Don’t forget the human

In our latest blog, Design Director Matt Kitson takes a deep dive into the importance of good design in creating Healthy Buildings – supporting health, wellbeing and performance.

Isn’t it fascinating that, as we slowly return back to the workplace and lockdown restrictions ease, numerous articles and commentaries are appearing on the need for “Healthy Buildings”. Headlines such as “How clean is the air you breathe” and “The healthy building surge will outlast the pandemic” almost suggest that the property industry has been designing unhealthy buildings – with more attention to how a building “looks” rather than how it functions for its occupants.

This is often coupled with a perception that a healthy/certified/sustainable building is more expensive than a conventional building – a perception regularly used as a tool to dilute the initial sustainability and health objectives of a development. This is not only a short-sighted view, but one usually based on poor evidence and data.

In my view, post-pandemic we will see a paradigm shift in the way we approach designing our buildings, with heightened sensitivity around personal health. Occupiers will demand more focus and transparency on a human centred design approach, essentially designing from the inside out. If your building is not healthy, people will not want to work there.


Completed in 2003, 30 St Mary Axe focused on health, alongside sustainability.

Danish Architect Jan Gehl stated, “First life, then spaces, then buildings – the other way around never works” – and as far back as 2000 this has been our approach to building design. Our work on the Foster & Partners designed 30 St Mary Axe placed a key focus on health alongside sustainability. At the time, the client Swiss Re’s own in-house scientists stated that the increased productivity from the additional daylight levels alone would pay for the cost of the building within years of opening.

That design ethos has evolved into many of the healthy buildings we design today, such as 1 Broadgate and 20 Ropemaker Street, to give our clients a market leading position in this competitive market.


20 Ropemaker street is currently on track to achieve a WELL V2 Platinum rating.

I briefly mentioned costs of high performance certified Healthy Buildings earlier, and indeed evidence suggests that cost premiums range from around 1 to 7% over that of a ‘conventional’ building.

However, there is significant recent evidence that suggests if you deliver a high performance healthy building to the market, the real estate value of that asset can be up to 36% higher compared to a conventional building and will return a greater rental yield – anywhere from 4.4% to 7.7%. On top of that, operating costs can reduce by as much as 9%. So, for the developer, those numbers can be significant. As well as producing a more marketable building, we’re creating a more valuable building.

For the occupier the numbers are even more positive, with productivity gains of up to 10%, greater staff retention and fewer days of sickness. A study by Stōk – ‘The Financial Case for High Performance Buildings, 2018’, showed that the combined benefits of increased employee productivity, retention and wellness returned an additional annual profit per person of £2400. For an informed tenant the benefits of occupying a Healthy Building are significant, which helps explain why 95% of tenants would prefer to occupy ‘Green Healthy Buildings’.

Any organisation considering moving to a new office or building, would be wise to have a simple checklist that not only looks at location, rent and service charge but also questions some basic technical elements such as thermal comfort and control, artificial and importantly daylight levels, air quality and ventilation performance, acoustic performance, indoor biophilia and access to local amenities. Poor acoustic performance, for example, is known to lead to up to a 66% drop in occupant productive performance.

In order to design and monitor healthy buildings we have, for many years, adopted and created advanced digital forecasting tools when designing our buildings – a comprehensive toolkit to quickly examine all of these basic checks on new and existing designs. Coupled with this we can also offer our clients our digital monitoring service of existing spaces which, provides real time feedback on an existing space health.

So, let’s not forget ‘the human’ when designing our workplaces.

Get in touch with Matt Kitson to find out more, or explore a healthy workplace via our interactive diagram.

Related News

Share this article: