Newswise — The National University of Singapore (NUS) School of Design and Environment (SDE) becomes the first series of buildings in Singapore, as well as the foremost in the educational sector worldwide to achieve the WELL™ Health-Safety Rating by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI).

Achieving the WELL™ Health-Safety Rating marks an important achievement in NUS’ and SDE’s commitment to the health of its building’s occupants, signifying their efforts to address the safety and hygiene of its workspaces in a post-COVID-19 environment, instilling confidence in occupants and the broader NUS community. The WELL™ Health-Safety seal is given to the SDE4 building, Singapore’s first new-build net-zero energy building and the newly-retrofitted SDE1 building, which are located at the NUS Kent Ridge campus. 

The IWBI had launched a public awareness campaign in January 2021 where world-renowned scientists, public health scientists and celebrities were encouraging people to “look for the WELL Health-Safety seal” in a bid to raise confidence in the safety of buildings and shared spaces.

The WELL™ Health-Safety Rating for Facility Operations and Management is an evidence-based, third-party verified rating for all facility types focused on operational policies, maintenance protocols, emergency plans and stakeholder education to address a post-COVID-19 environment now and broader health and safety-related issues in the future. The certification provides a centralised source and governing body to validate efforts made by the corporate owners and operators which leverages on insights drawn from the IWBI Global Task Force on COVID-19 and various international disease control agencies.

“At the heart of it, healthy cities are ultimately about healthy people. At SDE, we focus on our ‘Well & Green’ vision that emphasises a people-centric integrated design approach, creating safe spaces for our building inhabitants. In the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is pivotal to work together in ensuring the mental, physical and social well-being of our community in a collective effort with local and international support,” said Professor Lam Khee Poh, Dean of SDE, who is also co-chair of the IWBI Global Task Force on COVID-19. 

Features implemented to enhance occupants’ health and safety 

The SDE4 and the SDE1 buildings achieved the WELL™ Health-Safety Rating for the successful implementation of features which range from sanitisation procedures at the spatial scale; air and water quality management at the building scale; health and wellness service resources, as well as emergency preparedness programmes at the organisational scale with robust stakeholder engagement and communication strategies. 

Some of the key features which contributed to its WELL™ Health-Safety Rating include: 

  • Natural ventilation and circulation spaces: The rating includes assessments of air and water systems in the buildings that systemically work to enhance the indoor environmental quality for improved occupant health and comfort. SDE showcased efficient mechanical and natural solutions to increase fresh air supply, effective moisture inspection protocols and new air treatment-filtration systems that minimise air-quality concerns within spaces. The SDE1 and SDE4 buildings were specially built to maximise natural ventilation and daylight ingress especially through its wide corridors and easy-access circulation spaces. The floor layouts on every level also ensure that occupants can access their workspaces with minimal surface contact and socially-distanced interactions.
  • Open-plan office spaces: The offices at the SDE1 building have been retrofitted to replace the extensive service ducts and suspended ceilings with sleek environmental systems - enabling higher, larger-span spaces for academic and administrative uses. This helps to maximise natural air movement and daylight, and also allows for flexible, open-plan furniture layouts that can be adapted for socially-distanced seating with minimal person-to-person contact, reduced internal movements, visitor screening and access.
  • Health and wellness: The central courtyard at the SDE1 building has been enhanced with climate-resilient, native plants, with the intention to improve occupant productivity and satisfaction, underlining mental health respites at workplaces.

“We applaud the National University of Singapore for achieving the WELL Health-Safety Rating at its sustainability flagship SDE buildings. NUS has gone above and beyond to prioritise the health and safety of its students, faculty, and staff, and to address acute issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic now and broader health and safety-related issues into the future,” said IWBI President and CEO Ms Rachel Hodgdon. “As the first university to achieve the WELL Health-Safety Rating, NUS has demonstrated outstanding leadership by supporting the global education industry toward a healthy and resilient recovery,” continued Ms Hodgdon, while acknowledging NUS’ leadership role in its global early adoption of IWBI’s WELL Portfolio programme in 2019.

The NUS University Campus Infrastructure (UCI) team maintains SDE’s facilities, ensuring a well-maintained, smooth running environment. The rating recognises such efforts particularly in the implementation of strategies to rigorous cleaning, disinfection and sanitisation of products as well as protocols. The team, in partnership with SDE also demonstrated emergency management plans, business continuity measures with sufficient resources for occupants to persevere through emergency situations. 

Prof Yong Kwet Yew, NUS Senior Vice President (Campus Infrastructure), said, “NUS is committed to creating an environment that promotes health and wellness, both by programme as well as infrastructure. The WELL™ Health-Safety Rating is part of UCI’s Smart, Safe and Sustainable initiative and we will be systematically certifying up to 200 buildings across our campuses. In so doing, NUS aims to have a safe campus that promotes wellness, by 2030.”

All WELL™ Health-Safety Rating-certified projects undergo an annual renewal process validating their on-going operations and maintenance, to ensure that high standards for health and safety are upheld. Before this rating, SDE has also achieved the WELL Certified™ Gold for the SDE4 building in October 2019, the first university building in the world to achieve it, and also the first building in Singapore to receive the WELL Certification.