Green Buildings Contribute To Our Well-Being

We know that green buildings help the environment, but they also help us feel better.

Toyin-Ann Yerifor is an architectural consultant who has been an advocate for both green living and holistic architectural design. She believes that health and wellness should be an integral factor in any project.

A building’s impact on one’s health is not just physical, but also mental. Poor ventilation, a lack of natural light, and humidity are all examples of factors that can contribute to serious health issues. Below, Toyin-Ann Yerifor offers her insight into the steps that architects can take to create environmentally friendly, holistic buildings with human health and well-being as a top priority.

Lighting is of the utmost important for building occupants. Design elements like large windows, skylights, glass doors and walls, open concept spaces, and lighter wall colors all serve to enhance natural light. There has been a trend towards developing lights to match the circadian rhythm. Research shows that blue light during the day best mimics natural daylight and so adding blue-enriched lights to an office space can increase productivity and lead to higher-quality sleep in the evening.

One of the best ways to promote environmental sustainability is to incorporate natural elements into a building design. This makes the building more energy efficient, because it can purify air and perform other functions with vegetation, rather than machines that suck energy.

Introducing natural elements to a space is called biophilia, a hypothesis popularized by Edward O. Wilson in 1984 that claims humans have an inherent desire to connect with other forms of life. Toyin-Ann Yerifor asserts that some of the best examples of architectural biophilia include creating a living plant wall or choosing a building located near natural landscapes that can be highlighted by optimal window design. Indoor planters can help do this as well.

Another new, more high-tech way of integrating nature into a building’s design is through biomimicry, otherwise known as basing a system or structure off of biological processes. Yerifor cites three major examples of this: an air conditioning system that imitates the air flow in termite mounds, paint that is resistant to dirt similar to the self-cleaning lotus leaf, and finally, powerful ceiling fans that are shaped like whale flippers.

It is no secret that most buildings today are vastly under-ventilated, says Toyin-Ann Yerifor. This makes them less energy efficient, which increases their carbon footprint. Good ventilation is essential for creating a green building with a small carbon footprint. Research has been conducted on the correlation between air flow and cognitive function, with studies finding that when ventilation is significantly increased, a worker’s productivity significantly increases.

Work environments that are stuffy, humid, and warm have been proven to stifle productivity, cause fatigue, and result in dry skin. Toyin-Ann Yerifor states that the key is in adapting the temperature to the design of the building and its occupants. For example, large, floor-to-ceiling windows have the ability to let in sunlight, making a space feel warmer, especially at certain times of day. Similarly, high ceilings can impact air flow and distribution.

An optimally laid out space can actually promote physical health by encouraging people to get active. In fact, Toyin-Ann Yerifor declares that stairs are making a comeback. In 2010, the Active Design Guidelines were published with the idea of providing designers and architects with strategies for creating healthier buildings. One such strategy was incorporating stairs into a design in order to help tackle the obesity epidemic.

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