Key themes of health and wellbeing and social sustainability emerge at Ecobuild

The 2017 edition of Ecobuild delivered some thought-provoking and highly relevant content with a key theme emerging around social sustainability and health and wellbeing. Or people, for short. PCSG’s Barbara Rinkel reports.

With mental health issues affecting one in four people in the UK and accounting for a significant percentage of the NHS budget, the effect of buildings, places and spaces on the people who live, work and learn in and around them is a moot point. Indeed, the construction industry is taking the issue seriously with Construction News conducting a survey on mental health at work as part of a wider campaign launched this year.

On the middle day of Ecobuild, three sessions looked at different aspects of this issue. The Will Gompertz-chaired session on Healthy Places focused on construction for communities and the panel were all in agreement on the steps needed for built environments to promote health and well-being, and reduce the burden on health care, particularly in relation to avoidable diseases.  Estates need to be developed with a sense of space, shared areas, green spaces and promoting a sense of community.

Green (and blue) spaces are proven to benefit people’s mental and physical health, as this blog and accompanying position statement from the Landscape Institute sets out.

The second session looked to the future of the workplace. Julie Hirigoyen started the session with five points that acre critical for design and construction: flexibility, well-being, productivity, data and value. A key point of discussion by the panel was around the importance of ensuring design is more human-centric. Productivity needs to be the driving factor rather than the more service-led approach currently followed. Designing for flexible space rather than long lease is also crucial in today’s market and in relation to changes in the way people and organisations work, particularly given the impact of and flexibility from digital communication and more flexible working. And how about multi-use buildings: an 8-person office by day and an apartment by night?

The clear message from both of these sessions was the importance of designing buildings for people, performance and productivity, not in terms of lowest cost/highest margin on construction. The payback on a well-designed building is vast, over the longer term. This is something colleagues at PCSG have been working on with a number of clients, for example measuring the potential building performance improvements from tackling energy consumption through a human-centric approach.

These earlier sessions led beautifully into a third session considering the WELL Building standard, with an insightful presentation by architect Ben Allen, who described the design process and outcomes in the refurbishment of Cundall’s London building, which achieved WELL Certification. It’s ‘well’ worth looking into more...

We’ll be featuring more stories around this important topic over the coming months.

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