Unlocking Wellbeing: Autonomy, Choice, and Innovation in Design

Renowned for their stellar design prowess, EPR Architects has played a pivotal role in shaping our HBD places. From interior designer on Island – our new 100,000 sq ft, Net Zero workspace in Manchester – to architect and interior designer on the newly approved and equally sustainable Colloco in the city.

In this article, EPR’s David Sparks shares his expertise, talking us through the critical aspects of creating spaces that prioritise occupant wellbeing. With a focus on autonomy and choice, David delves into the significance of empowering end-users through thoughtful design considerations, and how they can positively impact individuals’ lives and enhance their overall sense of wellbeing.

EPR stands out for its balanced focus on commercial, residential, and hospitality design. This unique approach grants us a nuanced understanding of the market landscape, especially as we witness the increasing trend of incorporating features traditionally associated with hospitality into workspaces.

That trend has accelerated post pandemic – a period that has emphasised a collective re-evaluation of our lifestyles, resulting in a heightened need for homes and workspaces that cater to our evolving needs. While I echo this sentiment, my colleagues and I also observed that the trend towards workspace “hotelifcation” stems from a deeper desire for human connection. We believe it’s about more than just amenities; it’s about fostering environments where individuals can come together, yet retain autonomy over their workdays, dictating when and with whom they engage and having a range of environments in which to work that respond to the changing priorities of staff/colleagues.

Checking in for inspiration

Our extensive experience in the hotel industry has enriched our team and the clients we serve. Hotels, renowned for prioritising experiential design, have provided us with a diverse portfolio of inspiration and innovative concepts.

One predominant focus of our work has been enhancing wellbeing and integrating it into the heart of the commercial experience. Through thorough analysis, trend tracking, and identifying synergies, we’ve crafted spaces tailored to meet the evolving needs of occupants, while remaining adaptable for future workforce requirements. A pertinent example of this is our collaboration with HBD on the Island project in Manchester. This pioneering endeavour aims to create a sustainable, Net Zero workspace, setting a new standard for the city’s architectural landscape and beyond.

Island is the culmination of bold ideas and a visionary client, with HBD committed to investing in groundbreaking concepts. Lee Treanor, a director at HBD, led with innovation, emphasising the importance of not just the building’s structure, but also its interior design, creating a space that feels more human scale transforming the commercial experience.

Key to Island’s success for example is HBD’s decision to prioritise ground floor amenities, recognising their value in enhancing overall wellbeing and creating a welcoming atmosphere akin to a hotel. This thoughtful approach ensures that the space is not merely transitional but immediately inviting, offering a range of functions and experiences for all who enter.

Furthermore, our material selection process was driven by evidence-based decisions rather than cost or aesthetic appeal alone. Take for example our choice of timber for the ceilings on the ground floor; timber was selected not merely for its visual appeal, but for its proven ability to positively impact human physiology. This deliberate choice reflects Island’s commitment to prioritising occupant wellbeing and creating environments that support both physical and psychological health.

Encouraging human interaction

Island also exemplifies how multifunctional spaces can enhance occupier wellbeing in numerous ways. Take, for instance, the collider element, which fosters collaboration by providing expansive, welcoming areas where individuals from different businesses can intersect and exchange ideas.

Moreover, the building addresses the modern need for autonomy over our workdays. In today’s competitive talent landscape, employees seek control over their schedules. Recognising this, Island empowers occupants by offering a variety of workspace options. Whether it’s the innovative workspaces or the dynamic ground floor and rooftop areas, Island ensures that individuals have the freedom to choose an environment that best suits their needs, promoting both productivity and wellbeing.

Employers understand the importance of empowering their workforce and setting a positive tone for the workplace. HBD’s endorsement of an events space, particularly on the ground floor, demonstrates its commitment to creating a dynamic environment. The versatile design of this space allows for seamless transitions from daytime work sessions to evening gatherings, resembling the adaptable nature of a hotel – a testament to Island’s commitment to fostering a vibrant and inclusive community.

A look to the future

Structures like Island set a new standard for wellbeing by design, challenging us as designers to continuously push the boundaries of commercial buildings. However, our journey doesn’t end here, and we must stay attuned to evolving needs and aspirations as we strive to enhance occupant welfare.

One significant hurdle ahead is cost; creating innovative spaces like Island often entails a premium investment. It takes thoughtful developers like HBD, who prioritise people over profit, to embrace this challenge and recognise the intrinsic value of prioritising human-centric design. Thankfully, HBD is up for doing this with us all over again at Colloco, a 200,000 sq ft building also in Manchester that’s set to raise the bar even higher in its pursuit of creating pioneering new working environments.

As we move forward, responding to the workforce’s desire for autonomy and personalisation will be paramount. Personalisation is an emerging trend that holds great promise, allowing individuals to tailor and influence their workspaces to align with their preferences and needs. I also think we’ll move to more decentralised wellness offerings; while amenities like end of journey showers and bike stores have become the standard, there’s untapped potential for developers to elevate the wellness experience further, akin to boutique, city scale spas. Integrating such features underscores a commitment to fostering employee wellbeing and enhancing workplace performance.

With visionary developers like HBD leading the charge, we’re poised to make significant strides in prioritising wellness in the built environment. Drawing inspiration from the hospitality sector, where attention to detail in areas like nutrition, rest, and exercise is paramount, we can envision a future where workspaces seamlessly integrate these principles, fostering happier, healthier, and more productive workplaces.

Exciting times lie ahead as we continue to explore the possibilities of design-driven wellbeing initiatives.