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Cognitive health takes center stage in the AEC industry

AEC Business Innovation

Cognitive health takes center stage in the AEC industry

Two prominent architecture firms are looking to build on the industry’s knowledge base on design’s impact on building occupant health and performance with new research efforts.


By David Barista, Editorial Director | June 15, 2022
Cognitive health takes center stage in the AEC industry
Illustration: Pixabay

Can the workplace actually improve—rather than undermine—the cognitive health of employees? How can office design help reduce burnout, limit stress, and increase overall productivity? What role does the connection with nature—including fresh, clean indoor air—play in the overall health and wellness of office workers.

These questions have been pondered by the AEC community and researchers for decades, dating back to the late-1990’s Heschong Mahone Group research on daylighting and human performance. Now, two prominent architecture firms are looking to build on the industry’s knowledge base on design’s impact on building occupant health and performance with research efforts of their own.

On May 10, the Scottish horticulture firm Benholm Group released details on a planned eight-week research study in partnership with London-based PLP Architecture and PhD researcher Joyce Chan-Schoof to better understand the intrinsic value of biophilic design on office workers. Their objective: to discover if immersive, biophilic workspaces—with lush plantings; plentiful access to natural light and outside views; natural décor, patterns, and colors; and sounds from nature—can have a tangible impact on employee productivity, retention, absenteeism, satisfaction, engagements, and up-skilling. 

The study will involve six participants, who will perform their daily work at designated workstations at PLP’s London studio. Over the course of two months, the workspaces will be transformed gradually from their current state (modern office) into what Benholm calls a “multi-sensory biophilic experience.” Data will be gathered via questionnaires following each scenario change.

HKS, UT-Dallas partner to study brain health

On May 18, design giant HKS revealed plans for a six-month study on brain health and cognitive function involving 200 of its employees. The firm is partnering with the University of Texas at Dallas’ Center for BrainHealth to conduct the research, which will involve administering daily brain exercises and ongoing online training and think tank sessions to measure and improve participants’ cognitive health. 

HKS President and CEO Dan Noble and its Global Director of Research Upali Nanda, PhD, cited pandemic-induced stress and burnout as motives for the research project. 

Given the rapidly changing role of the workplace in this era of remote and hybrid work, research projects like HKS’s cognitive health study and PLP’s biophilic design initiative are vital to shaping the future of workplace design and office building development. 

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