Holistic design takes centre stage

Following on from a raft of recent research that makes a clear connection between the built environment and health and wellbeing, David Cook of Vent-Axia discusses the new Government White Paper on the crucial effect of building design

Health and wellbeing can no longer be ignored. The All Party Parliamentary Group for Healthy Homes and Buildings’ White Paper ‘Building our Future: Laying the Foundations for Healthy Homes and Buildings,’ published in October 2018, focuses on the detrimental impact that poor quality buildings are having on the nation’s health and wellbeing, and makes far-reaching recommendations on how this should be tackled. The White Paper outlines how, by tackling the numerous issues in new and existing constructions in a more holistic way, there is a real opportunity to create buildings that promote positive health and wellbeing. The White Paper makes clear recommendations to the Government on how it can improve standards in homes and buildings to benefit occupants’ health and wellbeing. Representing a key part of these recommendations, the White Paper calls for better and consistent building standards and regulations. It also calls for both new build designs and building renovations to consider health and wellbeing, taking a holistic approach to consider elements such as ventilation, heating, energy efficiency, air quality, lighting and acoustics. The All Party Parliamentary Group for Healthy Homes and Buildings believes that it is only by taking such a holistic approach to delivering healthy homes and buildings that we can make changes where the real benefits can be realised. Without focusing on the issue as a whole, it suggests we risk making gains by tackling one issue, simply to lose them again by failing to tackle another.

Indoor air quality

As part of the holistic design of healthy buildings, ventilation and indoor air quality are two key areas to consider. The White Paper identifies aspects of poor quality, such as buildings suffering from poor indoor air quality (IAQ); which has been linked to allergy and asthma, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease, and dementia. It is cited in the White Paper that this results in an annual cost to the UK of over 204,000 healthy life years. This backs up earlier findings from The Royal College of Physicians, which reported that poor IAQ causes thousands of deaths per year, and has healthcare costs amounting to “tens of millions of pounds” every year. Meanwhile, in terms of healthy buildings, the Stoddart Review found that the health and wellbeing of staff had a significant positive impact on productivity, with happy workers being 12 per cent more productive. Nationally, just a 1 per cent increase in productivity would add £20bn to the UK economy, so the benefits of healthy buildings definitely add up. Following a raft of reports linking the health implications related to indoor and outdoor air pollution, momentum is now growing regarding the importance of good air quality. As a result, the publication of the White Paper follows hot on the heels of Defra’s new Clean Air Strategy consultation, published in May 2018, which confirmed the importance of clean air. This draft strategy outlines the Government’s ambitions to reduce air pollution, thereby making our air healthier to breathe, as well as protecting nature and boosting the economy, with the draft setting a clear direction for future air quality policies and goals. The consultation closed in August 2018, and the final UK Clean Air Strategy and detailed National Air Pollution Control Programme is due to be published by March 2019.

Healthy buildings

So, what does this mean for architects? While the Government is starting to address the causes of air pollution, until air quality improves, it is essential to look at ways of improving the quality of air being brought into buildings. One way is to specify modern ventilation with air filtration. The latest Demand Energy Recovery Ventilation (D-ERV) or Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) units tackle air pollutants generated outside of the building, by filtering the air before supplying it to the inside of the building. By removing these pollutants from the outside air being brought into a building, air filtration systems improve indoor air quality (IAQ) and so offer a healthier indoor environment. However, it is also important to tackle pollutants generated inside a building such as VOCs and CO2. On-demand ventilation systems, such as D-ERV supply or extract air only when and to the level it is required improving IAQ. Sophisticated sensors monitor these ‘internal pollutants’ along with humidity and temperature and adjust ventilation accordingly, further enhancing IAQ and helping achieve a healthy building. With the health and wellbeing of the nation now firmly on the agenda, this is the ideal time for architects to lead the way with this holistic approach to building design. By marrying the benefits of ventilation and good IAQ with improved lighting, acoustics, heating and energy efficiency, not only can the physical and mental health of occupants be improved, but businesses can see improved productivity, and overall sustainability will be improved too. This all-round approach to building design is surely a win-win for everyone.

David Cook is product-marketing manager, non-residential, at Vent-Axia