UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering


Expert Commentary: Progress of the UK built environment towards optimising health and wellbeing

12 December 2017

Dr Marcella Ucci contributes to the UK-GBC tenth anniversary report on ‘the state of sustainability in the UK Built Environment’


Many of the largely preventable public health challenges facing the UK today are heavily affected by environmental factors. The built environment is one of the key levers, which, within multi-targeted and systems-based interventions, could help ameliorate or even prevent health conditions of public health significance – as well as help address health inequalities.

Whilst the focus of public health and policy on poor environmental conditions is not new, a novel movement amongst built environment professionals can now be observed: the pursuit of wellbeing. This is a subtle but significant shift towards an active pursuit of ‘adding value’ through the fostering of wellbeing. The momentum behind this idea creates a real opportunity. But, first we must also address several challenges.

Firstly, defining the meaning of wellbeing, and its significance at different scales.

Secondly, finding evidence and ‘scaling up’. Many factors besides the built environment per se are likely to affect health and wellbeing.

Therefore, large sample sizes and rich datasets are required to prove the real ‘value-add’ of built environment interventions. More efforts should be made to standardize and share data across projects.

Thirdly, scaling down the evidence: buildings or cities will cater for specific individuals or communities. We must carefully consider if and how evidence available today is applicable to these populations or individuals.

Lastly, ensuring a whole systems approach. Isolated and one-dimensional changes to the built environment are unlikely to deliver individual or population wellbeing. Only by acknowledging this, we can truly understand how to fully realize the health and wellbeing potential of our buildings and cities.

(This piece was originally published on the UK-GBC website as a part of its blog series.)

Dr Marcella Ucci is a Senior Lecturer in Environmental and Healthy Buildings at the UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering, Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment. She is Programme Leader of the Health, Wellbeing and Sustainable Buildings MSc.

In celebration of its tenth anniversary, the UK Green Building (UK-GBC) produced a report on ‘The State of Sustainability in the UK Built Environment. UK-GBC is a charity that unites the UK building industry, using sustainability as a catalyst for positive change in the places people use every day.

A part of the UK-GBC’s new vision for a thriving built environment is one that promotes people’s health and wellbeing as one of its five key themes. There is now a greater interest by built-environment industry experts on how health and wellbeing connects with sustainability.