Saving energy and water, waste recycling, the use of environmentally friendly materials and “green architecture”, that until recently attracted the attention of many companies, is no longer enough to guarantee the quality of spaces. Since the arrival of the WELL certification, called the “second wave of sustainability” the focus of buildings and their relationship with the environment has changed to the well-being and health of the people who inhabit them. “If BREEAM and LEED aimed to improve buildings through design engineering, now WELL aims to implement aspects such as air, water, food and light”, CEO and Chairman of the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) and former founder of the U.S Green Building Council (USGBC), Rick Fedrizzi, explains.
Founded in 2015 by Delos and led by the International WELL Building Institute, WELL is the result of seven years of research from a multi-disciplinary team of scientists, doctors and architects. Compared to the LEED certification, which was a commitment to sustainability through energy efficiency leading to better quality buildings, WELL includes improvements that promote the well-being and create healthy habits in its occupants. Awarded like its predecessor in three levels (Silver, Gold and Platinum), WELL verifies in situ the space built from variables related to health. Originally seven (water, air, food, light, physical exercise, thermal comfort and mind), to which WELL v2 adds another three (sound, materials and community).
“WELL allows to channel well-being, understanding it as a dynamic journey that, with an important social value, progresses towards a balance between the physical and the emotional”, notes the President of Apta Vitae, Giovanni Fabris. For the co-organiser and the Technological Institute of Galicia (TIG), of Wellreference, the event that made WELL known in Europe, “this certification means a valuable tool to work in an environmentally friendly way”.
Taking into account that between 60 and 70% of our health is influenced by the environment and we spend around 90% of our time in closed places where the level of pollution is often greater than outside, it is essential to create healthy work spaces. Environments for people that, as the Head of Sustainability in Innovation and Technology at Homu Welltech, David Lázaro, notes “they democratise health, increase productivity, and attract and retain the best talent”.
For the expert in sustainability and well-being of the real estate consultancy CBRE, Patricia Fuertes, creating a healthy space must be understood as something that goes beyond one-off actions. According to the architect, “WELL offers a global vision of what well-being is, in a society where new generations increasingly demand a greater balance between new healthy habits and their work life”.
WELL turns companies’ commitment to people into a reality, through tangible aspects such as beauty, innovation and culture, and other intangible aspects such as air and light, which are not felt and are the essence of comfort. “For centuries, Vitruvius referred to good architecture with aspects such as health and air quality”, highlights Susana Saiz, Associate Director of Arup. This connection between good architecture and people has decreased over time and is now making a come-back. For the specialist in sustainability, energy efficiency and bioclimatic architecture from Homu Welltech, Gala Fombella, “WELL revives the idea of the building as a space where we feel good”.
From the property management group, GMP, its General Business Manager, Xabier Barrondo, and the Projects Manager, Susana Díaz, refer to architecture as “the setting where people develop their activity, in a social environment where, as well as productivity, happiness plays a key role”. At work, human and environmental sustainability go hand in hand to create direct connections with the outside that allow the integration of nature and architecture. It is a commitment to the well-being and comfort of people, a good example of which is the building Castellana 81 (previously the BBVA Tower or Banco de Bilbao Tower) from the architect Sáenz de Oiza. Renovated and declared a building of Cultural Interest in 2017, LEED Platinum Core & Shell and WELL Building Standard Gold Core & Shell, the building already incorporated sustainable solutions in its original project.
“We are entering a new revival, that places high value on design and not only on functionality. It isn’t about choosing the best and most efficient systems, but also investing in aspects that inspire people and place them at the centre”, states Rick Fedrizzi. To achieve this, projects must be committed in a comprehensive manner, offering sustainable alternatives that replace lifts with stairs, decrease the use of halogens and instead use natural light or introduce healthy diets.
The ideal temperature, lighting control and an appropriate noise level are the aspects that most concerns users, according to the Head of Project Business at Somfy Spain, Albert López. The architects works together with his team in designing and implementing dynamic façades that respond to both the needs of the external environment and to users inhabiting its interior. They are open and transparent spaces where, as Soledat Berbegal from Actiu notes, “furniture is no longer simply an element but now a tool that, with more and more functions, improves the well-being of its users and allows them to socialise, collaborate, work alone or to focus”. For the Brand Reputation Advisor and Director at Actiu, furniture is now an inseparable part of an "active architecture" that moves both physically and emotionally.
Although measuring intangible aspects is sometimes complicated, there are more and more tools to achieve it. “It is not just about designing a good building, but making it work well”, Miguel Fernández highlights, from Cundall, for whom it is essential to monitor productivity and talent retention to demonstrate the profitability of the WELL. This profitability, as the founder of Asla Green Solutions Patrizia Laplana states, goes much further than the company and the buildings, and affects the local areas and cities.
“With some points in common with the BREEAM and LEED certifications, WELL incorporates buildings with a quantitative credibility as it adds an independent external verification”, the Director of Sustainability for Spain of the Engineering company Deerns, Daniel Martín, explains. While the former certifications were designed to reduce the impact of the building on climate change, WELL aims to improve and create a positive impact on the people occupying the buildings. These people are, precisely, those that today represent the greatest percentage (around 90%) of companies' expenditure.
Present especially in work spaces, WELL is already beginning to look to other sectors, such as education and health, where environment plays a key role in the well-being of its users. “In residential architecture, student or elderly accommodation and hotels represent the most sensitive niche to a certification that will still take some time before it reaches private housing”, notes the head of WELL certification at the Technological Institute of Galicia(TIG), Bieito Silva.
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