Taking 'healthy design' from movement to reality
Meeting the WELL Building Standard means fully incorporating health into the design process
Little, a mid-sized architectural firm, and Boeman Design, a husband-wife team in Chicago, are both using healthy building design as a market differentiator. Both have clients interested in healthy building design as a way to increase employee productivity, recruitment, and retention. And both work on projects that feature new design techniques as catalysts for improving the health of people all over the world.
So it was natural for the two organizations to pursue WELL Certification on their projects. “We got in on the ground floor of the healthy building movement because we strongly believe that designing for human sustainability provides a more holistic approach to architecture,” says Carol Rickard-Brideau, AIA, partner and workplace global practice leader at Little. Rickard-Brideau started doing research into how architecture intersected with the field of human neurobiology more than a decade ago.
At a conference where she was giving a presentation, someone told her of a new standard focused exclusively on the health and well-being of people in the built environment—the WELL Building Standard™, which was pioneered by Delos. Today, WELL is administered by the International WELL Building Institute™ (IWBI) and third-party certified by GBCI. She soon met with Paul Scialla, founder and CEO of Delos, and was part of the first cohort of architects that participated in the WELL Building Standard training at the Cleveland Clinic. “It was a lucky happenstance,” she says.
A blossoming affinity
The relationship between Delos and Little, which Rickard-Brideau characterizes as an “affinity” rather than a formal contract, has blossomed “because we share the same ideas that these concepts are important. As architects, we have a responsibility to design environments that have a positive impact on the people who inhabit these spaces. When we incorporate WELL's standards, we are making the ultimate investment in people, in the architectural sense, by helping them live healthier, more productive, and potentially longer, lives.”
Little was already asking its clients how they sought to incorporate healthy design into their buildings—for example, if showers in their buildings would encourage employees to ride their bicycles to work. Since teaming with Delos, Rickard-Brideau says, clients’ demands for healthy features has only gotten stronger.
“We now have five projects registered to pursue WELL Certification and many others that incorporate salutogenic design,” she says. Little’s first completed WELL-registered commercial space is the new Mountain View, California-based corporate headquarters for Symantec Inc., the cyber security firm.
Putting the standard into practice
Using guidance from Delos, Little tries to convince clients of the need for salutogenic design techniques that focus on supporting health and well-being through the built environment. “We encourage it,” she says. “Designing for wellness is still new to many of our clients, so we help them understand what it means and the varying degrees to which it can be incorporated into their space. We’re excited when clients want to pursue WELL Certification, as it not only puts them on the leading edge of this new standard but can also be a tremendous differentiator for those companies who are competing to recruit and retain the best talent.”
One project in which Little and Delos have collaborated is the corporate headquarters for Tavistock Development Company at Lake Nona near Orlando, Florida. Lake Nona Medical City is an emerging biomedical research and educational hub that includes the University of Central Florida College of Medicine and Health Sciences Campus, Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, the Orlando VA Medical Center, Nemours Children's Hospital, and a University of Florida Research and Academic Center.
The developer behind this 8,000-acre community has about 60 employees now working in the two-month-old, 16,000-square-foot office in the Lake Nona Town Center office building, one of the area’s first to pursue IWBI’s standard for health and wellness in the office.
For its headquarters, Tavistock Development partnered with Dais on technology and sustainability elements—like biometric security and interactive display walls—as well as with Little on office design and interiors, and Workscapes and Herman Miller for office furniture. The open office is designed to promote collaboration, sustainability, health, and wellness, with features such as sit-to-stand workstations, treadmill and bicycle desks, healthy food options and more.
Little intends to develop a case study with Delos on the impact of how the Lake Nona community was planned. According to Jim Hair, Little’s Orlando office president, part of the research will include a 20-year study in which all of the occupants of the community will share data about their health—things like blood pressure, body mass, or how often they use the 55 miles of jogging trails in the community. “At the end of the study we will have a roadmap for other communities to use,” Hair says.
A resource for smaller firms
Even for smaller architectural firms, like the husband-wife team at Boeman Design in Chicago, Delos can be a guiding light for firms seeking to specialize in healthy, natural design. Sue Boeman, who heads the firm with her husband Tom, first came in contact with Delos late last year on a construction project for the Institute of Real Estate Management—a 15,000-square-foot office space renovation tasked with creating a new work environment for a changing workforce and employee work styles.
“They wanted to renovate their office and their CEO is committed to healthy building practices and a vibrant healthy environment for his people to work in,” Boeman says. “We were almost into construction when the WELL Building Standard came onto [CEO Christopher E. Mellen’s] radar and was brought to our attention.”
“So we got involved with Delos to get educated on the WELL Building Standard, to understand its implication and to see what we were already doing that was aligned,” she adds.
"As architects, we have a responsibility to design environments that have a positive impact on the people who inhabit these spaces." - Carol Rickard-Brideau, AIA
“What I loved was that it wasn’t just about the building component; it was about, 'What are your business practices that align with a healthy environment and lifestyle?'" Boeman also felt at home working with Delos because of the company’s desire to promote a design connection with the outside world, “like seeing trees or vegetation from your window, or having wood as a design element in an internal conference room.”
“They were consultants in the process, and an educational resource for us,” she says. “Certification can be a daunting process and we could have really stumbled. Having someone there who had been through the process really helped.”
A healthier future
The impact of the WELL Building Standard is only beginning to be felt in the architecture profession, but Rickard-Brideau says it should be long-lasting: “It’s not a fad or the flavor of the day. Baby boomers are aging; people are becoming more aware of their health and the environments in which they spend their time all day, and it really starts to become a driver.”
She points to a Towers Watson study of the workplace that found that four ideas—recruiting, retention, employee disengagement, and succession planning—are what affect all companies throughout the United States. “All of those things play into the WELL Building Certification,” she says. “For example, we know that lighting is the number one factor in productivity.”
“What excites me about the WELL Building Standard," she adds, "is that it’s a specialty that is based on the direct correlation between human health and design. People are more aware of their health. It’s become easier for people to understand and internalize.”
John Schneidawind is the director of public affairs and media relations at the AIA.
Courtesy of Little