How’s your sleep? Your answer may have less to do with you and more to do with the space you inhabit. A growing body of research has found that our homes, offices and public spaces have a direct impact on our health and wellbeing. “We spend 90 per cent of our time indoors,” says Rowena Gonzalez, founder of Liquid Interiors, an interior design firm with a focus on wellness. Yet so many indoor spaces are hurting us through poor air quality, nerve-wracking lighting, toxic materials and stultifying design that leave us feeling drained, anxious and generally unwell.
Now there is a movement to undo that damage. In 2014, a group of entrepreneurs, scientists and environmentalists banded together to launch the WELL Building Standard, a performance-based rating system meant to encourage spaces that are good for human health and the natural environment.
“The building standard is just a tool, but at the end of the day, it’s about human understanding and educating the general population about a better way of living and going to work,” says Xue Ya, director of the International WELL Building Institute Asia.
“It came on the scene a few years ago and now it’s all everybody is talking about,” says Alessandro Bisagni, whose Hong Kong-based consultancy, BEE, develops green building strategies. He says the new focus on wellness helps round out thinking about sustainable building, because there is a big overlap between buildings that are good for the Earth and those that are good for your health.
“The moment you have discussions about how your office can make you sleep better, have less stress, spend more time with your family, there’s an immediate response,” says Bisagni. “With the constant news about air pollution, people are generally afraid—they’re concerned their indoor spaces are making them sicker. So if an employer can guarantee that they’re healthier in the office than they are at home, it’s an asset.”
But how does that actually play out in terms of design? It turns out there are a few crucial elements that shape how we feel about our spaces.