Can our work and workplace enhance our health? I think the obvious answer is yes and I believe the wisest of clients agree. Our health has several dimensions—physical, mental, and emotional. These dimensions are delicate and must work in balance for true health to be realized. Wherever we work, be it at home, in an office or a factory, on a construction site or in a hospital, our physical and emotional surroundings play an important role in our personal health. As designers of built environments that house businesses so dependent on people, we are increasingly appreciative of this holistic definition of health. This thinking takes us beyond the greening of design. We must include employee health in our design thinking and client education. It is simply good for the business of design, the health of our clients, and the prosperity we realize from a job well done.
78% of Americans are not meeting basic activity level recommendations. In 1960, 50% of jobs in the United States required moderate physical activity. In 2012 that number is just 20%. Today we know we must get plenty of exercise, eat right, and reduce stress. Even with the best of intentions, it is increasingly difficult to balance these logical directives when the demands and pace of our lives and work seem to grow. Add to this increased competition among businesses and individuals, and the physiological compression that results can be difficult to manage. It is ultimately a complex and very personal challenge, but good design can be a catalyst for incremental positive change. As designers, we can get people to move, we can foster energy and calm, improve the air that we breathe, enhance human comfort, and educate our clients about the power of positive culture.
Like urban planners, interior designers create place. At a smaller, but important scale, interior planning invites physical movement and discovery. Think of stairs that are easy to access and visually appealing encouraging physical movement, or walking routes that lead to inviting amenities, which beckon employees a bit further from the computer screen. Getting up to move is good for your mind too. Productivity increases with work breaks and physical movement.
Healthways, Inc., the health and well-being improvement company based in Tennessee, partnered with Gallup to create the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. The Index is the first ever daily assessment of U.S. residents’ health and well-being. According to Sue Schmidt, Healthways Well-Being Design Leader, the firm has “a culture of health” and has the BHAG, big hairy audacious goal, of
In 2010, a group of New York City government agencies and the AIA developed and released the Active Design Guidelines. Based upon the latest academic research and best practices, this tool is a downloadable resource for designers providing guidelines for promoting physical activity. Health thinking is on every scale. As Neil Pendleton, Managing Director of CBRE’s Chicago Project Management Group shared with me, “We are seeing some increased focus on employee health and wellness more typically on larger projects where clients have the opportunity to invest in amenities that promote wellness, such as a fitness center.”
As designers, we know how environment can create energy and calm. Humans react to these spaces differently because we are uniquely wired. In her book Quiet, author Susan Cain elaborates on the different needs of introverts and extroverts, how both personal natures are vital in our world and in our businesses, and how deeply environment impacts each of us. Creating effective spaces for quiet and for community, in balance, is important in any design solution. While there has been a huge migration to Starbucks-like environments, we all don’t thrive in the buzz.
Be bold when communicating the power of culture and its link to emotional health in the workplace, and contribute to a positive culture in your organization. A report by the government of Queensland, Australia states, “A supportive workplace culture has been associated with a variety of benefits for both employees and employers, including higher levels of affective commitment to the organization, lower intention to leave the organization, higher levels of job satisfaction, lower levels of stress and the experience of less conflict between work and family responsibilities.” These positive benefits must translate to better health.
Help our clients move, find their right place-fit, breathe better, and be happier. While we can’t change the world, as design professionals, we can strive to positively change the people and the places we touch.
Resource Library at Rush Hospital.
Photography: Steve Hall, Hedrich Blessing Photography 2011
Interior Designer: Perkins+Will
The Perkins+Will Atlanta office relaxes in the great outdoors.
Photography: Eduard Hueber 2011
Interior Designer: Perkins+Will
A relaxing fitness center at a premiere trading firm
Photography: Michelle Litvin 2011
Interior Designer: Perkins+Will
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index
Active Design Guidelines: Promoting Physical Activity and Health in Design. 2010. http://www.nyc.gov/html/ddc/html/design/active_design.shtml
“Too Much Sitting Can Kill You, Study Suggests”, Maureen Salamon. HealthDay News, March 26, 2012.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. Susan Cain, 2012.
Transparency website, Perkins+Will.
Workplace culture, Queensland government website.
Obesity Related Statistics in America, Get America Fit website
“Less Active at Work, Americans Have Packed on Pounds”, Tara Parker-Pope, New York Times, May 25, 2011
Gina Berndt, IIDA, LEED ID+C, is the Global Discipline Leader of Interior Design at Perkins+Will. For over 30 years, Gina has led teams to deliver design solutions that delight clients, meeting their functional parameters and exceeding their expectations. Gina sets the bar for exemplary design, client service, and ethics. With her singular focus on interiors, she is acutely in tune with the trends that affect how people work, live, learn, and heal. A consummate leader and mentor, Gina’s insight and instincts have helped cultivate talented, interdisciplinary interior design teams who have been recognized with numerous awards and loyal repeat clients. She can be reached at email@example.com
"Designing for Health" is a monthly, web-exclusive series from the healthcare interior design leaders at Perkins+Will that focuses on the issues, trends, challenges, and reserach involved in crafting today's healing environments. Past installment of "Designing for Health" include (click on the title to access the full article):
The Differences between U.S. and U.K. Clinical Planning Models
Widening a Circle of Natural Inclusion
Mentoring the Next Generation of Healthcare Design Professionals
When the Professional Becomes the Patient--An Insider's Perspective
The Evolving Role of the Design Professional Through Public Private Partnerships