When designing any kind of building there are a multitude of things to consider. Everything from the exterior look to what taps to use in the bathrooms need to be carefully considered designed and costed.
Even the forces within the building have to exactly balance so no one – simply through the act of sitting on their sofa – falls through their living room floor into that of the person living beneath them.
In amongst this miasma of challenges, considerations and requirements is the well-being of the occupant.
This may seem abundantly obvious considering all (or at least the vast majority) are meant to be occupied but it doesn’t take much for an occupant – be it a residency or commercial building – to be made to feel uncomfortable or even unwell.
In 2010 the Vdara Hotel came under fire due to a quirk of its design. The curvature of the building served as a magnifying glass, reflecting the sun’s rays into the pool area below severely burning guests.
With temperatures in excess of 40 degrees Celsius it was a costly and very public mistake.
The solution: big blue umbrellas over the pool area. Hardly what you would expect for £160 a night.
But it’s not an isolated incident with a similar problem occurring with the Walkie Talkie building in London warping car body panels, melting interiors and burning passers-by. It won’t surprise you to learn that the Vdara and the affectionately named Fryscraper had the same architect.
Albeit strictly speaking an issue with the exterior, it highlights how a simple miscalculation can cause major problems for residents, guests or other occupants of a building. There aren’t many executives that would see the funny side to their 5 Series being immolated whilst they were hard at work.
But the point is this: as soon as you lose sight of why you’re constructing the building and the responsibilities that comes with, then both people and the environment suffer.
The World Health Organisation states “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
So to take this to its logical conclusion: developers – and anyone involved in the project – have an overriding responsibility to the occupants of any building they construct to maintain their well-being.
This means light, spacious areas, energy efficient doors, windows, insulation and heating systems. It also means proper ventilation and walls of sufficient thickness that everyone can live with dignity.
Most importantly it means sustainable solutions that add real value not just to the property and its longevity but to the residents or employees who occupy it.
BREEAM is a good way to measure this but embracing well-being in a built environment needs to come from an entirely more holistic, even philosophical place.
Mainly because faking it won’t work.
We live in an age where information is a tap away and consumers, property buyers included, can learn whatever they want about the product or service they are buying.
Whether you want them to or not.
The age of Oz is over; the ‘man behind the velvet curtain’ has nowhere left to hide.
The advantage of this new, transparent and conscientious way of working is that it makes good commercial sense.
Compliant buildings are easier to get approval, easier to assess and (theoretically) straight forward to build. Plus because the emphasis is on greater accountability you can quickly identify the project partners that are willing to put their name to their work.
This makes you look good and makes it less likely there’ll be nasty surprises when the project is signed off.
What of the occupant?
The simple truth is better homes and better offices make for happier, more productive people. Happier more productive people make more effort, generate more revenue for their business and put more into the economy.
This attracts more businesses and more people to work in them. All of whom need homes.
There’s certain poetry to life when ethics and good business lines up but this is one of those times.