Why the built environment needs a people first philosophy

Progressive and productive spaces - both indoors and outdoors - can only be achieved by designing consciously for people.

September 07, 2017

Today’s buildings have more of a focus on open, sustainable design than ever before as growing numbers of companies want offices that not only make the most of the space but also get the best from the people inside.

Developers are coming round to this new way of thinking. Instead of focusing on rents and Grade A specifications they’re increasingly focusing on what drives people and productivity.

It certainly makes sense: In an age where we spend 90 percent of our time indoors, it’s all the more essential to consider the wellness component of a development. Recent research data has shown that improved views, well-designed artificial lighting and increased use of daylight wherever possible can increase productivity by up to 5.5 per cent. Floor-to-ceiling glazing, for example, provides abundant natural daylight into workspaces to improve the sense of wellbeing of occupants. Meanwhile good air quality within buildings can help to reduce sick leave by up to 35 per cent, and even a view of nature can help boost productivity. Research has shown that a 40-second micro-break overlooking a green roof can result in higher concentration levels compared with views of a concrete roof.

Yet what happens indoors is only part of the building design. The outside space is equally important. We may only spend 10 percent of our time outdoors but the structures that form part of the built environment have a significant impact on how we think and feel about our daily lives.

Instead of talking about the kinds of materials and finishes that make buildings more aesthetically pleasing, let’s better understand the factors that define our perception of urban spaces from air quality to suitable amenities and how these affect our physical and mental well-being.

People-first precincts

Progressive and productive spaces can only be achieved by designing consciously for people. This approach is derived from a fundamental conviction that the future of urban living is rooted in creating active, green and engaged spaces.

The real estate industry can play an important role in addressing modern urban challenges such as sustainability, consensus building, encouraging a sense of community and maintaining local identity. In Asia Pacific, there are a growing number of successful precinct projects where developers are working with city authorities to achieve holistic urban regeneration.

Sydney’s Barangaroo precinct, which was a container wharf district in its former life, will be transformed to become a waterfront attraction with state-of-the art offices, residences, shopping and restaurants complete with a public park. The project won Australia’s Development of the Year last month, and judges hailed its design, economic performance, environmental commitment and innovation.

Melbourne, often regarded as the world’s most liveable city, is getting its own version of New York’s High Line with its first elevated “skypark” rising 10 metres above ground level. The 22,000 square feet park is part of a new district called Melbourne Quarter hosting commercial and residential towers that links the Docklands with the Central Business District

Elsewhere, Singapore’s Committee on the Future Economy has also put forth a master developer model for the city state. The forthcoming Paya Lebar Quarter has been designed to include wellness features such as enhanced air filtration, abundant natural lighting, greenery and end-of-trip facilities for active commutes to work. It also created 100,000 square feet of green public spaces and two covered outdoor event spaces where community and culture events can be held.

Fresh thinking for modern times

In the future, it won’t be enough to simply develop buildings that meet sustainability criteria, important though this is. Instead, all buildings need to adopt a people first-philosophy where projects are designed with health and wellness of the occupants in mind, as well as providing a complete ecosystem which integrates work with other lifestyle activities.

The only way the industry can progress efficiently towards this future human-centric model is a complete change in mindset. Developers need to create developments that add value to the occupants and communities, and businesses need to look beyond the monetary costs of occupying a building and focus on the quality of the built environment and its impact on the occupants. We’re at the start of this shift but it’s still a long way from being the norm.