Demonstrating the New Normal

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Martin Brown

My Specifi keynotes highlight the young building standards that focus on regenerative and health, for example the Living Building Challenge and the Well Build Standard. Following the Birmingham Service keynote and engaging conversations over dinner, we had an invite and opportunity to visit the Cundall Birmingham newly renovated office.

Cundall’s London office was the first in Europe to gain the Well Build Standard, and the Birmingham office at 15 Colemore Row, attempting to go one better is looking to gain Well Platinum certification. The Well Build Standard focuses on human health and wellbeing factors that have not been traditionally associated with building standards, factors such as nourishment, fitness and mind are seen as important as air, water, light and comfort.

The London Cundall office is reporting a 50% reduction in staff absenteeism and 25% reduction in staff turnover, equated at an annual saving of £200,000. This is in addition to highly favourable PR and interest from clients. A compelling reason to follow suit, but as Paul Chatwin (Head of Sustainability) commented, a key driver is to demonstrate to clients what is possible. We are testing approaches and concepts here first, we are our own guinea pigs, innovating with research around health and wellbeing.

Sound masking is an interesting aspect of Well, counting towards Gold or Platinum certification levels. There is a requirement to create background noise so private conversations can’t be overheard in open workspaces, yet not to be a distraction in its own right. UK native birdsong was playing in the background as we visited. As Andrew Parkin (Head of acoustics) noted, music is not an option as background sound, as we have a we have a tendency to tune into music and regular sounds and become distracted.

Procurement of local designers and contractors who fully understood healthy office environments at the depth required by Well presented a challenge. Studio Ben Allen based on their experience from the London office were also contracted for Birmingham. A lesson here for local organisations, outside of London, to get up to speed with this new sustainability.

Cardboard ductwork used as primary air distribution, is a novel approach with the benefit of being light and easy to clean. Where ductwork passes into social spaces, it has been photo printed with tree bark, literally a branch duct. Such innovations also provide a biophilic and operative health (lifting) aspects to the installation phase. We often overlook that advantages of biophilic design apply to the construction phase as well as the building itself. All Furniture in the office was selected to be VOC free and locally made.

The newly refurbed office provides plenty of open biophilic space in the very American named ‘town hall area’. It is an area that serves as a space for break out, social meetings, staff meetings, quiet reading and lunchtime seating. For private conversations, pods are available, providing a biophilic ‘prospect and refuge’ pattern, key to our natural instincts of, at times, needing both privacy and outlook.

At the core of the two floor office, the biophilic chandelier is more than just a centre piece. It hangs within a central lattice spiral stairway (designed and engineered by Cundall), surrounded by a loop of circadian LED lighting. This hits many biophilic design principles, eg circadian lighting, a sense of nature in the space, constantly changing moving pools of intricate light / shadow patterns. This is in addition to fitness activity provided by the stairway, whilst the planter, lighting and stairway serve to connect people with nature it also connects people with people in a central social walkway. A great example of combining biophilia patterns to create a more holistic eco system within facilities.

Martin Brown

How can you learn more about Biophilic Design, the Well Build and Living Building Standards, topics that are key to the new normal ‘regenerative sustainability’? Here are our five suggestions:

Get yourself along to future Specifi events, one of the few places, the only place, you will learn about the new normal for free

Get hold of a copy of FutuREstorative (you may be lucky in winning or receiving a free copy as a gift at Specifi events where Martin Brown is talking)

Read about biophilic design – it is core to many of the emerging new sustainability standards. Recommended are 14 Patterns Of Biophilia Terrapin Bright Green), The Practice of Biophilic Design, S Kellert and E Calabrese, Creating Human Spaces Amanda Sturgeon

Get hold of the Living Building Challenge Standard and Well Build Standard. Even if you don’t intend to go for accreditation, these will be of great value for you, your clients and your projects.

Get in touch with our Specifi team for tailored awareness sessions on ‘the New Normal’.