9 things we learnt at HEDQF 2019

Mike Entwisle, Sam Haston and Ian Stewart reflect on the things they have learnt from the HEDQF Fifth Annual Conference: Design for Wellbeing in Higher Education.

Here are the nine things they learnt about wellbeing in higher education:

  1. Learning new words in a jargon-rich culture; Salutogenesis is a medical approach that focuses on wellbeing rather than dealing with factors that cause disease. For many students, this is a key strategy. While we must support people with mental health problems, most will benefit more from “nudges” and subtle assistance to improve their lives. Our approach to designing for mental health offers the opportunity to assist all students and other users in improving their experience.
  2. Biophilia – the tendency to connect with nature – is, of course, a well-recognised tool in improving health and wellbeing. A parallel theme is that of texture and relief in surfaces, particularly those of building facades. A facade with high levels of texture, such as the University of Glasgow’s Gilbert Scott Building at the as noted by Eleanor Magennis, can also improve the way in which an environment is perceived. This richness can be incorporated into building designs in a variety of ways.
  3. Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) has focused for years on animal welfare, introducing themes such as improved ventilation and daylight into animal houses. The research into this area demonstrates a clear outcome-driven case for improved environments. Are we always as scientific and aspirational in the way we design buildings?
  4. Within the UK, the economic cost of presenteeism – people coming to work when they are unwell and should be at home – is more than twice that of absenteeism. No one is evaluating the issue properly, which needs to be addressed.
  5. Playfulness is an important counterpoint to checklists.
  6. An evidence-based approach should be used to identify and prioritise suitable health and wellbeing design features, though there is no prescriptive route to guarantee successful outcomes. Clear communication with clients from an early stage and good design are key.
  7. Health and wellbeing should extend beyond the building users and staff. In the case of the University of Glasgow, masterplans consider the particular issues of the local community.
  8. Technology can be useful to help gather data on how buildings and their users are performing. Conversely, technology-free spaces within buildings can help to provide people with a means to relax and connect directly with other people.
  9. The perception that health and wellbeing are additional CAPEX costs to buildings is a myth; the potential savings in staff costs due to reduced absenteeism and improved productivity are massive according to extensive British Council for Offices (BCO) research.

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