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How can developers ensure the wellbeing of building tenants?

Developers must adopt a new approach to project conception and design in order to ensure the long-term wellbeing of building tenants and occupants

Farah Yassine is a senior consultant at construction consultancy, WSP.
Farah Yassine is a senior consultant at construction consultancy, WSP.

Do you ever notice that you start sneezing as you enter your office building? Do you feel like your workspace is located at the North Pole? Does your mood gradually worsen while you work in dark spaces with no access to natural daylight? If you answered ‘yes’ to some or all of these questions, then your office needs some improvements to enhance your health and wellbeing.

It is a known fact that in developed countries, people spend approximately 90% of their time indoors. This might even be slightly higher during the summer months in the UAE, where the weather is too harsh for people to be outdoors for long. Based on this, it is expected that buildings provide a safe and healthy environment for their occupants to live, work, study, and play.

However, recent studies have shown that there is a problem when it comes to environmental quality in indoor spaces in the UAE. A study conducted in 2014 assessed the indoor environmental quality in elementary school classrooms, and showed that indoor air quality levels were more than double the acceptable limits of pollutants. For example, the average level of total volatile organic compounds (TVOCs) was found to be 815 grams per cubic metre (g/m³), whilst the acceptable level according to Dubai Municipality is 300g/m³. High levels of TVOCs can cause or contribute to a number of health problems such as headaches, nausea, and fatigue. 

Another study in 2013 looked at the indoor environmental conditions across four offices in the UAE, and highlighted key concerns in relation to comfort and wellbeing. In one of the offices, 66% of people expressed dissatisfaction as a result of noise pollution, and 40% of people expressed dissatisfaction resulting from poor thermal comfort. 

Thermal discomfort is a common complaint of building occupants where people feel either too hot or too cold, and can affect both comfort and productivity levels. There are additional factors that can further impact our physiological and psychological wellbeing in interior spaces. This includes access to spaces that encourage fitness, such as gyms or sports classes. This is a particularly crucial factor locally, as recent studies have shown that more than 66% of men and 60% of women in the UAE are overweight or obese, which puts them at risk of developing serious diseases such as diabetes and osteoarthritis.

Accessibility is another aspect of a building that may not typically be associated with health and wellbeing, but in reality can greatly impact our comfort levels. Cultivating a culture of engineering inclusive spaces is imperative to encouraging inclusive design and employment. 

A survey conducted by WSP in 2016 assessed the accessibility of 28 public service buildings in Dubai against international accessibility standards. 

The findings showed that only 5% of the accessibility standards criteria were currently being met by the buildings’ access ramps. 

Such concerns were captured in the 2013 World Green Building Council Report, which discussed how green buildings could enhance health, wellbeing, and productivity for their occupants. 

In response, the International Well Building Institute introduced the Well Building Standard in 2014, in order to facilitate a structured and formal assessment of office and commercial buildings against factors that impact the health and wellbeing of their occupants. 

Based on current research on the effects of spaces on people, the rating tool contains 100 features under seven categories – air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. The features focus on the quality of indoor parameters including air, water, acoustics, and lighting – both natural and artificial. In addition, it encourages the incorporation of strategies to encourage building occupants to be more active and consume healthy food. 

The rating also takes into account how designs can positively impact our mental wellbeing and comfort, such as by adding plants in interior spaces, using ergonomic furniture, and improving the general accessibility of the building. 

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Construction Week - Issue 738
Apr 21, 2019