Health and Office Architecture
Abstract: The office, where many people spend most of their day, influences the health of employees, their families, communities, and society. While the body of research that relates office environment to health is growing, a question of interest for practitioners arises: how buildings should be designed and managed in order to support and promote health. This thesis adopts a salutogenic perspective in physical office environments. The salutogenic approach is an orientation toward health that focuses on the origins of health rather than on the determinants of disease. Salutogenesis indicates that the factors that create health are often different from those that cause illness. In this perspective, ‘sense of coherence’ has been found to be a resource for health promotion. However, the previous research concerning health in offices has tended to focus on the negative impacts of physical office environments (pathogenic) and less research has been carried out on the components that create and maintain health (salutogenic). The research work included two literature reviews and a mixed-method case study approach. First, health and healthy offices are studied in the context of office design approaches to explore how health is understood in the literature. Additionally, the Nordic perspective is specifically studied as a complementary setting to gain a deeper understanding of healthy office conceptualizations. While the literature provides input from the scientific perspective, the case study approach was used to explore the sense of coherence theory in an architectural context. The findings first revealed that conceptualizations of health and healthy offices were not abundant, and most approaches were limited to a pathogenic perspective. Second, design strategies were often formulated with little consideration of contextual factors. That is, no holistic office design approach was found to address all design features and health aspects. Finally, from a sense of coherence perspective, manageability and meaningfulness were the most recurrently influenced components, mainly by a sense of control, ownership, and opportunities for social interactions. Comprehensibility was also influenced, nevertheless, largely by the lack of behavioral rules and clarity. Contextual factors, such as the organizational work culture, facility management style, individual preferences, and activities were critical to elucidate the findings. To conclude, the findings highlight the need for holistic approaches that go beyond the mitigation of pathogenic aspects and promote the salutogenic resources of the physical office environment in order to strengthen employees’ sense of coherence and empower them to more positively and adaptively deal with stressors. As such, the move toward the healthy continuum in office environments involves two complementary strategies. First, modifications can be made to the office aimed at alleviating risk factors (e.g., improving air quality) and second, maximizing the presence of salutogenic resources (e.g., optimizing a sense of control).
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