Designing for health and wellbeing
Designing for Health and Wellbeing: Physical and Mental Health

The design community has made health and wellbeing a top priority. Along with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Design and Health Initiative, building initiatives like LEED, WELL, and Living Building Challenge (LBC) are setting new standards for healthy design. Here, in part one of our “Designing for Health and Wellbeing” series, we discuss how thoughtful design solutions can improve occupants’ physical and mental health.  

Designing for Movement 

In commercial settings, thoughtful design can have a tangible impact on occupants. Most office workers spend their day at a desk—often to the detriment of their health. Studies show that extended periods of inactivity can lead to chronic health problems like obesity, diabetes, and increased blood pressure. Thankfully, thoughtful interior design can promote more movement throughout the workday.   

Simple solutions like placing coffee bars, copiers, and bathrooms away from desks encourage regular movement and foster opportunities for occupants to interact. To go a step further, designers can plan a building’s circulation around stairs rather than elevators. At Kreg Tool’s headquarters, we placed the stairs at the building’s center and outfitted exterior views, making the stairs the most logical and attractive way to navigate the building. We also included extra-wide landings that can accommodate quarterly firmwide meetings and spontaneous interactions.  

Stairs at Kreg Tool, outfitted with exterior views.

Emphasizing Choice 

Designers should also emphasize freedom and choice. In the renovation of Pearson’s headquarters, we worked to give occupants the freedom to leave their desks and exert control over their environment. By making smaller individual workstations, we accommodated gathering spaces that range from small booths to open meeting rooms. Options like sit-to-stand desks further increased workplace flexibility.  

On other projects, we have included on-site fitness centers, showers, and weather-protected bike racks, giving occupants the chance to engage in regular exercise. Kreg Tool’s headquarters provides a fitness center and walking trails throughout the 25-acre campus. With these amenities, occupants can integrate fitness into their daily routine.  

Improving Mental Health through Biophilia 

Mental health is just as important as physical health. To promote mental wellbeing, designers can provide “wellness rooms” for lactation, prayer, or simply a quiet place to collect one’s thoughts. To go a step further, designers can incorporate biophilia into the design plan.  

Stemming from the Greek words bio (life) and philia (love), biophilia refers to humanity’s innate connection to nature. The theory describes why people across cultures find pleasure in experiences like walking through a forest, listening to ocean waves, or sitting by a crackling fire. According to Psychology Today, spending time in nature produces a range of mental health benefits, including reduced stress, heightened creativity, and improved memory. Some studies even find that surgery patients recover faster when they have a view of the outdoors.  

Daylighting is one of the most important aspects of biophilic design. Windows can create a visual connection to the outdoors and regulate occupants’ circadian rhythms. In deep buildings where windows are not available, skylights, atriums, and light cores can be used in regularly occupied spaces—a technique we used for Des Moines Municipal Services. Electric light fixtures should supplement daylight, rather than act as the primary light source. But when relying on electricity, designers can help regulate occupants’ sleep cycles by using circadian lighting that changes color temperature throughout the day. In addition to daylight, indoor foliage and natural materials can help mimic the feel of nature.  

Daylighting at Des Moines Municipal Services.

Health and Wellbeing at Neumann Monson  

At Neumann Monson, we are inspired by the architecture industry’s renewed focus on health and continuously search for ways to improve occupant wellbeing. Our commitment to health and wellbeing reaches new heights in our design of the Stanley Center for Peace and Security’s headquarters. To earn a Living Building certification, the facility will meet rigorous standards for sustainability and occupant health. Every room will feature operable windows that provide natural ventilation and ample daylighting. The building will also include biophilic features like living wall planters, natural materials, and a “lettuce wall” that provides healthy food options. Designed with health in mind, buildings like the Stanley Center’s headquarters demonstrate the restorative power of the spaces we occupy. Of course, there are many aspects of healthy design. Stay tuned for part two to learn about the importance of material selection.