The realisation that the places we call home can have a profound impact on our sense of wellbeing is nothing new: elements of feng shui were being practised as early as 4,000BC in China. Today, the developers of both single luxury homes and apartment blocks are increasingly focusing on the mental and physical wellbeing of their occupants.
“About 25% of our investment is hidden behind the walls in construction costs you can’t even see,” explains Gregory Malin, CEO of luxury developer Troon Pacific. “And that’s not including the structural frame of the building.”
What Mr Malin – whose latest project is Residence 950, a 9,500 sq ft, US$40 million house in San Francisco – is referring to is the forensic level of detail that he applies to ensuring his projects promote the wellbeing of their occupants and protect them from environmental hazards such as extreme temperatures, noise, air and water pollution and even electro-magnetic waves. Mr Malin says it is hard to know whether such measures add value to a property: “What I’m trying to do is to create a point of differentiation when it comes to quality.”
But Olga Turner Baker of Ekkist, a consultancy which helps developers to design buildings that enhance health and wellbeing, says the evidence is there for multiple-occupancy developments. “Generally, research shows a premium of 10 to 15%, but it can be as high as 55%.”
Government environmental and health legislation, as well as occupier demand, will also determine how quickly and to what extent developers embrace the wellbeing trend. But the decision by luxury developer Almacantar, working with Ekkist and the International WELL Building Institute, to register for WELL certification – the first luxury residential developer to do so – at The Bryanston, its latest scheme in London, suggests it is considered a strong selling point at the top end of the residential market, and one that will only increase in importance.
Breathe deeply, quietly
Clearer, cleaner air is a growing priority, whether that entails protecting residents from city smog, natural allergens such as pollen, or the vapours given off by buildings themselves.
Purchasers are increasingly seeking developments that work with the environment and communities around them, as well as offering high levels of internal design and services
Modern ventilation systems can change the air inside a home up to 12 times a day, while extracting increasingly fine particulates. Mr Malin even installs special vents to extract air from spaces such as the backs of cupboards where odours might develop.
Hi-tech paints can absorb and neutralise pollution, and developers like Mr Malin are increasingly shunning materials and finishes containing toxic “Red List” chemicals that can leach into the air and cause health issues, even in tiny amounts.
Services to monitor air quality, especially in larger and private rented developments, are also on the rise. “People want to know more about the air they are breathing,” says Olga Turner Baker, who has founded a new company, AirRated, that measures and benchmarks air quality.
For Charu Gandhi of interior design company Elicyon, air quality is integral to the atmosphere of a home. “We incorporate air purifiers and humidifiers into the joinery, sometimes connected to complex air quality monitoring systems. We also aim to minimise noise through insulation within the walls, acoustic materials and high specification glazing and doors to create near pin drop silence.”
Private boreholes are increasingly on the wish list for clients for whom drinking straight tap water is a no-no, says James Carter-Brown of Knight Frank’s Building Consultancy team, who manages renovations of large luxury homes for international clients.
“With growing environmental awareness about the use of single-use plastic, clients are frequently enquiring about alternatives to using plastic bottles of water,” he explains.
Gregory Malin, meanwhile, says the sophisticated water filtration systems he installs in his projects now not only take out impurities, but can also add back in beneficial minerals and elements.
Purchasers are increasingly seeking developments that work with the environment and communities around them as well as offering high levels of internal design and services, says Abigail Heyworth of Knight Frank’s Residential Development Consultancy team.
“It’s uplifting if you can enjoy the walk home from your train or bus after a long day at work,” she says. “Our research shows people like a mix of street widths to recreate the feel of a traditional city centre, while thinking carefully about the shops and leisure facilities around the development also helps to attract buyers.”
Todd Nisbet of Crown Residences, part of Sydney’s One Barangaroo regeneration scheme, agrees. The iconic harbour front scheme has been designed so that all four sides are public facing. “Usually one side of a building is devoted to things like air conditioning and deliveries, but we’ve put those underground,” he says.
As well as enabling residents to move easily between the different stages of their daily routines – relaxing, exercising and working – this also helps prevent the development being perceived as an exclusive enclave.
“Over half of the development is open space,” says Mr Nisbet. “Sydney residents rightly feel the harbour- side belongs to them, so we’ve tried to give something back by creating new parks and access to the ocean, as well as art installations. These spaces help to nurture different types of wellbeing, whether through exercise, social activities or just quiet contemplation.”
Peace of mind
The role of developers in creating healthy places to live can go even further by helping to tackle social issues such as loneliness. This is a major issue: a recent report found that 8% of Londoners are often or always lonely, and 27% feel socially isolated.
Better design and urban planning can help, agrees Paul King, Managing Director for Sustainability at developer Lendlease, which co-created the Loneliness Lab project to find ways to tackle loneliness through the built environment. “At home, for example, many Londoners live in flats without windows facing into communal areas,” he says. “These provide few opportunities for interaction.”
However, says Olga Turner Baker, potential solutions may go beyond the built environment itself. “We are increasingly helping our clients to create social or online programmes that increase the sense of community in their developments,” she says.
- The Pursuit of Happiness: Ranking the world’s most-liveable cities March 2020
- Developing for the Future: On the healthy benefits of green building By Olga Turner of Ekkist (April 2019)
This article appears in Knight Frank’s Wealth Report 2020