It is rapidly becoming a well-known fact that interior design can have an impact not only on how we perceive and appreciate a building but also on how we feel in general.
Interior design choices can actually affect the health of those within it, and there is a growing trend toward designing interiors in a way that promotes relaxation and even healing.
Of course, if well-designed interiors can make people healthier, it stands to reason that poor designs can adversely affect people’s health.
An increasing amount of data now suggests that interior design can actually make people unwell, with doctors actually coming up with a term for it. Sick building syndrome (SBS) occurs when someone has a negative reaction to a building or a specific room that is not attributable to other factors or conditions.
SBS is not to be confused with building-related illness (BRI), in which sufferers show symptoms of diagnosable illness due to toxins or contaminants in a building.
Though there is little actual discussion surrounding either condition, no less an authority than the World Health Organization (WHO) has long touted the perils of poor design considerations. In 1984, a WHO committee estimated that as many as 30 per cent of new and remodeled buildings worldwide put those within the buildings at risk of health conditions due to air quality concerns. Poor ventilation, poor design and other reasons contribute to ventilation problems.
Sufferers of SBS deal with a range of symptoms, from headaches, dizziness and nausea to irritation of the eyes, nose and throat. Those dealing with the condition also often report feeling fatigued, having difficulty concentrating and becoming more sensitive to odours.
BRI sufferers can suffer more severe symptoms, including coughing, fever, chills, muscle soreness and even chest pains.
While SBS symptoms typically subside once a sufferer leaves the space, BRI symptoms often persist even when a person is outside the building in question.
Beyond the obvious health concerns, these conditions can also impact productivity in workplaces. Because air quality is a primary cause in both cases, there are simple steps that smart designers will employ to help ensure the buildings themselves promote health instead of hindering it.
Ventilation is a primary concern, as air flow alone can make a huge difference in a building’s health impact. Using paints, flooring and other materials low in volatile organic compounds can also increase the health of those inside a building by reducing the amount of chemicals in the air.
The inclusion of plants can also make a difference, with some studies showing flora does more than purify the air – it also relieves stress and can increase productivity by as much as 15 per cent.
While greater care is being taken in designing new buildings nowadays, it is important to remain vigilant with maintenance and upkeep, and to look into upgrading older buildings where necessary.
With what is already known about conditions such as SBS and BRI, there is no reason for designers to create spaces that negatively impact the health of those in the spaces they are creating.