Solutions for improving occupant outcomes in the built environment

When designing a building why go further than just meeting the basic requirements?

There is an expanding body of knowledge that indicates the profound connection between our physical surroundings and our performance as human beings (1).

The condition and appearance of walls are a key concern because they strongly influence our feelings about buildings. If an environment is aesthetically pleasing it is more likely to stay that way - no one cares much about causing more damage to an already peeling, dented and flaking wall, or wants to be the first to damage a pristine one.

From helping with speech intelligibility in schools to using colour to psychologically boost recovery in hospitals, modern building designers are investing more, not just into how environments look, but also how they work for the people in them. And after all that time and effort the last thing you want is for a hard-working interior to become quickly damaged and ruin the positive effect you created. The use of, more durable, aesthetically pleasing wall surfaces can help to create a positive environment and keep it looking good for longer.

How do walls get damaged?

Damage to walls in public buildings can  arise from:

  • Movement of people, goods and equipment.
  • Lack of staff management and training in handling mobile equipment (particularly trolleys).
  • Lack of pride in, and care of, public facilities.
  • Increase in vandalism.

How does a scruffy indoor environment affect people?


Damaged, deteriorating wall surfaces just don’t look good and that affects people's pride in their building. Also, very often, you can refurbish a damaged section only for the damage to happen again almost immediately - so the area only ever looks pristine for a short period of time. A relatively small investment in higher durability but aesthetically pleasing products can keep the building looking good for longer.


If your surfaces can't cope you may be paying for frequent repairs, and you may also have deal with disruption whilst repairs are carried out, or delay repairs to avoid these short term costs. In any building more durable surfaces could also allow you to increase the time between maintenance cycles, reducing disruption to building operations and benefiting whole-life costs for the project.


Sometimes the only solution is to shut down parts of the building for maintenance work, and that means arranging temporary accommodation or travel routes for the people and services you're displacing. You also have the problem of dealing with dust (vital in healing environments particularly), disruption (signage, temporary access, disconnected services and security among others things), cleaning and redecorating. There is a huge benefit in using solutions that can increase the time between required maintenance cycles.

Specific concerns in healthcare

The quality and fitness-for-purpose of the healthcare estate is vital for high quality, safe and efficient healthcare. Design quality is also important in the context of healthcare building, where well-designed healthcare facilities can help patients recover their health and well-being and have a positive effect on staff performance and retention (2).

In healthcare facilities maintenance is critically important in the prevention and control of infection, avoiding cracks and tears in finishes where dirt etc can build up. Good maintenance can also aid the ease of cleaning, ensuring that cleanliness is maintained (3). Healthcare associated infections are responsible for 50,000 deaths per year in the UK and lengthen hospital stays by 70% (4), therefore minimising the risk of infection is a very high priority for any healthcare facility.

How can a more durable indoor environment be created?

The use of more durable materials can also benefit maintenance, in that surfaces are more difficult to damage and the interior looks better for longer, benefiting maintenance cycles. The relevant British Standard for the specification of partitions is BS 5234. This covers the design, installation and performance of systems, and puts the onus on the building owner to define the service life required from four performance categories (light, medium, heavy and severe duty). In reality buildings with high demands on the interior like hospitals would benefit from the more extensive use of severe duty and even higher performing partitions. Projects going down this route would likely benefit from less disruption to building operations due to scheduled and unplanned maintenance activities and improved whole-life costs.

Using British Gypsum systems it is possible to create aesthetically pleasing surfaces that also offer high levels of durability and can help to build a positive indoor environment and keep it looking good for longer. Our systems offer a range of solutions to enhance both the resistance to impact and abrasion of wall surfaces helping to create environment conducive to educating, healing, living and working. So whether you're involved in the specification process of new buildings or responsible for carrying out refurbishments and repairs, in the long run your building will benefit from the use of the systems and products presented here.


(1) Hamilton D K and Watkins D H. Evidence-Based Design for Multiple Building Types. John Wiley & Sons, 2009.

(2) M Phiri. Health Building Note 00-01. General design guidance for healthcare buildings. Department of Health. 2014.

(3) Health Building Note 00-10. Part B. Walls and ceilings. Department of Health. 2013.

(4) Health facilities Scotland. Research Report: Evidence-based design. 2011.

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