Wellness in Conversation

I was eating breakfast with the family at the bach over the weekend when the topic of Wellness came up. My mother-in-law, Jill, looked up from her paper and asked me "When you’re doing your architecture with sustainable buildings, is that this 'Wellness' idea that you’re interested in? Low energy, no water and that kind of stuff?"

"Yeah" I said "that’s part of it. That’s like the beginning, but there’s more to it, if you really want to get it right. "

"How's that?"

"Sustainable buildings are like Wellness for the environment, which is great, but I’m interested in Wellness for people too."

Building users and owners are increasingly aware of the impact of their built environments on their daily lives, health and happiness. They’re becoming increasingly demanding of these environments, and so they should. It’s estimated that New Zealanders spend over 75% of their time inside buildings, so it makes sense then that we must make this majority of our daily experience enriching and worthwhile. The rise in organisations such as the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) and Well Building Institute illustrate the increased interest in sustainable, healthy and inspiring built environments, and provide designers tools in which to measure the success of the projects they produce.

"And is it just for hospitals?" she continued.

"Not at all, that’s a lot of what we work on now, but you can make any kind of building a 'Well' building."

At Jasmax we have a diverse range of projects, but are finding more and more that, despite the actual project typology, many of our clients are asking of the same thing; a building that is constructed and operated sustainably, and offers a healthy and happy environment for the inhabitants. We can point to a range of projects such as schools (Avondale College), offices (Jasmax, Icebreaker), community buildings (Tūhoe Te Uru Taumatua) and residential developments (Arvida) that all share these qualities and demonstrate them in a number of interesting ways.

"So how do you mean?" she asked.

"Well, if you worked in a building, and your office, or workshop, or whatever was on the 2nd floor, do you think that you would take the stairs?" I said.

"Yeah, once in a while, for the exercise probably, but I’d mostly take the lift!"

“I think you’re right. But what if your office had some really great stairs?"

"Really great stairs?" she said

"Stairs that were right in the entrance, as the main event, and were made out of beautiful timber, with a smooth handrail that you just wanted to touch and there were lots of windows around the staircase, adding lots of light, and a view that got better and better the higher up the stairs you climbed?"

"Wow, that’d be good!" she said.

"And then on the stairs, there were some landings with comfy seats where you could have a rest on the way up, and maybe you might bump into a mate and stop for a chat there?"

"These 'informal meeting spaces' that architects always talk about?"

"Yeah, you can talk about work, or you can just catch up, talk about the weekend or make lunch plans.

"But instead of going out for lunch, at the top of the stairs, there was a nice big kitchen for everybody - so you and your friend could make some lunch together. You could take some salad in from your garden at home - or better yet - what if the building had its own garden where people grew stuff for everyone to share?"

"Maybe right from the stairs, you could just reach out and grab some fruit off a tree for a snack?"

"Would workplaces do that?’ She laughed, "it would be good. You could save a bit of money that way - I used to like making my own lunch to take to work. Obviously with the odd treat day!"

"Yeah more and more workplaces are looking at how they can do this. You and the other people in the office could look after the garden; grow some veggies that you could eat for lunch, and maybe take a bit home if there was spare … You could collect the kitchen scraps and start a compost bin. We’ve got a worm farm at our office."

The movement of Wellness in buildings is undoubtedly a global one. American architecture firm Perkins + Will are regarded as pioneers in this discipline, and regularly produce projects and research papers that promote restorative building practices, active design and healthy communities. Closer to home Australian architects Hassell recently completed the Medibank HQ office complex in Melbourne, which seeks to 'move from activity based working to health based working', an approach that places the mental and physical health of people at its heart. Here in New Zealand, Jasmax completed the country’s first ‘Living Building’ project for the Tribal HQ at Tūhoe , which places the relationship between people and the environment at the forefront of the design; by creating a building that seeks to become restorative and considers its potential impact over many generations of the tribe’s future.

"It could be a nice place for a tea break too; sit in the garden, pull a few weeds and chill out for a bit." I said.

"It is nice to go outside on your break.’ Jill said. "But when do you get any work done in this place?"

"I think that if you’re keeping fit from all the stair walking, and you’re staying healthy with your fresh lunches; then you’d be a lot more productive when you do get down to work. And you’ll be friendly with the all the staff there because you all help in the garden together, and you share a lunch from time to time, so you’re probably gonna make a better team when there’s real work to be done."

"It’s sounds very social."

"Yeah, it would keep everyone happy." I said.

"You’d have to have a good boss to get away with all that though, aye?"

"'Good' might not be the word, open-minded is probably better. But yeah, I think you have to think about it like this: bosses want to work in a nice place too don’t they? And I bet with all these happy, healthy workers you’d probably cut down on the amount of sick days that staff took. It’s probably a good way to keep the best people working at the company, as well."

Through research, the Well Building Institute has published a number of interesting statistics that demonstrate the benefits of 'Well' certified buildings. Surveying employees at a recently certified office project they found; 83% said they feel more productive, 100% said that clients were interested in their new way of working, 92% said the new space has created a positive effect on their health and well-being, 94% said that the new space has a positive impact on their business performance, 93% said that they are able to more easily collaborate with others. Jasmax has recently completed Fonterra's global headquarters in the heart of Auckland's Wynyard Quarter, incorporating many of these initiatives into the building's design and its interior fitout.

"Ha-ha, I’d work there!" she said. "Is this what your office is like then?"

"Not quite", I replied, "but it could be."

"You should tell them about this." she said.

"Yeah, I think I will."

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