Progressive organisations from Silicon Valley to Sydney are radically re-thinking the design of the buildings in which their employees operate.

They are working with architects to create physical structures that better encourage better working and wellbeing. Their visionary designs are creating healthier environments and dynamic, stimulating spaces.

According to Rick Fedrizzi, Chairman and CEO of the International WELL Building Institute in New York, there is a shift is from the first wave of environmental sustainability to what he calls “the second wave of sustainability”. The new emphasis is on human performance.

Engaging environments

Clients are increasingly looking for physical workplaces that support new ways of working and stand out in the marketplace to help recruit and retain the best talent.

Younger employees particularly value flexibility and human interaction. They want to work in environments that incorporate certain distinct qualities. Quiet places for critical thinking, active workstations to encourage physical activity through the day, and breakout spaces for collaboration.

With almost 800 projects in the pipeline across the globe, the WELL Building Standard sets out seven core concepts that enhance health and wellness.

These include measurable features such as air quality, daylight levels and thermal comfort. Intangibles are important too: beauty and a sense of community, as well as ready access to healthy food and opportunities for exercise.

Large, flexible, generous

International Towers Sydney (ITS) at Barangaroo, designed by London-based RSHP for Lendlease Group, was the first project globally to achieve the WELL certification’s top ‘platinum’ rating. Architecturally, this was expressed in large, flexible floor plans of around 2,600m², with generous ceiling heights of almost 3m.

Lift shafts, conventionally located near the centre of the floor plan, are offset. This means office layouts can be designed more flexible, either as a single workspace or subdivided into zones. Each has its own ‘sense of place’.

To encourage employees to exercise more, inter-floor connections by stair are increasingly in demand. All of these design elements require architects, designers and clients to think intelligently at the initial design stage and consider carefully where stairs may be needed.

Social Spaces

In Toronto, a one-acre raised park spanning a rail line is a prominent feature of CIBC Square, another WELL-certified project.

A lively public area with restaurants and retail at the base of the building, also integral to Barangaroo in Sydney, is easily accessed by employees.

The fourth floor, which links directly to the park, incorporates co-working spaces, as well as a choice of eateries with outdoor terraces. This encourages employee socialising. Less visible design features that respond to the wellness agenda include acoustically-enhanced glass and LED lighting that mimics circadian rhythms.

Raising the wellness bar

Two exemplary one-off office buildings recently completed in London have raised the bar in workplace design that stimulates better wellbeing and well working.

Foster + Partners’ eight-storey Bloomberg building for 4,000 employees is designed around a generous, helical, bronze ramp that links all the office floors. This is deliberately designed for social interaction and physical activity.

Both employees and visitors take a lift from street level to the sixth-floor ‘Pantry’, a social hub that houses a café and seating areas, with spectacular views overlooking St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Unusual for a deep-plan office building, the Bloomberg headquarters is designed to operate with natural ventilation during the UK’s temperate Spring and Autumn seasons. Bronze fins on the façade open and close as part of the ventilation.

Architectural delights

Close to London’s ‘silicon roundabout’ is another notable project. White Collar Factory, a mixed-use project by Derwent plc for the speculative office market, is executed with a stripped-down aesthetic of exposed concrete that exudes cool.

The use of concrete is not only about looks. It is a material with high thermal mass, so it contributes to thermal comfort by reducing temperature swings. Unusual in a 16-storey building on a busy urban roundabout, windows can be opened above desk height.

Simon Allford, director at London practice AHMM, which designed the White Collar Factory, observes that ‘architectural delight’ is critical to wellbeing in a work environment. This means a pleasant route through a generous entrance, lifts and stairs that are easy to see, good daylight without excessive solar load, natural light and comfortable acoustics throughout.

Modern history

Historic buildings can also be adapted to create exceptional contemporary workplaces that stimulate well working and, in turn, a more content workforce.

The 55 Amsterdam building in Paris, built in 1929 in the city’s 8th Arrondissement, re-opened last year. It now has three additional floors, an internal garden courtyard and a basement restaurant and conference room, naturally lit by exterior courtyards.

Healthy workplaces create long-term value, says Lendlease’s Chief Executive for property in Australia, Kylie Rampa:

“If a business can cut time lost to absenteeism and presenteeism by providing work environments that enhance employees’ health, it has broad economic benefits.”

The buildings described here truly benefit well working. Will yours be next?

Hattie Hartman is an editor at The Architects’ Journal, London.

This article is from the latest ‘Well Working’ edition of the Odgers Berndtson magazine, OBSERVE.

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