Paya Lebar Quarter to have Singapore’s first wellness-focused office towers

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/ The Edge Property
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January 23, 2017 8:00 AM SGT
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It is still early days for office buildings focused on the health and wellness of their occupants in Singapore. A pioneer in such developments here is Australian real estate group Lendlease. It announced that Paya Lebar Quarter, its $3.2 billion urban regeneration project, will feature Singapore’s first office towers to register for a WELL certification by the International WELL Building Institute.
“We are the first in Singapore to promote wellness in buildings,” says Richard Paine, managing director of Paya Lebar Quarter. The site office of Paya Lebar Quarter has been turned into a “trial centre” for the project, which is targeted for completion in 2020. It has been fitted out with a well-equipped pantry, mini break-out spaces, sitting and standing desks, a gym and fitness area, shower facilities and a prayer room. There is also a bicycle-sharing programme.
A 15m-tall banyan tree with a 25m canopy that was once a landmark in the area will get a new lease of life. Eighty cuttings were taken from the tree before it was removed to enable the widening of a canal that runs through the site. The cuttings were given to Lendlease staff, who are competing to produce the fastest-growing sapling. The winner will see his or her tree become a new landmark at Paya Lebar Quarter. According to Paine, he is now the proud owner of a 7m-tall sapling, while his colleague, Lendlease senior development manager Turner Canning, a bonsai enthusiast, has turned his sapling into a bonsai.
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The public area at Paya Lebar Quarter, which has a green plot ratio of six times

Source: Paya Lebar Quarter

Paine is a Fitbitter who makes sure he walks at least 10,000 steps a day. He also cycles five to six times a week. He is a firm believer in walking meetings: Instead of holding meetings in a room or at a coffee house, participants conduct discussions while going for a walk. “We are working on the software aspect of Paya Lebar Quarter as well as the hardware, and figuring out what engages people so they enjoy their time at work,” he says.
Paine: We are the first in Singapore to promote wellness in buildings
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Getting WELL-certified
In Australia, Lendlease’s International Towers Sydney in Barangaroo is the country’s first WELL-certified office development from inception. Lendlease is targeting for its headquarters located in Tower Three to obtain a Platinum certification, the highest level in the WELL certification. “That is what we aspire to achieve at Paya Lebar Quarter,” says Paine.
In November 2015, Lendlease formed a global alliance with US-based Delos, the pioneer in wellness real estate. The company was founded by former Goldman Sachs partner Paul Scialla. Delos came up with the first WELL Building Standard in October 2014, offering a set of guidelines for designing buildings to increase the overall well-being, health and productivity of their occupants. It is modelled after the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) programme.
Lendlease also partnered with Delos in internationalising the WELL Core and Shell Certification, which rates a project based on the health and well-being of people in the building. The certification is awarded by the International WELL Building Institute, a public benefit corporation, and third-party-certified by Green Business Certification Inc.
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There are seven WELL factors to measure health and wellness. They include air quality, thermal comfort, sunlight/lighting and green coverage, or biophilia.
Rooms with a view
At Paya Lebar Quarter, the green plot ratio is six times, that is, the area covered by foliage is six times the land area. From the lobby area and the windows of the office buildings, people will be able to see greenery or a tree-lined promenade. “It is very calming to look out to greenery and it will make a meaningful difference to people,” says Paine. “This is not surprising — you pay more for a hotel room with a view, whether of the sea or a garden. People will get more inspiration at work, looking at a nice view than staring at a brick wall.”
Good lighting is equally important. While it is difficult to differentiate between the benefits of daylight — greater nearer a window — and the benefits of the view from a window, studies over the decades have shown that productivity increases as a result of proximity to a window. Experts think the view outside is probably the more significant factor, particularly where the view offers a connection to nature, according to a 2013 report by the World Green Building Council entitled “Health, Well-being & Productivity in Offices”.
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The promenade at Paya Lebar Quarter is wide enough for pedestrians, cyclists and those on scooters

Source: Paya Lebar Quarter

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Air quality
Indoor air quality is also crucial, given that people spend 90% of their time indoors. Research has shown productivity improvements of 8% to 11% from better air quality, according to the 2013 report. At Paya Lebar Quarter, Lendlease intends to introduce quality filters with a high MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) rating to measure components of the air, including CO2. Monitoring and measuring the air quality can help create a healthier environment and provide useful data for its occupants, says Paine.
The other factor that is closely related to air quality is thermal comfort. Research demonstrates that thermal comfort has a significant impact on workplace satisfaction. “If the temperature in the office is too low or too high, there will be discomfort, and it will have an impact on productivity,” says Paine.
‘Active design’ to promote fitness
Another major WELL factor is fitness. And this is where Lendlease has introduced “active design” — design features that enable and stimulate movement around an office, helping to support healthy metabolic function, combat obesity and get the blood flowing after prolonged bouts of sitting.
For instance, walking meetings can be encouraged by creating a place that is shady and conducive to walking, says Paine. This way, people will be encouraged to incorporate walking into their lifestyle. They will also be encouraged to cycle or bring their scooter to work if there is a secure bicycle storage area, shower facilities and locker rooms.
“What we have created at Paya Lebar Quarter is an ecosystem that will enable you to walk or ride your bicycle to work,” he says. “We have removed the obstacles that could have prevented you from doing so before.”
There is also growing awareness that people’s mental health and well-being can be improved by providing a conducive environment with green spaces, social gathering areas and quiet corners for contemplation or relaxation, he adds.
Paya Lebar Quarter has al fresco dining and outdoor break-out spaces for people to relax among greenery

Source: Paya Lebar Quarter

Balancing costs and benefits
According to a report titled “Economic Cost of Work-related Injuries and Illhealth in Singapore” by the Workplace Safety and Health Institute, the cost of work injuries and ill health (excluding lifetime costs) sustained in 2011 was $2.62 billion, with employers bearing 88.2% of the cost, employees 9.5% and the community 2.3%.
If lifetime costs are included — that is net loss of future earnings and loss of human capital — total cost of work injuries and ill health is estimated to be $10.45 billion for 2011. Workers bore about half of the costs (51%), while the remainder was shouldered by the employers (22%) and the community (27%).
However, companies have become more cost-conscious with the economic slowdown. According to a National Business Survey 2016/2017 conducted by Singapore Business Federation and released on Dec 28, nearly two-thirds (63%) of businesses said the economic climate had worsened in 2016, and nearly half (48%) of businesses expected the situation to deteriorate in 2017. The negative sentiment persisted across both large companies and small and medium-sized enterprises, said SBF.
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Operating costs (66%) and manpower issues (66%) remained the biggest challenges for businesses. “When economic circumstances are difficult, everyone tends to become cost-focused, and that applies across the board,” says Paine. “But they get through that and then start thinking about growth.”
Companies in the fast-growing tech industry such as Google understand the importance of building healthy, user-focused workplaces. In the World Green Building Council report, Andreas Gyr, eTeam design and construction integrator at Google said, “We apply the same focus to designing our offices that we use for any of our products. We put the user first.”
Tech companies such as Google, Airbnb and Facebook appear to be at the forefront when it comes to creating desirable workplaces because they want to attract millennials and retain talent. “In the past, banks attracted the brightest graduates,” says a property consultant. “Today, they all want to work for a tech company.”
Staff costs, including salaries and benefits, typically account for about 90% of business operating costs, according to Lendlease’s Paine. Therefore, what may appear a modest improvement in employee health or productivity can have huge financial implications for employers. “Over time, people will start to appreciate this,” he adds.
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This article appeared in The Edge Property Pullout, Issue 763 (Jan 23, 2017) of The Edge Singapore.

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