Reflecting on the Museum of Architectures Wellness at Work seminar
Trevor Keeling, senior engineer at Buro Happold reflects on the Museum of Architecture’s ‘Wellness at work’ evening seminar, and asks how do we define the quality of environment?
The word quality can be used both to describe the nature of something and as a performance criteria. For example, Claudia Dutson (2010) describes some artificial lighting as ”flat, diffused…without volume or structure and has neither spatial nor temporal consequence”, in doing so she is describing the experiential characteristics of that lighting. In contrast international quality standards (ISO 9000, 2005) defines quality as the“degree to which a set of inherent characteristics fulfils requirements”.
These two meanings of quality underscore quite different approaches to the design of the environment. One that aims to bring forth some distinctive sensory characteristic of the environment and another that aims to efficiently fulfil a set of requirements. The difference between these two approaches turns out to be important for designing (and defining) the indoor environment.
Often indoor environmental quality is used as a set of performance criteria rather than to describe the fundamental nature of a building. However it doesn’t have to be this way. Maybe the fundamental quality of an environment can be defined by the occupant outcomes that it engenders. Maybe we shouldn’t be talking about thermal comfort, or about acoustic performance, when we talk about buildings.
Instead, we can talk about the things that matter, such as the ability to hear someone, the pleasantness of the soundscape, the sensory stimulation of an open fire and the restorative nature of indoor water features. By doing this we ensure that environmental design focusses on the people that occupy the building not the systems that deliver the requirements.
This approach links the physical environment with desired occupant outcomes. Outcomes like privacy, comfort or information transfer. If the outcome is well defined then the definition of the environment can be tailored to that outcome. This points towards a definition of environmental quality that is shaped around occupant outcomes. Through doing this, buildings can be designed to enhance wellbeing and improve productivity.
For more information about how we define and design healthy, well and productive spaces and places click here.