The release of the WELL Building Standard last fall has helped raise awareness of ongoing efforts to make buildings of all kinds healthier for occupants.

Promoted as "the world's first building standard to focus on enhancing people's health and well-being through the built environment," WELL is a great step forward in setting health and wellness objectives for building design and construction. Others also are making strides to bring occupant health and wellness to the forefront of the building industry.

Modeled on and intended to supplement the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED standard for sustainability, the WELL Building Standard establishes specific performance requirements in seven areas relevant to occupant health β€” air, water, light, nourishment, fitness, comfort and mind.

Pioneered by Delos and administered by the International Well Building Institute, the standard "marries best practices in design and construction with evidence-based medical and scientific research β€” harnessing the built environment as a vehicle to support human health and well-being."

Based on seven years of research, including a two-year pilot program, Delos claims, "WELL Certified spaces can help create a built environment that improves the nutrition, fitness, mood, sleep patterns and performance of its occupants."

As with LEED, buildings are awarded a Silver, Gold or Platinum certification based on how well they meet certain prerequisites or achieve the necessary credits. A passing score in each of the seven areas is required to achieve certification. IWBI has partnered with the Green Building Certification Institute to serve as a third-party certifier. GBCI also administers the LEED certification program and the LEED professional credentialing program.

The WELL Building Standard establishes specific performance requirements in these seven areas relevant to occupant health. (Image: Delos)

The link between WELL and LEED is a logical one, given that the focus on wellness grew out of the sustainability movement. As builders and designers searched for materials and products that would meet sustainability requirements, they became increasingly aware of how toxins, fibers and other substances affected indoor air quality and occupant health.

Steps to improve energy consumption, such as daylighting, led to the realization that occupants' well-being improved when they had access to nature views and natural lighting. The use of indoor gardens, green walls and other greenery to improve water conservation and indoor air quality further supported tenets of biophilic design that occupants were healthier, happier and more productive when they had access to natural spaces and living plants.

Research into these and other areas of health and wellness as they relate to the built environment has given rise to new disciplines and approaches in building and design, such as the design of generative spaces in healthcare β€” environments that allow patients and staff to flourish by focusing on the physical and social aspects of wellness.

In a recent article for Metropolis, Carolyn Rickard-Brideau, one of only 80 provisional WELL accredited professionals in the U.S., applies the term "salutogenetic" design to a wide range of practices that focus on the positive impact of design on human health. Salutogenetic design is not simply a set of wellness principles, she explains.

"It’s a measurable aspect of design that can help a building's inhabitants operate at their peak performance. Additionally, it can help them maintain physical and mental well-being, actually helping them lead healthier and potentially longer lives," said Rickard-Brideau, a senior partner with the A&D firm Little in Washington, D.C.

These approaches are already being applied in healthcare and office environments, single-family and multifamily housing, and other buildings. IWBI states that more than 7.7 million square feet of projects are registered or certified through WELL.

Over time, IWBI expects to collect data that will show not only the health and wellness benefits of WELL buildings, but also "bottom line" benefits, such as ROI and valuation. Just as with sustainability, once owners begin to see real results, design for health and wellness will become an integral part of most building projects.