“What we can do as architects is to be smart about the surfaces that we choose and the detailing we include in our projects. We can learn a lot from hospital design and from the food industry,” Spolidoro says.
She makes the following recommendations for healthy design
Designing for germs and bacteria control
The most important thing to do is to facilitate any cleaning process: avoid areas difficult to reach or tight corners, reduce seams in countertops and make sure nothing can easily fall behind built-in cabinetry. Also, avoid overly complicated designs in high-touch surfaces like doorknobs, handles, buttons, operating parts and railings. A flat, smooth surface is easier to clean. To facilitate operation of parts by people with limited mobility, make sure their functioning doesn’t require tight grasp or complicated twisting.
Particular attention should be given to lobbies and entryways, using rollout mats that can be cleaned on the underside, as well as on top.
The ability to do maintenance on and to replace any high-use surface or operation part is very useful.
“Personally, I am always concerned by the use of touch-screens in a public setting,” Spolidoro says. “While the old-style dials are certainly worse in terms of germs collection, the hope is that in the future more can be done without touching, maybe with the use of a personal Smartphone, or by means of vocal commands.”
Choose materials that are easy to clean and non-porous surfaces. Granite and other natural stone countertop surfaces are porous and allow for moisture, food particles, and microbial spores to accumulate. Surfaces like steel, quartz or Corian are non-porous and easier to sanitize. Porous materials, like rugs, textiles, upholstery, certain wallpapers, towels, bedding and curtains require special care in cleaning, particularly from dust mites that might cause allergies.
Some materials are naturally antimicrobial. Copper and its alloys (brasses, bronzes, cupronickel, copper-nickel-zinc, and others) have intrinsic properties to destroy a wide range of microorganisms.
People interested in biomimicry might want to learn that the company Sharklet is the world’s first technology to inhibit bacterial growth through pattern alone. According to their website,
“The Sharklet surface consists of millions of microscopic features arranged in a distinct diamond pattern. The structure of the pattern alone inhibits bacteria from attaching, colonizing and forming biofilms. Sharklet contains no toxic additives or chemicals, and uses no antibiotics or antimicrobials. Sharklet draws inspiration from the shape and pattern of the dermal denticles of sharkskin.”
Smart water features
The WELL standard is particularly concerned with the quality of the water delivered to a building, recommending the use of ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) sanitization methods, carbon filters and sediment filters for suspended solids. In addition to these precautions, a prerequisite for any organization applying for the WELL Certification requires that organization to put in place a standard to control the potential spread of Legionella. A word to the wise: In certain hospitals and even in their offices, ice-makers and any water delivery systems that cannot be replaced or serviced easily are banned.
In order to fight the spread of disease, the WELL Standard recommends large sinks and a column of water at least ten inches tall to prevent any contamination of the fresh water. This “optimization” goes hand-in-hand with making it easy for people to wash their hands by providing fragrance-free hand soap placed in dispensers with disposable and sealed soap cartridges. Also recommended: using paper towels in lieu of air-dryers, as paper towels are more effective in removing bacteria (while being less environmentally friendly, unfortunately).
In regard to the use of anti-microbial soap, the FDA has reported that it is not more effective than regular soap and proper hand washing.
“Following simple hand washing practices is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of many types of infection and illness at home, at school and elsewhere,” says Theresa M. Michele, MD, of the FDA’s Division of Nonprescription Drug Products. “We can’t advise this enough. It’s simple, and it works.”
Your Building Systems
The term “healthy buildings” was first used in the 1990s in the context of the “Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)” public discussion. It referred to the symptoms primarily caused by buildings tightly built, with insufficient air changes per hour. This led to poor indoor air quality and not only issues like sensory irritation of the eyes, nose or throat, but also nausea and headache. In the ensuing decades, research has made progress and started isolating a variety of causes for building-related symptoms. Many health problems come from the generation of mold and fungi in the HVAC system. UV filters in heating and cooling equipment have been developed to combat this problem, together with scheduled maintenance and filter replacement. All major HVAC manufacturers now offer these kinds of UV filters.
Proper ventilation quality should always be prioritized, not only to reduce the spread of bacteria, but also to reduce the accumulation of pollutants from inside and outside the building, which can negatively affect people with asthma or other respiratory problems. In particular, great attention should be given to the levels of Particulate Matter PM 2.5 and PM 10 (caused also by heavy demolition or construction and diesel-powered equipment); Carbon monoxide (produced when a combustion appliance, such as a boiler, heater, oven, and so on, does not completely burn a carbon-based fuel); and Ozone and Nitrogen dioxide.
There are many indoor-air quality monitors for sale, which can help track the levels of many pollutants. There are also outdoor-air quality monitors that can warn when windows should be closed that may have been left open.