available to architects and designers when creating a building to encourage the health of its occupants. Design cannot force a response in users, but can nudge them in a positive direction by providing the stimuli to encourage a change in behaviour.

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