• Judy Hsu DO

I was recently at a medical conference and had an epiphany, and it was something totally unexpected given the purpose of the trip.

It was the end of day three of the conference, and I was walking down the stair of the convention center, ready to head out the door to walk back to my hotel. Aside from my head filled to the brim with medical information, I remember feeling physically exhausted, a little nauseous and dizzy with a mild degree of headache. The symptoms were not severe enough to make me seek medical attention, but they were prominent enough to cause me to start questioning why I was feeling so crummy. As I stepped out of the building, a nice breeze of air greeted me and within minutes of being outside, I noticed how much better I felt already. I began to think about the last two days, and a clear pattern emerged. Every day it was the same: a generalized sense of being unwell after spending the whole day inside the convention center with rapid improvement in symptoms once I made my exit out of the building. Mind you, this conference took place in downtown, so the air wasn’t exactly fresh either. But this unmistakable correlation brought to mind something was brought to my attention not too long ago: sick building syndrome. So what is sick building syndrome? It is a condition directly resulted from time spent in a building and not from any other identifiable cause. Symptoms can include headache, nausea, chest congestion, fatigue, muscle pain, and poor concentration. There are multiple explanations in terms of how this happens, but some of the issues raised include inadequate indoor ventilation, poor lighting, and excessive noise - this applies to both commercial and residential buildings. We do not know yet the long term health consequences of sick building syndrome, but it certainly reduces quality of life and productivity.

Given that many of us spend a majority of our time inside buildings, a trend that is unfortunately likely to worsen due to extreme weather patterns keeping us trapped indoors, sick building syndrome is likely to become more prevalent. The good news is that there are ways to avoid it in the first place - by choosing to construct and live in buildings that promote health. This means buildings with attention to details such as use of nontoxic construction materials, well-thought-out ventilation system layout, and climate-responsive design. How can this be achieved? An architect who is skilled in the concept of healthy building should be able to incorporate these design principles into the building so that our health can be continuously supported as we go about our daily lives.