The Role of Human-Centric Design in your Building

February 1, 2024

At its most basic, a commercial or office building is simply a workplace, a central location where teams of people (in the knowledge economy for the most part) will come together to share and collaborate on ideas, with the aim of bettering the output of their organisation.

But it has become something much more complex in a very short space of time. The idea of a “healthy building” has been around for a while now, but it has taken on new importance in the wake of the pandemic. Staff safety and healthy buildings are now at the top of the priority list for many organisations.

Healthy workers are more efficient, energetic, alert and better able to manage stress. When employee health is managed well, staff engagement increases and sick leave decreases. Not given the proper attention, however, badly thought-out building design could have a very negative impact on the health and wellbeing of a company’s employees and the quality of that organisation’s intellectual product.

Humans are sensitive to their surroundings

Ten years ago, a worker in the knowledge economy might have been attracted to an employer because their workplace looked “fun”. There might have been a slide in the lobby or foosball tables in the common areas. But fun is a short-lived emotion and those kinds of novelties wear off fast

Workplace environments directly influence the physical, mental, economic and social wellbeing of workers and, in turn, the health of their families, communities and society.

The environments in which we spend most of our lives impact our emotional state. Growing research on architecture shows that good building and environmental design can create physiological responses in people that promote long-term health and wellbeing and, if done incorrectly, illness or mental distress. That same thinking applies in building engineering and design. For instance, one of the most well-documented findings is that exposure to greenery and nature dramatically enhances health, helping people to live longer and happier lives. On the other hand, cramped spaces and uninspiring surroundings are known to do the opposite.

It’s time we realised that office buildings need to be built around people and not business.

Human-building interaction (HBI)

HBI explores the relationship between humans and buildings with a focus on fostering the senses, emotions, and comfort of the occupants to improve the efficiency, cost, and sustainability of the built environment. 

With people spending as much as 90% of their time indoors, the complex interactions between buildings and their occupants must be understood to ensure a healthy, comfortable, and sustainable indoor environment. Cautious estimates indicate occupant behaviour affects 30% of energy use, but this could be as high as 60% when those occupants control the heating and cooling systems.

Smart technology makes for a more human-centric workplace

The built environment plays a very essential role in the productivity, safety, and the overall physical, social and mental wellbeing of its occupants. Healthy spaces engineered with the human being in mind can be achieved using building systems that integrate smart technology.

Indoor Climate Control: Intelligent buildings can analyse and monitor the indoor environment using sensors and make real-time adjustments that adapt to the comfort needs of the users. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems can then make adjustments accordingly, in line with the building’s occupancy levels and with minimal human control. This essentially creates an adaptable building, capable of adjusting its own lighting levels, temperature, humidity, and indoor air quality, reducing the overall energy consumption of the building in the process.

Connectivity: Smart buildings create connected networks to serve the lifestyle needs of the occupant. Smart devices and mobile applications digitally connected to the building can improve the working experience of the occupant by connecting them to the building’s systems, whilst better facilitating building management and maintenance.

Security Integration: Intelligent systems can be designed to centrally monitor access into the building and ensure the safety and security of its occupants. Smart sensors in combination with IoT (Internet of Things) analyse the flow patterns of building inhabitants to adjust and optimise safety resources and security personnel. This offers an additional layer of protection to the building’s users, as well as the property and built assets owned.

Smart technologies enable a building to adapt with its environment for the overall health benefit of the user.

Metec Project: Irish Life HQ

The Human-Centric Approach to MEP Design

The refurbishment of the Irish Life HQ presented a unique challenge for Metec: to create a best-in-class Shell and Core + Cat B MEP infrastructure within a 1970s office building while adhering to stringent sustainability goals and ensuring occupant comfort. To achieve this, Metec adopted a human-centric approach to design, prioritising the well-being and productivity of the building's occupants. 

The building is targeting LEED & WELL Platinum, Wiredscore, an A rated BER and NZEB compliance.

Maximising Floor to Ceiling Heights

One of the key successes of the project was maximising the floor to ceiling heights. This was achieved through meticulous BIM-based design, which allowed Metec to optimise the placement of MEP systems without compromising on functionality or aesthetics. This resulted in a more spacious and comfortable working environment for the occupants.

Fully Flexible MEP Design

Another crucial aspect of the design was flexibility. Metec recognized that the building's occupants would have evolving needs, so the MEP systems were designed to adapt to these changes seamlessly. This ensures that the building remains functional and efficient for years to come.

Enhanced Ventilation

Metec went beyond the standard office ventilation norms to provide an abundance of fresh air throughout the building. This contributes to improved indoor air quality, which has been shown to enhance cognitive function, reduce absenteeism, and promote overall well-being.

Fully Electric Building

In line with the client's sustainability goals, Metec designed the building to be fully electric. This eliminates reliance on fossil fuels and reduces the building's carbon footprint.

Comprehensive MEP Design

The MEP design encompassed all aspects of the building's infrastructure, including the smoke extraction system for the public car park, lighting control systems, emergency lighting, swimming pool HVAC design, sprinkler installation, and security systems integration. Each element was carefully considered to ensure optimal performance and occupant comfort.

By prioritising the human experience throughout the design process, Metec transformed the Irish Life HQ into a workspace that promotes employee well-being, productivity, and sustainability.

At Metec, we design buildings for people

Buildings produced or refurbished with sustainability in mind have been shown to improve the engagement, productivity, and health and safety of occupants. There are savings to be made too in not only energy consumption, but in operational and maintenance costs. 

If you would like to know more about our approach to designing office and commercial spaces that focus on the human in the building and prioritising their health and wellbeing, whether your building be a new development or one in need of refurbishment, get in touch with the team at Metec today or learn more about The Human in the Building.

Do you want to read more on “The Human in the Building"? 

Article 1: “It’s time we realised that office buildings need to be built around people and not business”

Article 3: “Taking a human-first approach to building design should be part of your ESG strategy”

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