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Can a modern building design make you healthy?

May 19, 2017 Posted by Heath McNab
Can a modern building design make you healthy?

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With most Australians spending 90% or more of their time indoors, it’s not surprising that building design has a significant impact on our health and wellbeing. In recent years, there has been a push to ensure building developments are not only environmentally sustainable, but also support the health of its occupants. For example, the Australian Government has recently tightened restrictions on the construction industry’s use of products known to cause health problems, such as asbestos and formaldehyde. But can a modern building design actively improve our health and wellbeing?

Rick Fedrizzi of the International WELL Building Institute believes it’s possible. He calls this era the second wave of sustainability, which follows the first wave that began in the early 90s. This was when green buildings were starting to take off and the focus was around energy efficiency, water usage and waste. The Green Star performance tool is a result of this first wave of sustainability. Launched by the Green Building Council of Australia in 2003, Green Star assesses the operational performance of buildings against nine environmental impact categories: management, indoor environment quality, energy, transport, water, materials, land use and ecology, emissions and innovation.

Since then, the way we work and the technology we use has dramatically changed. There are now opportunities to not only reduce our environmental impact, but also enhance people’s health and wellbeing. This is the focus of the WELL Building Standard™, which rates a building against seven concepts: air quality, water quality, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mindfulness. A new guidance document that aligns Green Star and the WELL Building Standard™ was launched in January this year, with the aim of supporting building owners who are looking to boost the sustainability of their assets and support the health and wellbeing of their buildings’ occupants.

This partnership means developers no longer have to choose between health and sustainability when creating modern building designs in Australia. There has already been significant interest in the concept, with Lend Lease adopting the WELL certification for its International Towers Sydney precinct at Barangaroo, and CBRE pursuing the certification for at least 100 buildings, sites and offices around the world. One of the first Australian buildings to be certified was the heritage-listed building in Sydney’s Martin Place, owned by Macquarie Bank. It is also pursuing certification for its building at 1 Shelley Street Sydney, with other companies expected to follow in the years ahead.

While sustainability requirements in the Building Code of Australia (BCA) have not been significantly revised in almost a decade, there will likely be reforms to energy efficiency standards for commercial buildings when the code is reviewed in 2019. However, from 1 July there will be changes to the threshold at which a Building Energy Efficiency Certificate is required for an office space, from 2,000 square metres or more down to 1,000 square metres or more. As more companies understand the benefits of creating modern building designs that address the health and wellbeing of their workers, it’s likely that changes to the BCA and relevant legislation will follow.

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