Research from the European Commission indicates that we spend up to 90% of our lives inside buildings.

Deep in concentration inside The British Library

The WELL Certification, Leesman Index and the Stoddart Review are helping us to think differently about the impact of the places where we work, study and choose to spend our time. They all highlight the importance of effective building design and facility management on people’s health and productivity.

Approaches such as biophilic design and terms such as ‘salutogenic’ are becoming more familiar within the world of design; an attempt to make our built environments more congruent with our biological experience. We are seeing more initiatives to bring nature indoors, whether it be through the installation of living walls or ‘Pets at Work’ initiatives.

Nature extends across the entire Vienna University of Business and Economics campus

The impact of physical space on people’s wellbeing and performance is undisputable. Yet even with this volume of evidence telling us how critical a part physical space plays in our everyday lives, research indicates that many people are still dissatisfied with the most fundamental aspects of our internal environments.

On an experiential level, lighting, air quality and temperature rank highest in people’s dissatisfaction. A recent survey from reports that 83 per cent of people find their workplace unpleasant. From a Higher Education perspective, research by the Association of University Directors of Estates found that students see facilities as a crucial part of the University they choose to attend. Yet the Office of the Independent Adjudicator showed that an increasing proportion of complaints from students were about their dissatisfaction with poor facilities.

If we take a scientific view on people and the spaces they occupy, the psychologist Kurt Lewin’s equation states that:

behaviour is a function of the person and his or her environment:

B = f ( P , E )

Where B is behaviour, P is Person, and E is the environment.

This equation demonstrates that the relationship between people and space is critical. People’s behaviour will shape the activities they undertake, however, their performance will affect the overall outcomes. The spaces we design and manage must optimise people’s performance. A report by Sharp Business Systems UK says worker performance could be increased by 20 per cent by simply increasing fresh air supplies!

Students studying underneath the Library tree at Lancaster University

How might we ensure the fundamental requirements of physical spaces (suitable lighting, good air quality, appropriate temperature, and adequate water supplies) are met in any project?

We must ensure there is a human-centred, performance-driven approach to the design and management of spaces, starting from the individual and working outwards.

Spaces where human activity takes place (office based work, research, counselling, sport development) must be rooted in ‘human performance’. Performance is more than function and will capture how your building users will behave, not just what ‘functions’ they will carry out.

Design specifications must be a starting point and then enhanced to make sure spaces provide the optimum environment for the specific needs of the user.

The Freiburg University Library provides an environment to enhance study

The basic requirements of air flow, lighting and temperature in a library (a space where people may study intensively for seven hours or more) should be optimised differently from a food court or a co-working space. It is also crucial to ensure that this human-centred, performance driven approach is championed and managed within each organisation. We should take counsel from the Stoddart Review and create a Chief Workplace Officer in each organisation to connect the built environment, business processes and people’s performance (covering both productivity and well-being).

When designing and or managing human-centred spaces, form follows function follows performance.

Thanks for reading,

Mike Kelly

Library Space Development Manager, The University of Manchester Library

Connect with Mike on LinkedIn and Twitter

This blog post is based on an article published in Facilitate Magazine on 1st July 2019 ‘Get the Basics Right‘ by Mike Kelly

4 thoughts on “GET THE BASICS RIGHT

  1. Smashing read, nice one. I’d suggest your role is close to Chief Workplace Officer, except the latter would be at the Uni level; bringing unrivalled power to unleash across the entire org (to improve the spaces and wellbeing of all involved, obviously…)

    One of the links in your article led me on to a decent treatise of agile vs. flexible, which I reckon is something we could work on clarifying at the library:


    1. I really appreciate your thoughts and ideas about this, and quite humbled that you think my role is close to a CWO! Completely agree re agile v flexible – link me at work and I’ll send you something I use to distinguish between the two.


  2. As a self-confessed ‘fresh-air fiend’ I enjoyed reading the piece summarising the Sharp Business Systems suggesting a link between fresh air supply and productivity. Anything to help combat the end of day productivity lull can only be a good thing, though in shared spaces it’s important to be open as one colleagues’s ideal temperature can be another’s scorchio!


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