The Third Skin of Humans and it’s Effect on Human Health and Well-being

Cities are considered as the habitat for large intellectual species called humans. These ecosystems comprise of sub structural units referred to as buildings. Buildings are usually referred to as the third skin, it acts as an interface between the human body (including our skin and clothing) and the environment. All three layers serve as a kind of protection to the body and regulate the amount of heat exchange between the body and the environment.

We spend about 80 to 90% of our lives indoors, we were born in buildings – hospitals, we live in houses, educated in buildings- schools, work in offices and factories, shop in buildings – malls, we attend worship centres, entertain ourselves in theatres, concert halls, we travel and lodge in hotels, most of the time we exercise in buildings- gyms, closed swimming pools, we visit the hospitals when we are sick.

The ‘built’ environment significantly influences public health. Most buildings in the urban and suburban environment are not well planned to support healthy conditions, such poor quality of the built environment affects human health, productivity, and economic activities. Most times occupants of such buildings experience general feelings of discomfort usually referred to as Sick building syndrome (SBS). SBS is used to describe a situation in which the occupants of a building experience acute health- or comfort-related effects that seem to be linked directly to the time spent in their building. Signs and symptoms of SBS includes eye and skin irritation, irritation of the respiratory and digestive systems, asthma, dry cough, dry skin, inability to concentrate, fatigue, headache, memory problems, nausea, allergies, dizziness, cold, flu-like symptoms, increased incidence of asthma attacks, personality changes, reproductive problems, cancer, and even death. It can also result in negative economic effects such as work absenteeism, sick leave and hospitalisation. A study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, reported that workers in green, well-ventilated offices record a 101 per cent increase in cognitive scores. The major causes of SBS are: poor ventilation, poor and inadequate lighting especially absence of sunlight, emission of harmful substance from buildings such as paints, adhesive and solvents, bad audibility and poor humidity.

Solutions and controls

Beyond addressing the public health concerns of buildings, urban and suburban buildings should be designed to meet the description of urban sustainable development, suggested by Professor Peter Newman, an expert on urban sustainability issues. He described Urban sustainable development as finding ways to minimise the urban use of natural resources, and the generation of waste, while improving urbanites’ quality of life in a way.

Buildings have a unique capacity to impact human health positively or negatively and plays a critical role in the well-being of humans. To achieve urban sustainable development and reduce the negative health impacts of buildings. It is important for architects, urban planners, real estate investors and other stakeholders to focus their interest in Green buildings (structures that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient) or retrofit existing ones. Green buildings are designed to decrease negative impact on human health and the environment by means of protecting occupant health and improving productivity; efficiently using energy, water and other resources; and, reducing pollution and degradation of the environment.

Reference
  • Environmental Protection and Sustainability. Why Are Buildings and Construction of Relevance to this Discussion? Green Campus, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, IsraelX: EPS1x
  • Rinkesh Kukreja. What is a green building? 2016
  • http://businessfeed.sunpower.com/articles/written-what-is-a-green-building
  • Sumedha M. Joshi. 2008.  The sick building syndrome. Indian J Occup Environ Med. 12(2): 61–64
  • Wendy Collins Perdue, JD, Lesley A. Stone, JD, and Lawrence O. Gostin, JD, LLD (Hon). 2003. The Built Environment and Its Relationship to the Public’s Health: The Legal Framework. Am J Public Health: 93(9): 1390–1394
  • The Impact of Green Buildings on Cognitive Function. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health / Syracuse University Center of Excellence / SUNY Upstate Medical School. 2015
  • https://chge.hsph.harvard.edu/resource/impact-green-buildings-cognitive-function



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