Using the built environment to maximise health and wellbeing

by Ofentse Sefolo
Using the built environment to maximise health and wellbeing

There is a growing trend within the construction and building industry to change a building’s structure specifically to enhance the comfort of those living or working in it. This concept is nothing new and has been the basis of Saint-Gobain’s Multi Comfort principles for a number of years, as explained by Slawomir Szpunar, Saint-Gobain’s International Marketing Director during a recent visit to South Africa.

Szpunar addressed a number of Saint-Gobain’s customers and selected media during an event hosted at a new development in Benmore Gardens, Sandton, where he explained and detailed Saint-Gobain’s multi-faceted Multi Comfort concept and approach. The development is an upmarket residential and mixed-use project and will be one of the largest Saint-Gobain Habito™ drywall installations in the world.

Szpunar explained that most people spend the majority of their time inside buildings, so the way a building is designed and functions, is crucial when it comes to health and general comfort. He explained that the Multi Comfort concept relates the design of living or working environments to human senses, incorporating feeling, seeing, hearing and breathing with focus on thermal sensation, aesthetics and colours, acoustics and the quality of the air we breathe.

Feel – Thermal Comfort
There’s no ‘one size fits all’ recipe for thermal comfort: it’s the outcome of a well-balanced combination of building systems, which are adapted to both the local climate and the type of activities performed in a particular building.

Buildings designed in this way will keep themselves at an optimal temperature using very little energy. Thermal comfort is affected by many different factors, including air temperature, humidity, draughts, the surface temperature of surrounding walls, the intensity and type of activities being performed in a building and the clothing occupants are wearing. During construction, one needs to take into consideration the materials used to construct the building (the choice of brick, stone or wood, for example) as this impacts the thermal comfort of the occupant depending on the season. Other factors for consideration include insulating the building structure and using thermally efficient windows as this reduces heat loss in winter and avoids heat gain in summer.

See –Visual Comfort
A visual connection to the outside world through exterior views is crucial for an optimal sense of wellbeing. Working in a window-less office, even under adequate lighting conditions, is a totally different experience to working in an office with an outside view. Abundant scientific studies record the positive impacts of the latter on mood, job satisfaction and productivity. In offices with good natural light, call processing was 6 -12% faster, in schools, mental function and memory was 10 -25% better and in hospitals those with access to natural light had an 8.5% shorter stay than those who didn’t.

Hear – Acoustic Comfort
Research has shown that well-designed sound environments in offices or schools help to improve concentration and enable better communication. Learning is more effective and less tiring when students can comfortably hear and understand their teacher. In hospitals, reducing the stress and sleeplessness created by high noise levels helps patients recover faster and facilitates the work of the staff. In our homes, protection from noise contributes to a sense of security and privacy.

When we are acoustically comfortable, we are more productive, happier and experience fewer health issues. Whenever we’re designing or renovating a new space, we need to carefully consider a number of factors in the context of the building’s current function and use, as well as the requirements of future occupants.

Breathe – Indoor Air Comfort
The fresher the air we breathe, the healthier we feel in the buildings in which we live, work and play. Yet we don’t often think about air quality as a factor in building design. Dust, mold and pollen can quickly reduce the quality of the air we breathe inside a building, and many everyday products contain chemicals that can cause sensory irritation.

Good design, proper ventilation and specification of the right building materials are essential to increase the supply of fresh air in a building, and to reduce exposure to indoor pollutants and odours.

“Comfort considerations should be one of the primary factors when building or renovating, and while comfort is being increasingly recognized as a key priority in construction and development, there is still significant scope for this concept to be embraced. Multi Comfort solutions can help to reduce operating and maintenance costs, while buildings constructed to these standards also have the potential to command better rental or sales prices.  By factoring these different elements into the design and the structure of the building, we are creating living and working spaces that truly transcend across every one of the human senses,” Szpunar concludes.

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