Interior design now embraces far more than aesthetics and luxury and is taking on further dimensions of comfort to include health, well-being and performance. Xworks Interiors has demonstrated its commitment to this human-centric design approach by practising what it preaches. The interior company has become the first in the Middle East to achieve the WELL Gold accreditation for its new offices.
The certification recognises the design elements, policies and investments that Xworks Interiors has made to ensure its Dubai-based headquarters improves the health and well-being of its employees.
WELL is a performance-based system for measuring and certifying features of the built environment that impact human comfort and wellness, through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. The system is administered by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), a public benefit corporation whose mission is to improve human health and well-being through the built environment.
Xworks Interiors now stakes claim to being the only organisation in the region to have successfully achieved Gold level certification in both the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and WELL standards.
“Xworks Interiors’ competitive differentiator as an interior contracting company has always been its unmatched value and expertise. Being the only organisation in the region to achieve Gold level certification in both the LEED and WELL standards is validation of our commitment to advancing interior design through the incorporation of international standards and best practices,” explains Soren Kraen, executive director and owner at Xworks Interiors, which specialises in commercial interiors, commercial fit-outs and office furniture.
Unlike many other green building certification schemes, WELL is a performance-based rating that assesses the actual performance of the space post-occupancy prior to certification. This reduces the performance gap between design, construction and operation and ensures correct application and implementation of health and well-being features.
The certification was made possible by the expertise and support of AESG, a world-leading specialist consulting, engineering and advisory firm. While a performance-based rating provides a more robust assessment, it also poses additional challenges. AESG effectively addressed these challenges through comprehensive monitoring and testing during the construction and handover stages, identifying any risks to non-compliance and providing mitigation and remediation measures to assure the attainment of the desired certification level.
AESG worked to incorporate several innovative design features in the Xworks office, many of which are first in the region.
“Among the most prominent features in the Xworks office is their emphasis on ergonomics. All employees have sit-stand desks, and were given the flexibility to choose their own chairs,” Saeed Al Abbar, director at AESG, tells Gulf Construction.
“The furniture and carpets in the office were procured from various suppliers in the Nordic region, and were certified as per rigorous European standards relating to material quality. The office is furnished with economical, environment-friendly Danish furniture, which contributes to high levels of indoor air quality and appealing aesthetics. Also, air quality filters and indoor air purifying plants have been incorporated to ensure an optimal air quality within the office,” he adds.
Abundant daylight in the office decreases employees’ reliance on artificial lighting. Daylight modelling conducted within the office indicated that the percentage of office space receiving adequate natural light far exceeded the base threshold imposed by WELL. This has ensured that all workstations are optimised to take in natural light, he explains.
The above examples indicate Xworks’ desire to be a forerunner in the wellness field through the incorporation of design elements and policies that are not yet widely implemented in the region.
AESG also executed comprehensive air and water quality testing to ensure the office’s compliance with the IWBI’s strict thresholds, he adds.
In addition to design and construction features, WELL considers operational policies and procedures as part of the certification scheme. “This unique approach requires out-of-the-box thinking to apply the requirements of WELL features within the context of the project. Through a practical and proactive approach, AESG provided clear advice and guidance on the development of operational policies that would enhance the well-being of employees, while remaining within the constraints of the clients’ operations. These policies included the provision of sit-stand desks; offering staff the freedom of selecting their own chairs; offering employees a 50 per cent subsidy on Fitbit activity trackers and organising intra-office competitions to encourage employees to stay fit while also fostering a healthy level of camaraderie and competition in the office,” Al Abbar states.
This apart, the location of the office – right next to the Business Bay metro – encourages employees to walk or use public transport.
Other examples of innovative measures that AESG introduced into the project include the provision of longer maternity and paternity leave for Xworks Interiors’ employees, childcare subsidy vouchers, dedicated time off for volunteering and regular employee well-being surveys. Also, the provision of daily fresh fruit, a well-equipped pantry, 20 litres of refrigeration space per employee, and a large dining table – all encourage employees to eat healthy and bring food from home.
Building on its established track record as the region’s leading specialist consultancy, AESG says it is now leading the field within the health and well-being sector. “We are proud to be the first consultancy to achieve WELL Gold certification in the Middle East,” says Al Abbar, who is confident that the number of WELL-accredited facilities in the region is set to grow at an exponential rate.
“This approach is especially beneficial in the Middle East, where people spend the majority of their time indoors. The biggest asset to any organisation is its employees and therefore providing a working environment that is conducive to improved physical and mental health, cognitive function, productive as well as morale is a win-win for companies, employees and the wider community.” he adds.
Al Abbar says AESG is currently working on a few other offices which are also pursuing certifications under v1 and v2 which include targets for both Gold and Platinum certification.
AESG is a world-leading specialist consultancy, engineering and advisory firm headquartered in Dubai and London with offices in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. Its areas of expertise are represented in five core departments: building engineering and design, land development and infrastructure, industry, oil and gas, commissioning and innovation and strategy and advisory.
It has one of the largest dedicated teams with decades of cumulative experience in sustainable development, fire and life safety, façade engineering, building performance, acoustics, waste management, environmental consultancy and energy management.
The consultancy also achieved a key milestone recently by joining the elite group of 51 signatories supporting the WorldGBC’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment, which aims to reduce the carbon footprint of the built environment in a bid to curtail the global temperature rise to within the 1.5 deg C to 2.0 deg C target set by the historic Paris Agreement at COP 21. The signatories include 23 cities, six states and regions, and 19 businesses and organisations across the globe.
The building sector is estimated to contribute more than 40 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions which calls for the urgent need for the net zero1 approach in the sector. As a signatory, AESG has committed to ensuring its offices operate at net zero energy consumption by 2030. Furthermore, through the wider reach of its projects, the company has the potential to positively impact thousands of buildings worldwide, furthering the net zero agenda and contributing towards a more sustainable future.
“We hope that in providing a pathway to net zero on all of our projects, we will be able to help stimulate the transition to decarbonising the global economy in line with the goals of the Paris Climate Change agreement,” says Al Abbar. “We are proud of our latest partnership with the WorldGBC and commend them on this initiative. Achieving the goals of this commitment will require close coordination between public and private entities and the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment provides the ideal platform to facilitate this engagement.”
The Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment has been developed in partnership with a wide stakeholder group including Green Buildings Councils, The Climate Group and C40. Other prominent signatories of the commitment include the cities of New York, London, Paris, Tokyo and Sydney, as well as the Majid Al Futtaim property development group in the Middle East.
1. The WorldGBC definition of a net zero carbon building is one that is highly energy efficient and fully powered from on-site and/or off-site renewable energy sources.