Photovoice Study | Investigating human factors in the evolv1 green office building

Impact on Wellbeing

What about the evolv1 building impacts the wellbeing of the individuals who inhabit the building on a regular basis? What, if any, building features positively or negatively influence that wellbeing?

Citizens know what wellbeing means to them. They can recognize when things are impacting that wellbeing positively and negatively, and they understand how to adjust themselves and their environment to better accommodate their wellbeing. Education is not an issue, but the lack of opportunity to create change and take initiative is a hinderance to achieving greater wellbeing. Additionally, there are many specific features of the building that citizens note have either a positive or a negative impact on their wellbeing and functioning.

Theme 1: Feeling connected through nature and through community

Having the opportunity to leave the building and be in nature or walk somewhere to take a break enhances wellbeing, because nature is an important mood booster and a key element of feeling well and happy. The relative lack of connection to nature is obvious to citizens: it feels bleak, lifeless, and boring.

“So this is probably three feet away from where my chair is and there’s these beautiful huge windows in this space that I think are incredible and really do promote a different element of wellbeing and mental stimulation to give you something to look at to take your eyes off of your screen for a few seconds every now and then.”

“Especially in the summer when it’s such nice weather, a big part of promoting my wellbeing during that time would be going for walks and being able to get that connection with nature while still at work, just having that break is the biggest part for me to not feel exhausted or overwhelmed.”

“When I look outside in the wintertime and it’s just desolate and the trees are bare it’s – you feel kind of the sense of, like just tired and worn out, like you kind of pick up on how the outside’s feeling. So to be able to look at something like the living wall that is visually so green, fully alive and thriving, is very reassuring and kind of puts me personally at ease.”

“The green living wall is like sensory therapy, because when you walk past the wall it’s like you can see so much green going up the building, you can hear sometimes the water trickling when the irrigation system’s on and you can kind of smell that fresh, just nice fresh leafy plants. So it’s a really nice thing to have to walk past whether you’re heading to work or leaving work or even just going to the bathroom. It’s just a really nice reminder to stop and take a breath.

Feeling connected to the building and having the opportunity to connect with others creates a sense of belonging in the building, and a sense of community. In contrast, relative lack of accessibility and sometimes unwelcome feelings hinder the sense of belonging.

“So, having that space to socialize and meet with other people, it’s definitely nice, especially because sometimes there’ll be days where I’m just working alone and I don’t talk to anyone all day and then I have the ability to go into the common area and talk to people. Then it’s like, you feel more connected to other people. So, I think it’s nice to have those spaces to socialize.”

“Having a kitchen that we have access to, that all the tenants on the first floor use, they hold cooking classes and events here, and it has the communal table, it really gives you the sense that you belong, like this is your place. I like that it is behind the door, so it’s not a visitor place, this is for people that are a part of the building. It really fosters belonging and that this is our place.”

“The sense of demarcation is strong once you move away from the foyer and there’s certain areas that say hey we do really interesting things but it’s not for you.

Canada geese in front of window at evolv1
The central staircase and living wall in the evolv1 atrium
Cozy furniture in the evolvGREEN space in evolv1

Theme 2: An alignment of personal values and ones’ surroundings

When the environment is right (clean, fixed, proper), it creates a positive feeling of pride and celebration, as all elements are in harmony with what you value. Two important values identified were (1) healthy living, where the environment provides the opportunity to be able to move and walk, to make healthy choices and to not feel sick, exhausted, overwhelmed, or stressed; and (2) sustainability: where the surroundings focus on being sustainable, natural, open, full of plants and natural light, and encourage collaboration and personal choice.

“I think the space with the blanket, it’s a couch and it just looks really cozy. It’s a cozy little area. It almost feels homey. There is a blanket, and it’s not perfectly folded. It just feels like a space that you can kind of unwind and relax a little bit.”

“With the sheer size of the building and the centralization of a lot of the facilities, I find that even something as simple and regular as taking a trip to the washroom it kind of gives you this little break, I really find that contributes to my wellbeing more than I would think, just taking those little mental breaks to step away from something for even two or three minutes, have that little walk.”

“I do really like the green wall. I see that every day. Walking in, I really like plants, I grow a lot of plants and I like to appreciate it and look at it and see all of them doing well in there.”

“It can be frustrating when you’re geared towards sustainable behaviour to see other people not doing that.”

Theme 3: The intrinsic link to sustainability efforts

The initiatives and environmental features of the building to increase or prioritize sustainability can positively impact citizens when sustainability is an important part of their values and beliefs. However, they can also conflict with wellbeing, and come at the cost of negatively impacting citizens’ wellness and productivity with distracting building elements (e.g. low building temperature).

“So, all of these windows along the side that provide natural light. I think that helps my productivity a lot.”

“evolv1 to me is very peaceful and I think that comes with the living plants. And then when you’re hearing the water trickle through them with their irrigation I feel a sense of peace, that comes with having a lot of fresh vegetation and makes me perceive I’m breathing fresh air. So, I guess it’s a sense of like peacefulness in the office place.

“It’s personally confusing working in an open office space. It can be challenging for focus; it can be challenging if you just want to hole yourself up and work alone but you have everyone right around you. So I think there’s that cost-benefit, like, yeah, cost-benefit of working in an open place.”

“The desk area, it’s so cold, that sometimes I actually start feeling sickly. Like my nose gets really cold and then I need to wrap up in blankets. So, even though I know I’m healthy, but it’s just like in the moment sometimes I’m really not feeling well because it is so cold.”

Open workspace and natural light in evolvGREEN

Theme 4: The crucial presence of comfort and safety

Physical comfort can boost wellness, but the lack of it can hinder wellbeing and promote feelings of being sick and not wanting to be in the building (especially too cold temperature). Similarly, security and safety are key needs that must be fulfilled, both to promote a feeling of personal safety, but also to know that your possessions are safe (e.g. bikes).

Bicycle in secure parking cage at evolv1. Photo credit: Natalie Wennyk

“I don’t lock my bike because I have a sense of security when I am there, and that adds to my wellbeing because it makes cycling equal to driving. And I just feel really safe there. So the bike cage adds to my wellbeing of security.”

“I’ve been at evolv1 really late at night before and it’s a big building and it can be kind of creepy at night, but the lights are usually on. Even at like seven o’clock at night they’ll still have the lights on and it’s really nice, it’s kind of like a friendly buddy of some sort that’s just sitting there waiting. It’s definitely one of my favourite features of the building.”

“When I think of the internal space, it gives me the feeling of safety. I know that the people who are using this place are either visitors who are invited or people from one of the other organizations. And so, there’s a sense of safety. It won’t be someone random sitting there; it’s a community.”

“If you’re a visitor to the building you don’t have any place to park your bike, so there’s no ability for you to have security if you’re a visitor. It’s inaccessible, and it impedes visitors from joining our sustainable community culture. It’s basically saying that cyclists are unwelcome if you’re a visitor.”

Theme 5: The influence of aesthetics

People are affected by their immediate surroundings, and can have different perceptions of the same spaces. Some aspects of the building are perceived as vibrant and welcoming, while others are perceived as cold, or lacking in colour and style. These areas provide the potential opportunity to create warm, welcoming spaces all around the building that align with and showcase the focus the building has on sustainability.

“I look at the geometric shapes of the building, I see how clean the lines are especially against the sky, that contrast there. I get this very precise, clean feeling – but it doesn’t feel sterile. To me it feels inviting and safe and structured, a place of organization without being stark. I like the colours, they weren’t too bright, I think other buildings are a bit too bright personally, but it’s also not the brutal style of only concrete.”

“This is one of the starkest dichotomies for me of what I thought it was going to be like working within a sustainable building versus what it is actually like working within a sustainable building. This space here, to me, is very sterile. It lacks colour. It’s white and grey. And it’s a little bit depressing sometimes, to be honest.”

“Yeah, uniqueness, colour, really – I think there’s a lot of things that could be done here. I think that it’s too static of a place, it’s too boxy, it doesn’t make the space feel very open. It closes people off, I think.”

“I think there’s so much that can be done to just add some colour into this type of space. I think greenery and some colour is really missing, and it just makes such a big impact having that.

Empty hallway leading to the washrooms in evolv1

Note on panel captions: All captions that you see on the panels are based on participant reflections from the study itself, and have been de-identified and approved for sharing publicly in this exhibit by participants. Bolded text in the panel captions was done by the researchers, to draw attention to key components of participants’ reflections.