Designing for People: An Introductory Look into the WELL Building Standard

family walking with groceries and practicing active lifestyle

Posted by Hannah Feil Greenhood, Principal and Architect

Designing for People: An Introductory Look into the WELL Building Standard

It’s no secret that we are dealing with a national health crisis. By 2030, it is projected that half of all adults – that's 115 million adults – will be obese.1 And even before that, projections estimate that by 2018, obesity will cost the United States 21 percent of our total healthcare costs, or $344 billion annually.2 But, obesity is not our only concern. Currently, 87.5% of healthcare costs are due to an individual’s lifestyle, things we impose on ourselves: 3 smoking, inadequate exposure to quality light and air, insufficient sleep, improper nutrition, stress, and overall comfort and happiness.

So how can design professionals help?

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors. This gives us, as design professionals, an enormous opportunity to influence the spaces people frequent – whether work or home, at places of entertainment or necessity.

A New Building Standard - WELL

The WELL Building Standard is the first standard of its kind with its main focus on the health and wellbeing of building occupants. Developed by the International WELL Building Institute (a Delos Living, LLC creation), this new building standard is backed by evidence-based health and wellness research by medical professionals, scientists, and researchers and pushes built environment influencers (building owners, designers, engineers, architects, building developers, et cetera) to not only consider the impacts to our planet, but also the direct impacts on people.

With people spending 90% of their time indoors, in a sense, the WELL Building Standard initiates a form of preventative care. It provides a standard for building performance and operation to ensure that the time spent indoors is helping, not hurting.

How does the built environment impact our health, wellbeing, happiness and productivity?

Using the research behind the WELL Building Standard as a guide, the built environment has the following impacts to the body's critical systems (the following is not a comprehensive list):

  • Skeletal and Muscular Systems. Applications of universal design, proper ergonomics and active furnishings improve posture, alignment and maintain strength, limiting physical stress on the skeletal and muscular systems.
  • Respiratory System. Access to opportunities for safe fitness, removal of particulate matter from ambient air, and mitigation of molds and microbes improve breathing and the overall strength of the respiratory system.
  • Nervous System. Promotion of proper light exposure and alignment of circadian rhythm, incorporation of biophilia, beauty, and proper visual stimulation, and adequate sound promotion and barriers work in tandem to support neurologic health – the main control center of the body.

The WELL Building Standard is made up of Seven Concepts that directly correspond to the needs from our body’s systems:

  • Air
  • Water
  • Nourishment
  • Light
  • Fitness
  • Comfort
  • Mind

Within each of the seven concepts, there are features that contain applicable points identified as either a Precondition point or Optimization point. Each feature can be categorized by design elements, protocols or performance standards, therefore encouraging the standard to be applied holistically - considering such things as the location of a stair, healthy sleep policies, workplace family support, and performance fundamental water quality.

Although a truly admirable step in the right direction, a few questions still remain. Stay tuned for further posts about how the WELL Building Standard may or may not answer the following questions:

  • Is “Wellbeing” Truly Measurable?
  • What about happiness and productivity? And how does Dekker/Perich/Sabatini measure up?
  • A WELL Case Study for Casitas de Colores – An Afforable Housing Project in Downtown Albuquerque
  • Currently, the projects that have adopted the WELL Building Standard are market-rate and/or luxury projects, what about affordability? Health and wellness are not a privilege; how could these developments benefit the non-rich?
  • The Integration of Existing Standards with the WELL Building Standard
  • Do we really need another building standard? How does WELL integrate with LEED?

For more information about the WELL Building Standard and the International WELL Building Institute, visit

  • 1.Wang, Y Claire, McPherson, Klim, Marsh, Tim, Gortmaker, Steven L., Brown, Martin. Health and Economic Burden of the Projected Obesity Trends in the USA and the UK. The Lancet; 2011.
  • 2.National Association for Sport and Physical Education. 2010 Shape of the Nation Report.
  • 3.Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne (IPFW Study).