After numerous hours designing a new office for WELL Certification, Rebecca Hatchadorian sees her work as sustainability director of Arup’s Boston office with sharper sense of what matters. Two things have stood out: staff are happier and nobody misses the Friday donuts.
The professionals at Arup don’t always measure success by pastry (or lack thereof). The engineering and consulting firm helps cities and huge properties run with less fossil fuel and better health. You hire a decorator to fit out your windows for drapes. Cities and corporations hire Arup to fit out their roads, buildings, bridges and pipes for zero-carbon. When someone wants certification as a smart environmental operator, Arup does the legwork.
So where do donuts come into this? They provide (weak) nourishment, and Nourishment defines one of the WELL Building Standard’s seven concepts. Befitting their mission to Shape a Better World, in 2016 about 100 Arup team members earned the WELL AP credential.
This effort, says Hatchadorian, harmonized with how Arup and clients were building metrics for long-term success. How will office workers stay creative as more of their work goes digital? How will cities switch their power networks to run on clean energy? They worked on engagements like these, including one with the City of Cambridge that seeks to create a path toward carbon-free, healthy city properties by 2030. And in 2015, their own lease in Cambridge was up for renewal.
With 35 more staff than they’d housed the last time they signed a lease, Arup chose to move. They selected the 10th floor of 60 State Street, a half-mile from Boston Common and a flagship for Oxford Properties. The owner is savvy on environmental and healthy design.
So Arup decided to build its 12,200 square feet to meet the WELL Building Standard.
At a glance:
Approaching the WELL Certification process
It turned out to pay dividends for a firm helping others design for well-being and promote wellness throughout a physical space. Incorporating WELL’s preconditions and optimizations for clean air and circadian lighting and nontoxic materials would speed Arup’s compliance with the new version of LEED, the premier environmental standard. For Hatchadorian, it also meant she’d have to think about things like what her colleagues saw, ate and drank each day.
“The focus is different from LEED,” Hatchadorian recalled after the one-year buildout. “LEED, with regard to water, says you have to reduce your potable water use. It doesn’t deal with water quality – and doesn’t deal with hydration!” This makes LEED and WELL complementary for landlords and tenants, and for managers harmonizing care for the planet with care for people. Arup’s space includes updated water filtration (and excludes donuts, which we’ll get back to later.)
Navigating the path to health-promoting upholstery, carpets and kitchens meant Hatchadorian had to work closely with the project architect – and forge an alliance with the property management team at Oxford.
Feature 46: Safe Food Preparation Materials
Intent: To reduce occupant exposure to harmful contaminants that may originate from food preparation materials and eliminate surfaces that harbor pathogens.
The Arup Boston office has a kitchen that allows staff members to prepare healthy foods in a safe and clean environment. The surfaces and materials do not include dangerous or toxic substances, and the snacks and Friday breakfasts available to the staff encourage healthy eating and keep employees happy, even without donuts.
Feature 89: Adaptable Spaces
Intent: To reduce distractions, mitigate stress and enable focused work by integrating a stimuli management program within the building
Work stations in the Arup offices allow for a variety of working styles and positions, so that employees can find a space that meets their needs for stress management and for quiet, collaborative and/or focused tasks while at work. The work spaces available allow for both individual and collaborative work of a many kinds.
Feature 53: Visual Lighting Design
Intent: To support visual acuity by setting a threshold for adequate light levels and requiring luminance to be balanced within and across indoor spaces.
The Arup office’s lighting design balances available natural lighting and an indirect electric lighting design that creates a balanced and well-lit space. It not only promotes a more pleasant and productive working environment, but also supports employees’ overall health through a circadian lighting design that changes color temperature and intensity throughout the day.
Successes & Challenges
In hindsight, Hatchadorian says, she’d have run through the questions and checks ahead of signing a lease – because WELL Certification comes faster if an owner knows what data to provide.
“Roughly one third of the standard is construction-based,” Hatchadorian explains, “so a lot is on the owner. As an example, they need to check their cooling coils every quarter.” Navigating and learning the WELL Certification process provided benefits for both Arup and Oxford, though. By digging through old files and confirming the owner-level data required for certification, Oxford was able to advertise its property as advanced in both LEED and WELL principles – and trained its staff in criteria that affect both WELL and the current LEED iteration.
“They were so prompt with the records,” says Hatchadorian.
With a cooperative landlord, the path to WELL Certification became a facilities treasure hunt. Even though some WELL concepts complement LEED, like those involving food, others intersected with it and served dual-purpose. You scored a material that earned points toward LEED’s current iteration or showed up on a list of non-toxics, you glided closer to the WELL Building Standard. Hatchadorian knows that WELL matches LEED, just as healthy bodies cohere with healthy ecosystems.
The challenge for Arup was in project management, synchronizing a lot of documentation across a lot of professionals’ schedules. Hatchadorian recalls that the one-year process involved a heavier-than-normal load of “materials research” for her team and their architects. At the end of it, more than half their materials achieved material ingredient transparency declarations.
Another challenge for Arup was locating suppliers of approved materials. As WELL’s global footprint grows and the movement for health-optimized buildings gains traction, product availability will continue to expand. But earlier adopters and market leaders like Arup have had to do more digging and pave the pathways for those WELL projects to come. “Our office leadership jokes that they only had two or three choices in terms of carpets and finish,” says Hatchadorian. Sometimes this slowed the construction schedule, as when it became hard to locate a non-toxic paint vendor in New England. In the end, the team selected a paint vendor from South Carolinaand had to wait ten days for delivery after a lengthy submittal process.
Mainly, she says, the team lucked out in working with Oxford, whose property manager Stephanie McIsaac proved ready and able to find documents and change practices – sometimes at an upfront expense. “One of the biggest questions was around our air-handling unit,” Hatchadorian says. “It was extremely old…it would have interfered with our WELL Certification and didn’t meet our energy code. And it was replaced!”
Outcomes & Metrics
The new space proved popular from end to end. To fulfill preconditions and optimizations within the Light concept, Arup’s lighting designers collaborated with the architect to design a circadian lighting system that mimics daylight’s course. “Lighting itself especially has vastly improved – it does give the office a different feel,” says Hatchadorian. ”It’s 5000K, very bright – around 5 p.m. it goes to 3000K, on an indirect lighting scheme. The ceilings are bright and white, the light is even throughout.”
The team had to balance lighting quality and comfort with energy efficiency goals. The project was able to achieve 0.67 watts per square foot.
Hatchadorian says the new space shows well to students, clients and long-time staff. “Strangely enough, we have gone to a more open office workspace yet it is quieter at our workstations than our old office,” she explains. “Each personal workspace shrank from the old office, but we provided more breakout space and a lot more meeting rooms.” While sit-stand desks and wide corridors aimed to keep people moving, it turns out the kitchen attracts a crowd. “In our cafeteria/kitchen, there are four types of seating choices. Everyone has a laptop so it’s easier to undock and have an impromptu meeting.”
Which brings us to the donuts. Every Friday, orange-and-purple-and-brown cartons full of donuts and bagels used to greet employees, and Hatchadorian wondered how staff would react when they disappeared to satisfy WELL’s Nourishment goals. ““While breakfast wasn’t required to meet WELL nourishment criteria since it’s not provided on a daily basis, we embraced it and rethought our catering, not only for our breakfasts but for lunch ordering as well,” she says now. “So our Friday breakfast now features quiche, fresh fruit and vegetables and an array of bagels and whole grain breads.”
And Arup gets to use its experience to inform advice to clients. “We have seen a climb in clients asking about WELL.”
Why? Because it’s becoming common knowledge: when you don’t have to squint, or sniffle or kibitz around a cubicle, office life can feel pretty sweet.
Ask questions early.
Harmonize with LEED, Declare and other systems.
Prescreen contractors and suppliers.
Enjoy the workday!