Kate Rube of International Well Being Institute says architecture can be used to encourage people to adopt healthier habits

Please explain your background a little bit – your work and current post with the International WELL Building Institute.

I’m a member of the Market Solutions team at IWBI, which is dedicated to supporting WELL projects – helping them to navigate the certification process and providing technical support on how to meet the rating system’s health and well-being requirements. I specifically work with projects in the UAE, which has been fascinating, given the country’s focus on happiness and wellness, innovation and technology. It’s a great fit for how the built environment can better be designed and operated to support people, which is the goal of the WELL Building Standard. My background is in sustainability and urban planning – I worked for the early part of my career in Washington, DC on environmental and sustainable planning policy, and then have also consulted with communities on active transportation, placemaking, and public space projects. I’m passionate about how evidence-based design in our communities and buildings can make people’s lives better and help us solve global issues.

How does WELL operate? Are you commissioned by practices to certify their work?

Administered by the International WELL Building Institute and third-party certified by Green Business Certification Inc., the WELL Building Standard is a holistic standard whereby more than 100 features within the core concepts of building performance that have been scientifically proven to impact the occupant experience work in concert to deliver the highest benefit.

To obtain WELL Certification, developers and building teams begin by registering a project online. Upon registration, Green Business Certification Inc., the same organization that administers LEED certification and also provides third-party certification for WELL, will assign a WELL Assessor to the project. WELL Assessors ensure that a project complies with the WELL Building Standard requirements and are responsible for a project’s documentation review and performance verification.

The next step in the process is documentation review, in which the documentation required for each feature being pursued is submitted to GBCI. The WELL Assessor then performs a technical review of the submitted documentation.

Once the project passes the documentation review phase, the project may move on to performance verification, in which a series of post-construction performance tests are performed.

Once it is demonstrated through these two steps (documentation review and performance verification) that the project has achieved all of the applicable Preconditions and Optimizations, the project achieves WELL Certification.

Can you tell me a little bit about Haworth’s event that you spoke at?

Sure – the event was organized for local designers and others that play a role in real estate design. We’re grateful to Haworth’s support and interest in WELL. They have certified two of their showrooms (in Shanghai and Los Angeles, California) and have two additional showrooms pursuing WELL in the United States. I think architects and designers are typically excited about WELL because it’s a new frontier in the sustainable buildings movement – and has opportunities for them to play a key role in supporting the health and well-being of the people for whom they are creating spaces. Ergonomic furniture, the incorporation of nature, eating space design, the acoustics of a space – these are just a handful of the areas in which WELL includes evidence-based best practices that designers can utilize.

Have you studied wellness in the Middle East? If so, can you tell me about your findings a bit?

According to research, the physical workplace is one of the top three factors affecting performance and job satisfaction. A survey of office workers in the Middle East found that improving environmental comfort was ranked as the number one change needed to improve their productivity. Many employees in the GCC have described their offices as stressful and only 47% believed their company took an interest in their well-being, health and safety.

Of course, the region is also working to address many of these issues in proactive ways. For example, the Dubai Health Strategy emphasises the importance of prevention and healthy lifestyles to improving health outcomes, while the Dubai Plan 2021 puts people at its center. Its top goal is to help “individuals take care of their own wellbeing and their family members through proactive measures to manage their health.” And the Dubai’s Happiness Agenda is focused on fostering a more positive, engaged population, which is important for broader well-being. WELL can be an important means to helping accomplish these goals.

How can buildings/environments perform better here?

From the quality of air in a space, to the amount of daylight entering, to the “walkability” of a building’s location, there are many ways to use architecture and behavioral science to enhance the human experience not only by producing direct and passive health benefits, but also by educating people and helping them form new, positive habits in largely automatic ways.

By setting performance requirements in the categories of building performance that have been scientifically proven to impact the occupant experience, WELL harnesses the built environment as a tool that works in the background to improve our well-being, drive better health choices, and generally enhance, not compromise, our health.

Furthermore, healthy building design is a passive approach to improving human health, meaning that 100% of the people who live, work and play in healthy buildings and communities are receiving health benefits to alleviate a myriad of health issues. In countries with poor air quality, high obesity rates, and lower average life expectancies, WELL Certification is a valuable tool that can be utilised to potentially mitigate these concerns and put health back at the forefront of the conversation.

How does the WELL Building Standard compare to others of similar intentions?

The first building standard to focus exclusively on the connection between buildings and the wellness of the people who occupy them, WELL was developed through seven years of rigorous research in collaboration with leading physicians, scientists, and industry professionals.

While other certification programs such as LEED set out a baseline for how green building practices can improve the health and wellness of a building’s occupants – access to daylight and outdoor views, active design, improved air exchange, and better materials choice – WELL takes a much deeper dive into human health impacts by leveraging evidence-based research from the medical community.

As WELL is a complement to green rating systems across the globe and was developed to work in harmony with certification programs such as LEED, BREEAM, Green Star, and the Living Building Challenge, IWBI has introduced several crosswalks between WELL and other green building certification programs to streamline the certification process for buildings registering under multiple programs at once.

Do you see it becoming more popular in the region?

Certainly! To-date, over 872 projects encompassing more than 165 million square feet of real estate in 34 countries are registered, Precertified, or Certified under the WELL Building Standard, with 13 of these located in the Middle East. The rapid adoption of the WELL Building Standard in the region as well as worldwide has grown exponentially since the program’s launch and shows no signs of slowing. Just as LEED was once viewed as uncommon and has now been adopted by thousands of projects worldwide, we expect that putting people at the center of design decisions will become the new normal. Rather than look toward a future of buildings that support wellness, we’ll look at the past and say, “Remember when we didn’t also consider the human condition when designing these spaces that we spend 90% of our lives in?”

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