Saving Water Is So Hot Right Now in Landscape Design – Wired, 3/4/16
“The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) asks hundreds of landscape architects around the U.S. to forecast the trends in outdoor design for the coming year. The point of the survey is to look beyond industry insider buzz and figure out what designers’ clients are actually asking for. This year’s results are in, and they show people are overwhelmingly concerned with water conservation.”
The Great Wall of Japan Divides a Country Still Reeling from 2011’s Earthquake – Lakes Mail, 3/5/16
“Within months, plans to build super seawalls of up to 17m in height along more than 400km of the coastline of the worst-hit Fukishima, Miyagi and Iwate prefectures at a cost of $US10 billion were approved. The eventual aim is to stretch Japan’s seashore fortifications from a pre-existing 9,500km to cover 14,000km of its entire 35,000km coastline.”
A New Future Post-Chargers?– The San Diego Union-Tribune, 3/6/16
“Ever since the stadium opened in 1967, urban planners, politicians, Mission Valley residents and developers have eyed the site as an opportunity waiting to happen — to turn a centrally located, underutilized plot of city-owned land into something more than just an 18,500-space parking lot and occasionally used stadium.
Are We Greening Our Cities, or Just Greenwashing Them?– The Los Angeles Times, 3/6/16
“Architecture and urban design are in the throes of a green fever dream: Everywhere you look there are plans for ‘sustainable’ buildings, futuristic eco-cities, even vertical aquaponic farms in the sky, each promising to redeem the ecologically sinful modern city and bring its inhabitants back into harmony with nature.”
Houston Stakes a Claim as The Nation’s Emerald City– The Houston Chronicle, 3/9/16
“At a time when many cities are turning once-blighted infrastructure into iconic public spaces, Houston has emerged as a surprisingly fertile pasture – such a model green city that more than 1,300 landscape planners from across America will visit for a closer look this weekend.”
Plans for Botanic Garden Move Forward, Despite Neighbors’ Protests– The Houston Chronicle, 2/3/16
“Until now, the proposed Houston Botanic Garden has delivered more pain than gain to some neighbors in the southeast quadrant of the city. The future garden site is still functioning as Glenbrook Golf Course, and some residents would rather keep it just as it is.”
London’s Green Revolution– The Telegraph, 2/9/16
“Landscape architects in London rarely get to think big. It’s all “pocket parks” and “parklets,” typical of a capital city where every inch of green space is worth its weight in gold, almost literally, and where garden designers strive to make buyers in small spaces feel they’re getting a taste of the great outdoors.”
There’s a Lesson in Spain’s Surreal, Unfinished Cities – The Huffington Post, 2/11/16
“In a memorable scene in ‘The Big Short,’ the Oscar-nominated 2015 movie about the financial crisis, a real estate agent shows the main characters around a desolate Florida subdivision. She insists that the market is just in a lull as they drive past rows and rows of vacant homes.”
Feature: In and Outdoors– The Architects’s Newspaper, 2/11/16
“As more people choose to live in dense urban environments, the latest hot-ticket residential amenity has nothing to do with marble countertops or on-call concierges: It’s outdoor space, the scarcest of all commodities in an environment where, regardless of grandeur, distance from nature can take a toll on quality of life.”
What Happened to the Great Urban Design Projects? – The New York Times, 2/12/16
“American infrastructure is deferred home maintenance on a massive scale. We just keep putting it off until something major — and often catastrophic — happens, and then it ends up costing twice as much as it would have had we taken care of it proactively.”
Can a Professionally Designed Garden Add Value to Your Home?– The Huffington Post, 1/4/15
“This year marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Capability Brown – the landscape architect renowned for designing over 170 country house estates and gardens during the 18th century. His elegant style of undulating parkland and serpentine lakes can still be seen at dozens of locations, including Blenheim Palace and Stowe.”
See a Rooftop Garden in Brooklyn Inspired by the High Line– Architectural Digest, 1/6/15
“Few cities in the world have real estate as expensive as New York’s. For its millions of residents, the idea of certain amenities, such as a private garden—must be quickly abandoned. Yet one apartment building in Brooklyn’s trendy Dumbo neighborhood is creatively changing all of that.”
The New Dolores Park Will Be Pristine—But Can It Last?– Curbed, 1/7/15
“It was another beautiful morning in Dolores Park, accompanied by the soothing sound of jackhammers. City officials—including Mayor Ed Lee, Supervisor Scott Wiener, and Dolores Park’s Project Manager Jacob Gilchrist—went along on a preview hard hat tour (sans hard hats—it’s mostly just grass out there, after all) of the park’s south end to show off the final phase of the park’s $20.5 million renovation.”
To Preserve and Protect: Working with Arborists – Metropolis, 1/7/15
“As landscape architects we love trees! Be they pre-existing or newly planted, trees are often the backbone to a site design. Mature, statuesque trees add invaluable character to a place and are often a site’s greatest asset or attraction.”
Field Mighty Real– The Architect’s Newspaper, 1/11/15
“Once a quarry, then a landfill, the property at Circle Acres Nature Preserve in the Montopolis neighborhood of Austin was purchased by Ecology Action of Texas with the goal of transforming the site into a nature preserve and park.”
Let’s Talk Water– Planetizen, 1/12/15
“It is important to note that landscape architects have been leaders in sustainable design since long before it became a hot topic. Environmental stewardship is a core value of the profession, and designing with water in a responsible and beautiful manner is what we do.”
An increase in density doesn’t have to mean a decrease in the quality of life. Quality of life can be ensured with improved access to communal green space, which doesn’t have to be limited to parks on the ground. In a lecture at Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD), Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell, the founders of WOHA, an architecture firm based in Singapore, depicted enormous residential towers that are lush and verdant, with vines spilling over the edges of shared balcony gardens, and trees and shrubs covering the rooftops, creating a dense, leafy canopy. Vertical surfaces are swathed in healthy greenery. I marveled at their rendering skills before realizing that they were showing built projects.
Summ and Hassell named their lecture “Garden City, Mega City,” suggesting these two notions don’t have to be opposed. The Garden City movement was a city planning effort that began in the late 19th century as a response to the congestion and social alienation of industrial cities with small, self-contained communities, each with a healthy amount of shared open and agricultural space. But while the movement has many merits, density was not one of them.
Fast-forward a century to the exponential growth of mega cities, which are cities with populations over 10 million. There were only 2 in 1965, but there are now 35, and, in 2050, there will be 50. In these mega cities, higher density is inevitable. While the Garden City movement is widely considered passé now that we now the enormous costs of sprawl, WOHA is shrewdly mining it for concepts that can work in our megalopolises.
Already, WOHA integrates greenery into their architecture using something they call “topographic architecture.” We’ve all seen buildings that have vegetation applied as an afterthought, like candles stuck into a birthday cake. Not surprisingly, it’s difficult to keep the plants happy. WOHA’s strategy is to allow the form of the building to be shaped by the needs of the vegetation that will grow in or on it, increasing the chance of growing healthy plants and all the things that they bring. When there were complaints from the residents of the 24th floor of one of the towers that their children were being stung by bees in the sky garden, the architects couldn’t say they were entirely unhappy – they had successfully created a small but functioning ecosystem in the sky.
WOHA also sees their work as prototypes for the mega cities of the future. Each project is designed to work on a local level, but also as part of a larger, replicable system. They want to see an “inverted skyline” – a dense amalgamation of buildings that would all reach to the same height. This platform in the sky could provide a continuous surface, an alternate ground plane that could be used as an armature for agriculture or solar panels. Hassell said “more than cross programming, we want to create this mix of architecture and infrastructure, or architecture and agriculture, or even architecture and forestry, to try and see how we can put together things that are normally seen as separate.”
The majority of WOHA’s projects are located in the tropical regions of Asia, where plants are fast-growing, highly adaptable, and don’t have to survive a cold winter. One question is: can their model could be applied in other climates? The delightful photos of towers dripping with jungle vegetation are impossible in a climate where most trees have no leaves for half the year, but perhaps that isn’t important. The real strength of WOHA’s work lies in their commitment to make dense living as socially and ecologically viable as possible.
This guest post is by Chella Strong, Student ASLA, master’s of landscape architecture candidate, Harvard University Graduate School of Design.
SITES was developed over 10 years by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and U.S. Botanic Garden. In the past few years, hundreds of projects sought certification under the SITES pilot program; 46 projects achieved some level of certification. In 2015, GBCI announced that it would acquire SITES and now certify projects under SITES v2. Already more than 15 projects, including two iconic international projects, have registered for certification under SITES, and many more are expected in coming months.
Statter said that “parks and green spaces are now more important than ever,” and they can only be improved through the use of SITES in their design, construction, and operations. She also thinks that SITES will be beneficial with mixed-use developments with a landscape component and parking lots.
SITES has a number of key goals: it will “help create regenerative systems and foster resiliency; mitigate climate change and increase future resource supply; transform the marketplace for landscape-related products and services; and improve human health and well-being.” Jose Alminana, FASLA, a principal at Andropogon Associates and a leader in the development of the SITES rating system, concurred, saying that SITES is a useful tool for helping clients and designers “stitch together systems to improve a landscape’s ability to absorb change.”
SITES is based on a different logic than LEED, GBCI’s rating system for buildings: its approach is based in living systems. He said once a building, which is a static system, has been created it begins to deteriorate. But once a landscape, an ever-evolving living system, has been installed, it only begins to take off. “Landscapes can be regenerative.”
Given landscape architects and designers must not only design for people but also all sorts of other wildlife, a system-based approach is critical. “There are forms of life that have co-developed together. With landscapes, it’s not a set of individual elements. You can’t have plants without soils.”
SITES can also have broader impacts on the design process and marketplace. Statter said “projects will now need integrated design teams from the get-go. SITES is a tool for involving landscape architects and designers much earlier on in the design process.”
Alminana added that SITES will only increase the “transactional power” of landscape architects and designers. With SITES, they will now know the “carbon impact of all the materials they source. They can then demand that things are done in a low-carbon way.”
And once the U.S. and other countries move to a regulatory environment that taxes carbon, “landscapes will become invaluable.” When carbon becomes money, “it will be critical to actually monitor the systems in our landscapes.”
U.S. and international landscape architects and designers are encouraged to seek certification for their projects. SITES v2 uses LEED’s four-level certification system: certified, silver, gold, platinum. The rating system is free and the reference guide is available for a fee. Alminana said the “reference guide took over 10 years to develop. Everyone should get one and have fun with it.”
Mein Garten, a landscape architecture and horticultural design firm based in Hanoi, Vietnam, decided to create a new headquarters to showcase its work. With local architects at Studio 102, they created a green haven that merges architecture and nature, creating a free-flow between indoor and outdoor environments. Mein Garten wanted to create an office as open to nature as possible, not only to boost employee health but also their creativity. The offices rely on natural ventilation and lighting most of the time.
According to ArchDaily, Mein Garten found a vacant house in the Cau Giay district. Instead of turning it into the usual “closed, air-conditioned standard office,” they thought it had the potential to become a new kind of work space. Using simple wood structures, paint, and plants also kept the “cost of the renovation very low.”
The architects took out some walls, creating open spaces that bring fresh air and light into the work spaces. These open spaces were then filled with plants. Mein Garten writes: “There is no boundary between the inside and the outside. Plants are everywhere: in the garden, in the semi-open space, on the ground floor, first floor, on the roof, the walls.” The effect is reminiscent of Indian modern architect B.V. Doshi’s “vernacular architecture,” as seen at his Indian Institute of Management Bangalore campus.
As visitors enter the building, they are invited to step over a concrete pathway that appears to float in the water. A series of rafters covers the walkway, providing shade. At the facing wall, there is a basic green wall structure that provides a home for potted plants.
Moving into the lobby, there’s an inviting courtyard with seating and views of the showroom.
Within the offices, employees look out on another interior patio. There’s a spot to sit with a colleague and take in the lush plant life. As Mein Garten explains, “this office bring people closer to nature, closer to each other, and makes them work more effectively.”
In the back, at the employee entrance, plants are allowed to climb up the rafters, so employees on the upper floors looking out their windows also get a green view.
Mein Garten’s approach is smart and sustainable in a tropical climate like Vietnam’s. While it’s often hot and humid, there are cooler, wet seasons, too. And these seasonal changes are reflected in the office. “Day by day, season by season, the plants continue to grow and change, giving the office a new look. This office, therefore, is not just a built object. It is living, like an organism.”
While some aspire for grand pools or tranquil gardens in their backyards, New Zealand resident, Barry Cox, had other ideas for a 3-acre space in his own yard. Yearning for an old stone church like those he had admired on his travels through Europe, Cox united his passions for religion and tree relocation to create a 100-seat chapel at his Ohaupo, New Zealand home made almost entirely from mature trees. According to the New Zealand Gardener, as a child, Cox wanted to be the Pope, but instead, settled for the position of head altar boy in his hometown church. His interest in Christianity, coupled with his encyclopedic knowledge of trees, came full circle in the creation of Tree Church.
Cox, who owns the mature tree rescue and relocation business, Treelocations, spent only four years “growing” the church. By re-homing semi-mature trees, he accelerated the maturity of the structure, giving it the appearance of a project 20 years in the making.
Cox carefully selected from a wide variety of trees for the chapel. He writes on his website that he used live cut-leaf alder trees for the roof canopy and copper sheen for the walls, as well as camellia black tie, Norway maple, and pyramidal white cedar. These species were specifically chosen for their flexibility and their ability to be trained around the iron frame of the chapel. Some of these trees have stone-colored trunks, while others have sparse foliage, ensuring that the church can always be illuminated by sunlight.
Inside the church, rows of wooden benches form a pathway to an altar that holds special significance for Cox. The altar come from his family’s church in Shannon, New Zealand and is made of marble from Lake Como, Italy, where his ancestors are from. The copper-sheen walls of the church’s interior have thick, stone-colored foliage that must be trimmed every six weeks to maintain their lush quality.
Across from the church, Cox designed a labyrinth walk based on the walls of the ancient city of Jericho, created in 460 BC. He also constructed a large canopy from military cargo parachute to be used for after-event gatherings. Preparing for these events at the church is demanding for Cox, who told New Zealand Gardener it generally takes “five hours to mow the lawns and at least three hours of final primping to get the gardens and Tree Church to the standard to be happy for an event.”
While Tree Church was originally “designed to show how an instant garden can be created” using a tree spade, since its opening to the public in January 2015, the church is now not only “a welcomed retreat from society” for Cox, but for others as well. After urging from his friends and relatives, he decided to open the church to the public twice a week and it’s now a popular spot for photo shoots, events, and, of course, weddings. While it’s currently closed for the winter, it will open again October 2015.
The Emerging Voices Award was created in 1982 by the Architectural League of New York to showcase the work of early- to mid-career American architects, landscape architects, and urban designers. Each year, through an invited competition, a jury selects practitioners or firms with a “significant body of realized work that represents the best of its kind and has the potential to impact the future of architecture and landscape design.” 30 Years of Emerging Voices: Idea, Form, Resonance, a new book by the Architectural League of New York, documents and assesses the first three decades of the League’s Emerging Voices program, highlighting firms that have been recognized for their innovation, insight, and influence.
Organized chronologically by year of submission and interspersed with essays by leading design critics, this book is a true reference, valuable as a comprehensive snapshot of the past three decades of design. The Emerging Voices award is unique in that it recognizes professionals who are no longer students, but are not yet “fully mature practioners.” As Ashley Shafer, an associate professor of architecture at the Ohio State University, states in the book’s first essay, this career phase often gives way to work that is “idealistic, experimental, and formally clumsy on occasion.” While some of the work in the book may have been “dismissed as hypothetical, utopian, or even naïve,” it’s work we now look at with appreciation.
Take for example Steve Holl’s Bridge of Houses proposal for the then-abandoned High Line in Chelsea, Manhatttan, which was recognized among several of Holl’s other projects with the 1982 Emerging Voices Award. The firm’s proposal for the disused High Line was to construct many different houses over the rail. Each villa is, in itself, a slightly different looking bridge that provides pedestrian passage. While the ambitious project was merely conceptual, it served as a precedent for James Corner Field Operations’ High Line park, which was recognized with the award in 2001 and is also featured in the book. While seemingly unrelated projects, “a host of newly created buildings” engage the High Line as was intended by Holl almost two decades earlier.
The same phenomena is true of Reiser + Umemoto’s 1995 design for Yokohama’s International Port Terminal, which was recognized by the Architectural League of New York in 1996. The complex network structure for the building seemed fantastical and impossible to construct at the time of its conception. However, Jesse Reiser and Nanako Umemoto’s Taipei Pop Music Center, which is arguably just as structurally complex as their design for the International Port Terminal, is currently under construction. While many of their ideas were considered outside the realm of possibility in the mid-late 90’s, Reiser + Umemoto’s designs became not only feasible, but well-received, at the turn of the 21st century.
While the majority of the book is devoted to architects, several landscape architects are also featured, including Susannah Drake, FASLA, Dlandstudio; Chris Reed, FASLA, Stoss Landscape Urbanism; Elana Brescia, ASLA, and Kate Orff, ASLA, SCAPE; Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA, and Douglas Reed, FASLA, Reed Hilderbrand; Ken Smith, FASLA, Workshop: Ken Smith Landscape Architect; and Julie Bargmann, ASLA, D.I.R.T. Studio.
Bargmann was one of the first, if not the first, landscape architect to be recognized with the award when she won in 2000. While she has since gone on to design many recognizable projects, such as MASS MoCa in North Adams, Massachusetts, and the Urban Outfitters Headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 2000, she was best known for her work at the Ford River Rouge Plant in Dearborn, Michigan. This regenerative project transformed an industrial icon into a model of twenty-first century sustainability through the use of ambitious ecological systems, creating “a new model of environmentally integrated manufacturing.” Bargmann is a true example of the kind of practitioner the award seeks to recognize — someone who has been a novel thinker from the beginning of her career and has made this innovation a career-long pursuit.
The most recent landscape architect featured in the book is Susannah Drake, Dlandstudio, who was recognized with the award in 2013. Applauded for her unique voice in projects like BQ Green and Gowanus Canal Sponge Park, both in Brooklyn, New York, Drake has quickly proven that interdisciplinary design is the way of the future. Each of Dlandstudio’s projects emphasizes the integration of ecology, infrastructure, and design at the urban network scale — using the United States’ largest city as a primary testing ground for new ideas in a way few firms have dared to try.
Focused on firms and individuals who have tested limits and pressed the design profession forward, rather than those who are solely focused on making names for themselves, 30 Years of Emerging Voices is a unique book in its genre, prioritizing innovation over recognition and setting the stage for design breakthroughs to come.
Since 1987, the biennial award has recognized “urban places distinguished by quality design and contributions to the social, economic, and communal vitality of our nation’s cities.” The 2013 gold medal was awarded to Inspiration Kitchens in Garfield Park, Chicago.
This year’s winning project, Miller’s Court, is a “renovation of a vacant historic tin can manufacturing building, into an affordable and supportive living and working environment for school teachers and education-focused non-profits.” Located in an economically and culturally diverse neighborhood near Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus, the project, which was conceived and developed by Seawall Development Company with Mark, Thomas Architects, was completed in 2009.
The LEED Gold-certified complex includes “40 rental apartments and 30,000 square feet of office space and shared meeting rooms with contemporary, loft-like interiors.” Other features include a teacher resource center and a cooperatively owned independent café, which has become a popular meeting place for teachers, tenants and even President Obama, who visited in January.
One of the project’s crowning achievements is generating additional investment in the surrounding community. At the urging of several building residents, Seawall purchased and renovated 30 vacant neighboring houses to create Miller’s Square. Baltimore public school teachers and police officers are eligible for $25,000 grants toward homes there. Read more about the project in Metropolis.
Four other projects were recognized with silver medals and $10,000 each:
Located in the center of downtown Greenville, South Carolina, Falls Park on the Reedy is an urban oasis thanks to the transformation of a forgotten 40-foot tall waterfall and overgrown river valley into a 26-acre park. Development of the park, which opened in 2006, included replacing a four-lane vehicular bridge built directly over the falls with a pedestrian suspension bridge designed by Rosales+Partners. The bridge appears to float above the river, offering a dramatic overlook of the falls. Learn more about this project at Metropolis.
Grand Rapids Downtown Market is a new public space in one of West Michigan’s most challenged neighborhoods. The market “promotes local food producers, entrepreneurship, and education about nutrition and healthy lifestyles” by linking urban communities with the 13,000 farms in 11 surrounding counties and attracting a diversity of customers to the southern edge of downtown Grand Rapids. The state-of-the-art facility, designed by Hugh A. Boyd Architects, is the first LEED Gold–certified public market in the country. Learn more about the market at Metropolis.
Quixote Village, in Olympia, Washington, is a two-acre community of tiny houses that provides “permanent, supportive housing for homeless adults, including people suffering from mental illness and physical disabilities and recovering from addiction.” Since its completion in December 2013, Quixote Village has attracted the attention of many interested in tiny houses including nonprofits and private developers, as well as The New York Times.Learn more about the project at Metropolis.
Located three miles south of downtown Cleveland, Uptown District is the “redevelopment of a corridor that links surrounding neighborhoods with art, educational, and healthcare institutions, producing outdoor gathering spaces, retail shops and restaurants, student and market-rate housing, and public transit connections in the process.” The development has transformed two previously underused city blocks between two of the city’s most iconic cultural institutions into a “community gateway.” Learn more about the project at Metropolis.
The 2015 RBA selection committee included: Mayor Mark Stodola, Little Rock, Arkansas; Rebecca L. Flora, Sustainable Practices Leader, Ecology & Environment, Inc.; Larry Kearns, Principal, Wheeler Kearns Architects; India Pierce Lee, Program Director, Cleveland Foundation; Mia Lehrer, FASLA, President, Mia Lehrer + Associates; James Stockard, Lecturer in Housing, Harvard Graduate School of Design.
Learn more: A blog series on Metropolis’web siteis chronicling the 2015 RBA process and case studies of the winning projects.
While LEED is nearly a household name, not everyone has heard of WELL, the first building standard for human health and wellness. Used for an office, LEED looks at environmental sustainability, but WELL is focused exclusively on the health of employees, whose salaries account for the vast majority of the total cost of any commercial building. The new rating system, which was just released last fall by the International Well Building Institute, is in its pilot testing phase, but already a number of companies and organizations are jumping on board. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), which is transforming its 20-year-old Washington, D.C. headquarters into a state-of-the-art Center for Landscape Architecture, will aim for both LEED Platinum and WELL Silver in its renovation.
At an event in Washington, D.C., Whitney Austin Gray, International Well Building Institute, said WELL will help architects “design out health problems.” Like others, she believes the built environment has a major impact on health, mostly a negative one. Chronic diseases — like obesity and stress — are in large part created by poor environments that encourage sitting and eating fattening foods, and limit walking and access to nature. As a result, “planners, architects, landscape architects have a bigger impact on our health than physicians.”
As Nathan Stodola, also with the Institute, explained, the new system, which is being tested in everything from residential to commercial to restaurant environments, has 7 categories, with 102 features, and 450 requirements. Categories include air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. WELL seeks to create indoor building environments that “create habitats for life.” The prerequisites and credits are based on “best empirical research and practices.”
Gray provided a brief run-down of each of the seven categories as they relate to offices:
Air: Indoor air quality and building materials are deeply linked. “There are about 75,000 chemicals in existence. About 7,000 have been tested by the Environmental Protection Agency, and a further 700 are known to be carcinogenic.” While it’s hard to establish a causal relationship between exposure to a chemical and cancer, “we can look at the chemicals in a environment we don’t know the impact of and take precautions.” WELL calls for both strict air quality testing and details on the materials of all products used in the building.
Water: While there is source treatment of water in the U.S., urban water infrastructure is eroding and outdated building pipes can be problematic. “There is great misuse of water in infrastructure.” WELL aims to get all heavy metals out of the water coming into a building and moving through it. For some buildings, that will mean completely redoing the pipes.
Nourishment: “We need to create full health for employees, which means staff cafeterias or caterers don’t serve fried foods.” Gray also talked about making smart use of “choice architecture.” For example, cafeteria managers can put healthy food front and center and make it more difficult to get to the M&Ms. “We have to make it easy to do the healthy thing.”
Light: “We are concerned with circadian rhythm issues. Humans are meant to be exposed to light; its how our organs function and repair themselves.” Gray said there are studies showing that shift workers who don’t have access to daylight have higher rates of some cancers. “Light is not optional, but far too often it’s a privilege.” Already, some $63 billion in company losses can be associated with poor work performance due to sleep deprivation, which can be tied to issues with the circadian rhythm.
Fitness: “Employees need to be active throughout the day.” To accomplish this, employers must realize not all environments are for everyone. “It’s not ideal for employees to be sitting 8 hours a day. Going to the gym for half an hour in the morning it’s going to help.” Wider staircases can help as well as using “choice architecture” to force people to circulate.
Comfort: This is about everything from acoustics to temperatures to ergonomics and even smell. If any of these things are off, they can cause stress.
Mind: “Buildings need to incorporate beauty and equity.” Employees should have access to everything from spaces for respite to progressive travel policies to paid volunteer work opportunities, in the effort to restore productivity and improve wellness.
Already, efforts to achieve WELL are shaping the overall design of the new ASLA headquarters. For example, ASLA is cutting a hole through its roof, putting in a light well with a sunbeamer that will intensify and direct light all the way into the basement level so all employees benefit (see image above).
But putting all WELL asks for into practice may prove to be a challenging but fun puzzle, said Gensler architect Katie Mesia, who explained how LEED rewards buildings for reducing energy use and therefore lighting use, while WELL calls for having “light on your face and in your eyes” at all times to restore the natural circadian rhythm. She said this will be tricky to reconcile the competing requirements, but one possible solution will be to use blue lights, which have a healthier color temperature under cabinets and in task lighting, leaving out ceiling lights all together.
Another challenge relates to water: D.C.’s water standards are about 4 times lower than what WELL wants. “The standard here is not good.” A water filtration system would need to be added to ASLA’s building, but the existing mechanical system doesn’t have space for UV light or carbon filters. Replacing the existing system may be cost-prohibitive.
But Mesia is optimistic she can find solutions with ASLA: “they are a special, progressive client. I’m getting into the heart of their business, and they have opened and exposed all of that.” Plus, using LEED and WELL in combination has meant the challenge is really just “choosing between multiple healthy solutions.”