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Leading by example

What does it take for a workplace to achieve WELL certification? Strong design principles based around health and wellbeing, as Hilson Moran’s new Manchester office demonstrates

Engineering and sustainability consultancy Hilson Moran has created an exemplar office environment at its Manchester office, located in Bruntwood’s Neo building on Charlotte Street. With health and wellbeing at its heart, it is the UK’s first WELL certified project outside of London, earning Gold-level certification, and the third project to be certified in the UK.

What’s also special about this project is that Hilson Moran was both the occupier and the engineering and sustainability consultant – not just for its own new office, but for the refurbishment of the whole building.

Hilson Moran’s move was prompted by the expiry of the lease at its former premises and the desire to find a new office in Manchester city centre, with close proximity to amenities and transport facilities, and within walking distance of many of its clients.

Having been involved in the refurbishment of Neo, the practice knew the building would meet its high standards, with its excellent communal facilities, high-quality glazing and clear open floor plates. It was the perfect canvas to show how easy it can be to incorporate health and wellbeing and achieve the WELL Building Standard economically, by applying strong design principles that combine aesthetics with good engineering and sustainability from the start.

The brief for the fit-out was to create an environment which would be interesting, productive, healthy for mind and body and evoke a sense of pride. The design team included Hilson Moran, interior architects SpaceInvader and contractors Dragonfly.

It also needed to comply with WELL. Created through seven years of rigorous research and development involving leading scientists, healthcare and industry professionals, WELL is a performance-based certification system that measures how a project’s design and operations can benefit occupants’ health and wellbeing. It’s a response to statistics showing that 41 per cent of UK employees say their work environment has a negative effect on their health by addressing seven core concepts in office design – air, water, light, nourishment, fitness, comfort and mind.

These core concepts were central to all aspects of the design of Hilson Moran’s office, from layout and ambience, choice of colours, breakout space, furniture styles and location of printers and photocopiers to low volatile organic compound (VOC) products.

Before starting work on the design, Hilson Moran evaluated the spaces to be transformed and undertook extensive modelling and research. The firm is a strong advocate of investing time at the start of the design process to deliver a more economic and efficient end result. It’s about practising what it preaches.

Acting as the engineering and sustainability consultant on the refurbishment of Neo for Bruntwood was a huge advantage. As part of this role, Hilson Moran undertook a full dynamic thermal model (DTM) to inform the façade design. This led to a high-performance façade that gives enhanced solar protection, cooling-load control, increased thermal comfort and ample daylight, which in turn improves the internal environment in terms of occupant health and comfort. It also reduces operating costs due to savings on lighting, cooling and heating energy requirements. This information would prove invaluable in designing its own office space.

The façade provided for sound reduction, but in the spirit of due diligence Hilson Moran asked its in-house acoustics experts to use digital modelling to create the acoustic signature of the working environment. This highlighted a need for internal acoustically absorbent materials, which were installed.

Ensuring quality lighting design, access to daylight and correct light levels are critical for good circadian health. Having evaluated this, the base build light fittings were replaced by energy-efficient LED luminaires with PIR presence/absence detection, which give reduced glare. Blinds were installed throughout the space to avoid visual discomfort, fatigue and visual impairment. The full-height glazing also offers measurable physiological benefits.

Having established the best way to heat and cool the space, the next step was to select air source heat pumps, designed to allow the transfer of heat between north and south facing elevations. Heating and cooling are controlled via an app.

Research was also needed for fit-out materials and products to make sure they had low VOC emissions, which is a significant factor in air quality and a key element of WELL. This proved a challenge because such materials were hard to source. VOCs have up to now not been a priority for the fit-out industry, but as wellbeing and the WELL Building Standard gather momentum in the UK, more materials that comply should come to market, making the process easier and giving more choice to designers and specifiers.

About Sarah OBeirne

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