There are lots of building performance certification schemes, most of them regularly dismissed as box-ticking exercises which don’t tell the whole story. The best, however, can give us a framework within which to shape our ideas and a sound evidence-base on which to communicate the benefits of good design.
The WELL certification is a relative newcomer in this area – so far there is only one building in the UK that bears its mark – focussed on the successful delivery of healthy and productive buildings, counteracting the well-documented negative effects of the modern office environment. There are seven categories: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind; all of them inextricably linked to our wellbeing. This is not a design-by-numbers architectural directive; it is much further reaching, considering not just how buildings are designed, but how they are used and managed during their useful life.
So how do we fit into all of this? Each of the categories encompass things that architects have been trying to achieve in their buildings for decades, centuries even. A visual connection to the natural environment, fresh air, natural light and a clear, coherent layout: these are elemental parts of any well-design building. At first glance, this scheme is nothing more than a validation of these principles, but it is backed up with sound statistical analysis and quantified benefits (something that we have never been that great at) which make it a useful tool.
A thread running through each category is productivity; how can we keep our working population, happy, healthy and productive. The benefit of this is quantifiable and familiar; something that we all understand, from client, to architect, to developer.
Common ground is helpful, but a great space should always be the goal, achieved through research, experience and conversation, rather than a ‘tick-box’ exercise. Without this, there is a risk that over-engineering these spaces to suggest how they should be used, rather than allowing them to respond to natural patterns, will breed resentment within the work force. Nobody really likes being told what to do.
Ultimately, beauty, delight and a varied, engaging environment must remain at the heart of any successful space. These are objective qualities; site-specific, unquantifiable and beyond the scope of a prescriptive approach. That is where we fit in.