Thinking about the current pandemic, I wonder if there was a way that we could have prevented it. Could we have been more prepared? Could our current way of designing buildings be more optimal in the future? It’s time to look at the big picture, and promote a healthy environment and answer this important question: How can we measure a building’s health?
People are at risk and dying due to diseases that are often brought on by today’s society and lifestyle. The pollution in our air causes asthma, and stress creates high blood pressure. Diabetes is man-made, often times the result of the neighborhood we live in. We eat food that is far from healthy — bringing on chronic diseases that put us in danger today.
Before the “stay-in-place” order, my wife had a high level of stress caused by her daily 3-hour commute to and from Manhattan. That’s a lot of time that she could spend doing something else — exercising or even relaxing. Now she’s working from home. It was challenging, dealing with technology and not seeing co-workers, but she’s adjusting and starting to enjoy a stress free lifestyle. And as an added bonus, she’s been able to sleep better at night.
How can we, as developers, contractors, and architects help?
People will still need and want to get out of the house. From a regional city planning point of view, we could set up satellite offices outside the city. This would reduce the commute time by creating a neighborhood design, since today, not everyone works at a place close to home. This would reduce pollution allowing us all to breathe cleaner air. It’s a fact that since the beginning of the pandemic — the pollution index in major urban areas like New York City is substantially lower.
To promote well-being in the workplace, we need spaces that give workers access to the outdoor environment and promote design strategies as outlined by the Center for Active Design. This will help the occupants feel better and be healthier. We all feel a little happier when we take a break and go outside. Let’s focus and create these spaces now.
Let’s design a master plan for healthy office complexes.
Architects have the tools to promote a healthier environment in entire towns and regions. Just outside NYC, Connecticut and New Jersey have many suburban office complexes that could benefit from new designs and inspire employees throughout their workdays. These locations should be more than just places where people drive there, work and go home.
Now’s the time to take advantage of this great opportunity with renovations to make these workspaces healthier; designing spaces in and around these buildings — allowing people to be more active. Let’s redesign the buildings and prepare them for when the employees return to their offices. Focusing on offices with physical and mental wellness in mind, will make people happier and more productive. Isn’t that what every employer wants?
“We all feel a little happier when we take a break and go outside.”
And now we can actually measure the healthy environment in your building. Fitwel is a certification standard, a joint initiative led by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the General Services Administration (GSA), created to improve the health and productivity of the building occupants. Let’s all step up and make our buildings meet the new standards for wellness.
We should focus on tenant community engagement and well-being, too.
Not just office complexes that need rethinking. Multifamily buildings also require more walkable places. From an apartment unit, you should be able to walk to the store or exercise on a fitness-related trail. And within the building, let’s integrate features to bring not just people together but bring people together with nature as well. We need spaces with natural daylighting and access to green spaces such as community gardens for fresh produce.
So how can we start? Architects can talk to developers and building owners on how they can look for ways to improve their facilities. Renters who are sick and can’t pay are liabilities for the building owners. By providing healthy conditions for both themselves and the tenant — it’s a win-win.
Time to get ahead of the curve by proactively working on design.
Our environment impacts how we live. We are now going through cultural change. The longer it takes, the more we realize what’s really important in life, and the easier it will be to rethink our collective needs as a community. We can start to make buildings healthier, starting with Fitwel benchmarks.
Consider this is not the only pandemic we will face — there is a real potential that there will be more down the road. We need a healthier population to handle the next virus. We need to start today for a better tomorrow.