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Hierarchy of interior features on occupant wellbeing

During research for Elina’s book “Wellbeing in Interiors” (RIBA Publishing), and the concurrent research for and application of our methodology of “A Better Place”, she came to realise there is a need to inform the order of priority amongst interior features. For example, questions included:

a) the budget is limited – should we change the lighting or the carpet to proportionally support occupants’ wellbeing


b) where the space is limited, would the quality of the daylight be more important than having plants for a greater customer experience?

There have been many discussions on the use of Maslow’s work over the decades and more recently within management and staff engagement levels. This has strongly influenced the direction of her work. The reasoning behind Maslow’s hierarchy and the way it unfolds in our day-to-day life has given her confidence and reaffirmed its endurance as a principle to follow, for now.

As a first attempt to what we hope will be an on-going refinement of impact analysis in the wider industry and our work, the following graphic gives Elina’s recommendations as to the category of ‘need’ each physical feature or effect has on a human being.

When a client occupies a space, or a developer wishes to refurbish an existing building to attract a specific tenant type, activities and features can be prioritised in relation to the surveyed condition of the existing space, and understanding of the user’s state of being – the aim is to achieve a harmony of need and provision between these parties. For example, if we provide artwork to a user who finds themselves at the ‘basic’ or ‘security’ levels because thermal comfort in the space is not provided, then the impact of the art will be short-lived with unmet needs reverting back to how they were before the artwork’s installation. If a need lower down the pyramid has not been met, then the pyramid can’t sustain itself and a person will not move up in their state of being until a lower one is met.

This also becomes relevant to the priority of activities within the management of companies and teams and the impact of the physical space; we have seen that good schedule rostering will be more impactful than providing thermal comfort. But, an out-of-hours social life with colleagues will be less impactful than providing thermal comfort.

In an ideal world, the budgets and physical parameters will be available to provide all the required features for a space to support occupant comfort and wellbeing; and the designer and client’s aesthetic and functional aspirations will be to create a space for occupants rather than any other ideology they may prefer to see prioritised. Whichever the driver and inclusion of comfort and wellbeing, the above schedule can become a valuable reference point in the balancing act undertaken during the strategy, design and operation processes.

For further reading…

If you would like to find out what is affecting your occupants and staff and how to support it through space design, please get in touch. 



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