Wellness in Design: Residential Design

As a Certified Passive House Consultant and WELL AP, Architect Denis Pohlman specializes in design that is innovative and environmentally friendly. In this week’s Wellness in Design, Denis shares his thoughts on how and why it is important to integrate wellness strategies into the design of spaces with a closer look at residential design.

Why did you want to pursue the WELL AP credential?

My job as an architect is to design the spaces where individuals, families and communities spend their time. As Anna mentioned last week in her Wellness in Design interview, people are indoors 90% of their day. Unfortunately, most indoor spaces do not actually help to improve our health and wellbeing. Staying indoors for prolonged periods can affect sleep patterns, appetite, mood, anxiety, and weakens your immune system. Additionally, we can be completely unaware of environmental contaminants in these spaces, such as air or water pollution, which make people sick. As architects, we are responsible for the places we create. It is our duty to ensure that these spaces positively affect the occupants and the surrounding environment.

Personally, I have always been drawn to the natural world and want to carry that through to the projects I work on. I believe that buildings should not be in opposition to the natural world but complimentary. Just like organisms in a balanced ecosystem; each one acts to improve the function of the environment and our buildings should do the same.

What are the advantages of incorporating wellness strategies into building design?

The real advantage to incorporating wellness strategies into buildings is to improve the health and wellbeing of the occupants. It is compelling what implementing a few wellness strategies can do for an individual and the greater community. Even just the addition of natural lighting and views to nature can improve the mental and physical health of the occupants.

Healthier buildings lead to healthier people. As designers, we see a shift in thinking which puts a renewed focus on the positive results of wellness. All building types can benefit from a wellness-forward approach. For residences, you may see less occupant turnover and more long-term renting which adds to the financial stability of the building. Businesses can see healthier employees that are more focused and less stressed which leads to better productivity.


The Gallatin Apartments includes exterior spaces throughout the design. From a walk-up terrace which promotes walkability, to large windows in living spaces, residents are provided ample connection to the outdoors and their surrounding community.

How can WELL concepts be integrated into residential projects?

With regards to multi or single family spaces, there are a number of easy-to-implement strategies to consider during the design of a new or renovated space. This includes incorporating operable windows, increasing the MERV rating of furnace filters, and integrating biophilic design elements to bring nature into the buildings with plants, natural patterns, colors, and materials.

One important wellness aspect we consider during the design of a residential project is finding unexpected opportunities to provide views and access to the outdoors which we identify through a thoughtful planning process. Solutions include layouts which orient occupants towards outdoor views, including balconies off of bedrooms, and providing spaces outdoors which encourage social interaction. Other strategies include prominently locating stairs to promote usage in lieu of the elevator, providing dedicated space for physical activity such as workout or fitness rooms, or creating areas that will accommodate community programs to encourage social interaction. Additionally, we encourage our clients and partners to also choose building materials and practices that support sustainability and WELL concepts regardless of their intention to certify their projects.

Upper floors feature generous balconies to provide access to natural light and air.

How does the WELL Building Standard relate to LEED?

There are many synergies between WELL and LEED. Light, air, and water considerations overlap between the two. However WELL goes beyond LEED and covers policies, education, mental, social, and physical health.

Both programs require ongoing monitoring and reporting to maintain certification. LEED’s certification program focuses on the major areas of building sustainably. In contrast, WELL encompasses health issues associated with buildings. There are synergies between both programs.

Want to learn more? Connect with Denis via email or through LinkedIn.