The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is renovating its outdated headquarters in Chinatown, Washington, D.C. to become a showcase not only for sustainable building and landscape design, but also healthy employee environments. ASLA is pursuing certification through the International WELL Building Institute’s WELL standard. In a session organized by the Institute and DC chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), representatives from WELL, ASLA, and ASLA’s architects at Gensler explained why they are taking this approach and what well-being will look like in the new headquarters.
WELL, according to its website, is a “performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and well-being, through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.”
WELL senior associate Sarah Welton said the standard focuses on the people occupying the building, as opposed to the building itself. The major difference between WELL and LEED is that much of the onus for meeting WELL requirements falls on owner policies.
Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, executive vice president and CEO of ASLA, argued that “wellness is a huge part of our culture at ASLA. And we, as a profession, have a strong ethic of leading by example. We want the building to show the values of the profession.”
She cited other practical reasons for going after WELL Silver certification: It promises to improve productivity and well-being by optimizing light and sound quality; it will help inscribe into the office culture a notion of work-life balance; and it helps make the space more visually inviting.
Also on hand was Joseph Siewers, project manager for Gensler, to discuss how ASLA’s vision for the space was implemented. ASLA’s old office space was “compact and dark,” Siewers noted. One major step Gensler took was to add a skylight to the existing green roof, which will allow light to filter from the roof to the ground floor.
One of the most forward-thinking aspects of WELL is its emphasis on lighting. Gensler sustainability specialist Brynn Kurtzman, who oversaw Gensler’s integration of WELL design, described how the lighting in ASLA’s new headquarters will sync up with staff’s natural circadian rhythm. “WELL encourages cool blue lighting to maximize productivity,” Kurtzman said. Blue orbs will illuminate work spaces from overhead at a 45-degree angle, matching the natural progression of the morning sun. The light will work much like camping does to normalize staff members’ circadian rhythms.
According to Welton, WELL standards also sometimes raises eyebrows when people learn of its influence on office diet.“WELL tries not to ban food, just carcinogens.” The standard also asks employers to limit the amount of sugar and hydrogenated fats per serving that offices may provide through catering or the cafeteria.
Welton, who has a background in public health, added that as a WELL ambassador, “I don’t want to change your office habit. I want to change your life. It’s not to restrict, it’s to open your eyes.”
Somerville said WELL’s food guidelines had definitely started a conversation among staff about the direction of office culture. “It has made people more aware of what they’re eating. We now have the comfort of knowing that what we’re serving fits healthy guidelines.”