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Healthy Buildings Becoming a Key Design Priority

Living Spaces

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Nearly three quarters of U.S. architects say the health impacts of buildings are influencing their design decisions. That finding parallels a strong market demand by building owners, with a solid two-thirds surveyed also reporting that health considerations affect how they design and construct buildings.

These findings and others were featured in a new report, “The Drive Toward Healthier Buildings 2016” by Dodge Data & Analytics, in partnership with Delos and the Canada Green Building Council, and with the participation of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) as a critical research advisor and partner.

The report documents the value and need for more of the research, education, collaboration, and outreach efforts that are hallmarks of the AIA’s Design and Health initiative. Since 2013, AIA has invested in expanding the body of knowledge on the connection between design and health, including professional continuing education and the 17-university Design & Health Research Consortium.

“As a society, we spend nearly 87% of our time indoors,” said AIA Chief Executive Officer Robert Ivy. “Designing and constructing healthy buildings is crucial to our own well-being.

“Working with architects, we can accelerate this need for healthier buildings and improve quality of life across the country,” he continued. “This report documents how architects can help clients have a positive effect on human health, through the built environment.”

That positive result includes increasing employee participation and fulfillment, the report found. Sixty-nine percent of owners who measure employee satisfaction and engagement reported improvement in both attributes due to their healthier building investments.

According to the report, the top five healthier building features implemented by architects include better lighting and daylight exposure, products that enhance thermal comfort, spaces that enhance social interaction, enhanced air quality, and products that enhance acoustical comfort. Use of nearly all of these is expected to grow considerably along with further pioneering approaches like the use of biophilic design features, spaces that enhance tenant mood, and opportunities for physical activity, the report found.

“The increased attention to building health impacts is just beginning,” said Stephen Jones, senior director of Industry Insights at Dodge Data & Analytics. “In a similar way several years ago, companies engaged in green construction because of the demonstrable business and financial benefits they were able to achieve. The findings of this report demonstrate that the focus on buildings that enhance the health and well-being of their occupants is likely to follow a similar trajectory, boosted by those who have committed to sustainability in their organizations.”

Additional highlights from the report include:

• Most owners are not aware how healthy building investments result in business benefits like leasing rates (52%) and asset values (58%). However, among those that report an effect, 73% report faster rates, and 62% report higher values.
• According to architects and interior designers, the top driver for greater investment in healthier buildings is improved public awareness of the health impacts of buildings.
• Public-health professionals report that the most common policies currently in place to support healthier building practices are requirements to avoid the use of hazardous materials in buildings (65%). The key policy areas that are currently being considered include incentives that encourage physical activity (47%) and requirements for ongoing building air-quality measurement (46%).
• Ninety-two percent of public-health professionals also report that their institutions are actively conducting research on the influence buildings have on occupant health and well-being.
• Architects are most aligned with their clients (owners) when it comes to understanding the goals of healthy-building investments, as compared to other industry players, recognizing that improved tenant/employee satisfaction and happier and healthier occupants is the primary focus for owners related to their investments.
• The largest percentage of owners, at 42%, identify that they are very interested in partnering with architects to help increase their ability to implement healthy-building practices. While low, it is notably more than the next two highest potential partners — facility managers and educational institutions, both at 31%.

The report also received key support from CBRE, Dewberry, and the U.S. Green Building Council, with additional support from Armstrong Ceiling Solutions and the Regenerative Network. Other organizations that participated in the research process include the American Society of Interior Designers, the National Assoc. of Real Estate Investment Managers, and the World Green Building Council.

This article was prepared by the American Institute of Architects, which works to create more valuable, healthy, secure, and sustainable buildings, neighborhoods, and communities.

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