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The impact of built environment on wellbeing

Research competition by BRE & UBM highlights the many ways in which our built environment shapes our health and wellbeing.


Investigating the intrinsic link between physical environment and social outcomes is a growing research theme in building science. There are many examples of both positive and negative impacts of the built environment on the health and wellbeing of its occupants.
The competition was held to bring together and showcase current research and understanding of the subject, as part of a new research programme delivered in partnership by BRE and publishers UBM Built Environment. A panel of independent experts reviewed the impressive range of entries submitted by construction experts and research professionals from across the built environment and selected the best papers for domestic and non-domestic buildings
Winner of the best non-domestic paper category was Dr Lesley McIntyre, research assistant at Dundee University, for her case study on the Building Interactions Toolkit (BIT-Kit): a method uncovering the impact buildings have on people.
BIT-Kit uses evidence gathered through observation and building interaction data to assess the impact of buildings on those with visual impairment. Focusing on human interaction with architectural elements such as stairs, doors, car parks and corridors, the paper investigates way-finding in a public building and the effects that specific design elements have on enabling and disabling building users.
“The built environment is failing to support people who have a form of visual impairment and the task of way-finding in non-domestic buildings is a particular problem,” says McIntyre in her paper. “There is a scarcity of evidence for architects to fully understand the impact a building has on these users.”
The best domestic paper prize was presented to joint winners Tim Dixon, professor of sustainable futures in the built environment at the University of Reading, and Saffron Woodcraft, founding director of Social Life. Their submission covered their work on Creating strong communities: measuring social sustainability in new housing developments.
The paper outlines a social sustainability measurement framework developed in a joint project between the University of Reading and place-making expert Social Life on behalf of the Berkeley Group. The framework was designed to help the company understand and measure the social sustainability of its developments.
“Social sustainability brings together a number of different ideas about wellbeing, social needs and the sustainability of communities,” explains Dixon. “This work acknowledges that the practical and operational aspects of social sustainability are not clearly defined or well integrated in the policy and practice of urban planning and housing.”
All of the papers are hosted on Designing Buildings Wiki and are available for free download.