The WELL Building Standard is an innovative certification program focused on occupant well-being, and it’s preparing for some exciting new changes. Founded by Delos and the International Well Building Institute (IWBI), WELL launched in 2014 with the goal of creating a universal standard that promoted healthier environments for humans, and since then it’s broken new ground by reimagining what a building certification program should look like.
In May 2018, the IWBI released WELL v2. This update takes the original WELL standard and implements a new body of knowledge and research. Many other elements have been reconceptualized and fine-tuned, and the result is an even more holistic certification program that’s sure to push the industry forward. Here’s a closer look at how the WELL Building Standard has changed and what it means for architects and designers.
What’s New in WELL v2
WELL v2 comes with a suite of brand new changes that build on the original WELL standard. Many of these changes aim to make WELL more universal, a motive IWBI Chief Product Officer Rachel Gutter made clear: “WELL v2 is our effort to consolidate the latest knowledge, leading research, new technology and advanced building practice to extend the benefits of WELL buildings to more people in more places.” As such, WELL v2 consolidates previous iterations and creates one standard for all project types.
One of the most noticeable changes is the addition of new WELL concepts. WELL v1 was founded on seven concepts: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort, and Mind. WELL v2 removes Comfort and Fitness and adds Movement, Thermal Comfort, Sound, Materials, and Community. These additions reflect WELL’s widening scope, desire to evolve based on evidence and focus on taking WELL to the next level for occupant health.
In keeping with the theme of creating a more universal standard, WELL v2 has refined how it deals with preconditions and optimizations. In the first version of WELL, different project types had different preconditions. Now, there is a standard set of preconditions that applies to all project types. Optimizations are also more flexible.
On a more technical level, WELL v2 boasts a new scoring system. There are a total of 110 points that can be earned, with Silver, Gold, and Platinum Certification levels awarded at 50, 60, and 80 points respectively. In addition, there’s a dynamic WELL scorecard that helps tailor the scoring system to each individual project. WELL Online is used to recommend “a selection of features based on project-specific parameters that can be further defined and refined by the project team.” It’s remarkable that WELL v2 aims globally but is still able to be customized for each project, and it shows the commitment that the IWBI has for developing a truly universal certification program.
A New Take on Occupant Health
WELL v1 laid the foundation for a new outlook on enhancing health in the built environment. By promoting better Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) and prioritizing concepts like air and light, WELL challenged designers to rethink what healthy buildings look like. With the v2 standard, WELL is once again expanding on the definition of a healthy building: “Healthy spaces protect us from that which can make us sick, promote practices that can keep us well, and facilitate opportunities for us to connect with one another and live our lives to the fullest.” For WELL, health is a holistic cornerstone.
That vision is immediately apparent in the new concept additions to WELL. Some of the concepts have been altered; the Fitness concept in v1 was changed to Movement in v2, and Comfort became Thermal Comfort. Although these may seem like small changes, they demonstrate how WELL works to structure the standard to optimize indoor spaces. The Movement concept includes the prior Fitness concept and was expanded to include ergonomic requirements that had been part of the Comfort concept in v1. Additional strategies to promote physical activity were also added. These changes allowed the Comfort concept to be transformed for improved focus on thermal comfort.
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The new concepts – Sound, Materials, and Community – further indicate the changes present in WELL v2. Especially noteworthy is the Materials concept. Material choice has long been a part of many green building standards like LEED, and it proves to be just as important for the creation of healthy buildings. Some building materials can expose occupants to chemical toxins and hazards, reducing IEQ and even leading to issues like Sick Building Syndrome.
WELL is seeking to change this with the Materials concept, which “aims to reduce human exposure to hazardous building material ingredients through the restriction or elimination of compounds or products known to be toxic and the promotion of safer replacements.” The concept encourages the use of materials with low concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and free of legacy chemicals such as lead and arsenic. Healthier materials like reclaimed wood can earn points for the Materials concept as well as the Mind concept which supports cognitive and emotional health through a biophilic design emphasis.
The Connection Between Community & Design
The aspect of community is prevalent in WELL v2. Following the release of the WELL Community Standard pilot in 2017, an initiative designed to bring WELL standards to the district level, the IWBI migrated much of that philosophy to WELL v2. As a result, v2 introduces the Community concept, which focuses on “establishing an inclusive, integrated community through social equity, civic engagement and accessible design.”
Community is one part of the WELL Building Standard that goes beyond buildings. Buildings are more than just their materials, and WELL believes that certification programs should acknowledge that. As such, the Community concept addresses the importance of healthcare and the promotion of healthy living. At the same time, this is deeply tied to design. One of the preconditions for Community is Integrative Design, which requires projects to “integrate beauty and design” into the environment.
Community also underscores the importance of design that reflects the purpose of a space. Since community relies on participation, designers must ensure that all occupants can fully participate. WELL states that “designing built spaces in a way that enables all individuals to access, participate and thrive within the systems and structures of each community is essential to shaping individual and collective health outcomes.” In other words, it’s critical to consider how to fully optimize spaces so that they fulfill their purpose and also maximize occupant health. This sort of approach parallels that of experiential design in which user experience and cultural relevance are the critical design factors. The idea of Community is a vital one, and it’s inspiring to see WELL place such an emphasis on it.
The WELL v2 Building Standard is more than a cosmetic update. It represents the IWBI taking steps to create a universal certification program that’s founded on the importance of human health in the built environment. It hones many of the ideas in WELL v1 and makes it easier for projects to receive certification. Human-first design is more crucial than ever, and WELL is one of its most powerful advocates. Expect to see even more WELL Certified projects around the globe working together to usher in a new era of design and improve the relationship between people and buildings.