Rethinking Wellbeing at Work

The Four Levels of Health that Support Long-Term Success

March 9, 2021

Partner, NBBJ

With vaccine distribution underway and a potential end of the pandemic becoming more tangible, companies like Amazon and Netflix have endorsed the importance of in-person work to their business. While a number of in-person work models — from hybrid work to distributed hub offices to a complete return to the office — are all being considered, a common need is for the office to be as productive and engaging as possible, and foster the types of emotional engagements that people have missed working remotely.

While much focus is spent on making the office physically safe, organizational success is dependent on a much broader notion of health that encompasses all the elements that make a company purposeful, engaged, healthy and productive. At NBBJ, we focus on four levels of health at work — individual, team, organization and community — that design can address to enable organizations and their people to thrive as the workplace evolves. Every level builds on the next, and organizations can benefit by finding ways of supporting each.

 

Individual Health

Individual health encompasses the physical and mental wellbeing of a person in the workplace. There is an increasing focus on healthy buildings, and the many benefits to productivity and wellbeing that result from improved air quality, ventilation, noise and other indoor variables. Additionally, research from NBBJ’s Applied Research Fellowship Program with developmental molecular biologist Dr. John Medina shows that healthy individuals are more engaged and empowered, which in turn, has a direct impact on their creativity, productivity, and overall performance at work.

Design can play a fundamental role in supporting individual health and wellbeing. One way is by enabling deeper connections, such as through engaging spaces for art, social and educational programs that integrate community and family. These could be multi-purpose areas that serve as office or common areas while hosting programming like art, yoga, dance or cooking classes at specified hours.

 

Team Health

Team health includes the internal dynamics which contribute to the overall performance of a group, including how people collaborate and relate to one another. Healthy teams are adaptable, resilient and support an atmosphere in which all members feel they are making a meaningful contribution. The key elements that contribute to team health include trust, collaboration, communication and personal connections — typically it is these relational aspects of teamwork, rather than specific taskwork, that makes teams successful.

In designing for team health, it is important to provide work settings that enhance flexibility and personal agency, so that teams can develop solutions that best support their preferred method of working. Kinetic infrastructure that adapts to team needs — such as common areas that expand or contract with movable walls and partitions, and workstations, furniture and technology infrastructure that are easily reconfigurable and movable — can enable more fluid, dynamic team environments.

 

Organizational Health

Organizational health encompasses the culture, identity and competitive fitness of an organization. Healthy organizations have an aligned strategy, leadership and culture, and are agile — executing and renewing themselves to sustain strong performance through changing conditions over time. Organizations can take very different paths to success — with different cultures, structures and strategic visions. Design approaches to support organizational health should therefore reflect the specific attributes that make an organization successful.

Designing for organizational health is critical to attract and retain future top talent, and to ensure the long-term relevancy of a workplace.  By 2030, Millennials, Generation Z, and Generation Alpha will comprise over 75% of the total workforce, and their global spending power will be ascendant.  These younger generations are seeking fulfilling work with companies that have strong missions, contribute to societal good, and feature a diversity of teams and learning.  Strategies the support strong organizational health and culture will be critical to attract these top recruits in the coming two decades.

Design strategies that support organizational health aim to create spaces, activities and programs that drive purpose through community and connect people to their environment and one another. This can include art, music and interactive digital installations, artist residencies or maker spaces that provide positive distractions and help to forge common experiences.

 

Community Health

Organizations can positively impact the health and quality of life of not just their employees, but their neighbors as well. By sharing resources, giving back and catalyzing positive change, organizations can support health beyond the four walls of a building. The elements of healthy communities — ranging from livability to opportunity, access, vibrancy, resilience and sustainability — are complex and far-ranging, but design can play a supporting role by creating environments that connect organizations to their communities and generate positive momentum.

Design approaches for community health aim to support the vibrancy of the neighborhood as well as stewardship of the environment. This can encompass a reimagining of the ground floor as a dynamic space that flexes between private and public use — hosting community assets like museums and cultural centers, educational programs, or recreational or green spaces shared with the public.  Community Health can also encompass a company’s affiliates, or even their industry.  Creating co-prosperity opportunities where collaborators can come from around the world and share in a company’s workplace culture and experience fosters broad industry and network progress, and advances ideas more quickly.

 

As organizations adjust to a new normal in the face of evolving work modes, schedules and workplaces, health will continue to be critically important to long-term success. By understanding that health goes far beyond physical safety and wellness, organizations can start to re-align their workplaces with the needs of individuals, teams, organizations and communities—creating healthier, more engaging and productive spaces for the pandemic era and beyond.

To receive the full report on this topic, please contact us at socialmedia@nbbj.com.

 

Share this:  envelope facebook twitter googleplus tumblr linkedin
Comment Follow nbbX

Nature as the City

Why It’s Time for a New Greenspace Framework to Guide Future Development

March 4, 2021

Design Partner, NBBJ

This post was co-authored by Jonathan Ward and Margaret Montgomery.

 

As a firm tasked with designing the buildings and cities that shape our future, we are challenging ourselves to imagine a new way of developing places. One where nature is the city, and the city is treated as a natural system.

For much of the past 100 years, designers and planners have worked around automobiles as the main organizing mechanism for cities. And in order to accommodate cars – both how they move and how they’re parked  – 20th century planners had to develop an elaborate system of roadways that became largely divorced from greenspace.

Whether it happens in the next decade or beyond,  the North Star of nature as the city now guides our practice. And this approach helps to move toward the world we want to see – where our cities are greener and more habitable, for all people who live and work in them.

The reasons to use nature as the guiding principle are myriad. At an individual level, we know that access to greenspace makes us healthier, less depressed and anxious, more connected and more creative (and we also know that for too many in our cities, there is little to no greenspace access). In her book The Nature Fix, writer Florence Williams outlines the ‘nature pyramid,’ a concept that says we need ‘differing frequency, duration and intensity of immersion’ in nature in order to be well. While big, awe-inducing experiences in nature – like those found at national parks – are something to visit on occasion, it’s our daily experiences in cities that make up the bulk of our exposure.

At a systems level, green infrastructure – in the form of public parks, wetlands and grasslands, urban forests, green roofs and siding, and rainwater gardens – is our most affordable and most effective technology in protecting cities from the impacts of climate change. This green infrastructure makes our cities more beautiful and more livable and serves a critical function in stormwater management, reducing pollution, and decreasing the urban heat island effect.

By treating the city as a natural environment, we have the opportunity to soften its hardness, both literally and figuratively. Here are five ideas we’re both inspired by and actively integrating into our projects to ensure more healthy, natural cities:

1. City and district-wide ‘Sponge City’ solutions.

Across Asia, most notably in Hong Kong and Southern China, cities are now five years into an experiment in investing in landscape and green infrastructure to counteract the region’s hyper-urbanization. The ‘Sponge City’ model looks to simultaneously address issues of flooding, water shortages and water pollution, turning entire districts and cities into landscape sponges to capture and retain stormwater and preserve it for future use. For Tencent’s 22-million square foot Net City masterplan in Shenzhen, a series of green pathways and corridors, open public greenspace, mangrove plantings along the district’s waterfront, and wetlands are integrated throughout the multi-acre project.

2. The growth of landscape infrastructure in North America.

In the US, ambitious rails to trails projects like the Nickel Plate Trail outside Indianapolis, Rail Park in Philadelphia and infrastructure endeavors like the LA River initiative are a ubiquitous approach to multipurpose infrastructure creating adapted greenspace, restoring habit, climate control measures and introducing new opportunities for transport and recreation.

3. Street level greenscape interventions.

Innovative approaches to leveraging the power of natural interventions can also be found at the individual street level.

In Seattle, the city is implementing a series of bioswale streets, using native plantings to create natural drainage systems while also turning sidewalks and roadway medians from places you’d never notice into beautiful settings. For example, a cascading rain garden under a major bridge in the city’s Fremont neighborhood now gathers and filters 200,000 gallons of stormwater annually.

In Boston, we’re working with the neighborhoods of Allston and Brighton to preserve and expand the local tree canopy in the midst of a wave of new development. A key approach is to  strategically identify sidewalk greening opportunities pair them with a planting guide.

These seemingly simple interventions can be some of the most valuable and effective microscale solutions, yet also can be the most challenging to retrofit into neighborhoods that most need it.

4. The introduction of new habitat and wildlife corridors.

Cities including Portland and Oslo are exploring butterfly and bee highways and urban wildlife corridors to create safe habitat for birds, animals and other wildlife. These habitat interventions need to be connected across scale to be successful. This is why even smaller projects have an important role to play. For example, at the Gahanna branch location of Columbus Metropolitan Library in Columbus, OH, a butterfly garden at the perimeter of the building is being designed.

5. Commercial buildings, campuses and utilities greening our cities.

While a host of forward-thinking companies including Samsung and Vivo understood the benefits of indoor-outdoor work prior to the pandemic, the integration of green roofs, patios and balconies with plantings and multipurpose outdoor settings are now critical to the future of the office. In fact, companies increasingly view it as their responsibility to create these kind of environments, both for the health and well-being of their employees and for their communities. We’re also starting to see what it can look like to integrate greenspace with public utilities, as Seattle City Light does with the Denny Substation. The project  brings together greenspace and a dog park on the same site as the city’s newest electrical substation.

And at a campus level, bringing in new natural design elements can support citywide green infrastructure goals. For Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in Cleveland, the transformation of Nash Walkway with the introduction of new plantings and an outdoor study garden creates a more nurturing environment for students and staff and supports local habitat restoration.

Moving toward a more coherent approach to Nature as the City

These individual efforts are remarkable – but if we want the city to become an interconnected, natural ecosystem, we need to find more overarching ways to stitch them together. And we need to continuously explore ways to look for lessons from the biomes themselves. The architecture of nature itself has a lot to teach us about energy production and water reuse and percolation.

We already see some cities take the lead on more comprehensive commitments to green master planning. London is making moves to become the world’s first ‘National Park City,’ with a vision led by Mayor Sadiq Khan to plan from the premise ‘what if our cities were all natural landscapes?’ And Philadelphia, Chicago, Milwaukee, Atlanta, New York City, Detroit and Vancouver are all implanting forms of green infrastructure plans. These plans explore new sources of investment and outline incentives to encourage the adoption of green initiatives towards increasing the tree canopy, ensuring residents have easier access to greenspace and increasing the acres of park per resident.

Conclusion

By operating from a framework of the city as nature, we have the opportunity to nurture a healthier and more equitable future for all – not just some — citizens of the city

It’s going to take a different way of thinking about and advocating for green space with architects, urban planners, urban designers, landscape architects and engineers all working in tandem. Moving toward this greener future will also require cross-disciplinary partnerships and alliances across city departments (bringing together public health, parks and recreation, utilities, sustainability and resilience), levels of local and federal government, in partnership with the nonprofit and philanthropic sector, and private development. And – most importantly – in getting community buy-in for both the vision and stewardship of these spaces.

Share this:  envelope facebook twitter googleplus tumblr linkedin
Comment Follow nbbX

A Healthier Planet Starts With Hospitals

Eleven Strategies to Reduce Energy Use and Increase Wellbeing

February 23, 2021

Principal / Sustainable Design Leader, NBBJ

@MargaretMontgo1

While hospitals are dedicated to healing, they are some of the most resource-intensive buildings on the planet. On average, they use twice the energy of most other building types. In the U.S., the healthcare system accounts for 10% of the nation’s total carbon dioxide emissions.

Typically complex and large, hospitals must operate 24/7. While essential, this results in higher energy use than a typical building. This has both an immediate and direct impact — in the cost of operational energy use — as well as longer term, significant effects of climate change on public and individual health. It’s important to address energy consumption in hospitals as it can lower operating costs, extend the life of utility equipment, reduce emissions and perhaps most important, create environments that support life especially at fragile moments.

How can hospitals reduce their energy use — as part of a holistic system of sustainable benefits — and stay operationally resilient, but still maintain solid, round-the-clock care? Fortunately, design can help hospitals tackle these sustainability issues.

In the U.S., hospitals have an average energy use intensity (EUI) — which is energy use per square foot — of 234 kbtu/sf/year. Yet a holistic system of design strategies now make it possible to reduce the energy use of healthcare buildings by almost 70%.

Two new hospitals in the Seattle area, including Overlake Hospital Medical Center’s FutureCare East Tower and St. Michael’s Medical Center Acute Care Expansion, utilize simple yet innovative design features to dramatically lower their energy use. Together, both hospitals illustrate key ways healthcare buildings can lower their energy use and achieve groundbreaking performance. Below are a series of sustainable design features hospitals can implement so they are more energy-efficient, employ healthier materials and reduce their carbon footprint.

Key Strategies to Lower Energy Use and Foster Sustainable Healthcare Systems

Energy Modeling as a Design Tool
Much in the same way that an institution begins a design and construction project with a budget — which is used as a constant measurement tool — a project can benefit from an “energy budget” to steer energy performance design. An energy budget sets an energy target at the beginning of the project and deploys modeling tools to measure the impact of a building’s needs and design changes on iterative energy, in a similar way that construction estimates work to track the progress of the work and keep the project on track. It’s critical to monitor energy and carbon budgets from the beginning so the client and design team can set and achieve sustainable goals, check progress and adjust at each phase to be sure the project is on budget.

Outside the Building
In new hospital construction and renovations, it is critical to address the exterior of the hospital. In climates with variable temperatures, outdoor design strategies can keep both heat out in the summer and the cold out in the winter. Shades on the outside of a building can help keep the interior from getting too warm, providing a triple benefit: it decreases the use of mechanical systems and lowers operational costs to cool the building, allows the use of smaller and more efficient heating and cooling systems and makes spaces more comfortable for patients, caregivers and visitors.

High-Performance Windows
Views to nature can speed healing. In patient rooms, windows with two or three layers of glass can reflect heat gain and provide insulation. In some facility types, patient rooms can benefit from operable windows — those that can open and close. Where that’s not feasible, amenity areas like caregiver break rooms and dining areas can benefit from both the natural ventilation and daylight, which can improve cognition, boost mood and decrease stress.

Efficient Heating and Cooling
Heating and cooling strategies that capture outdoor cool air to cool hospital interiors and heated air to preheat fresh air entering the building can reduce energy use by more than 200%. To build efficient heating and cooling systems, it can help to tune the amount of energy needed so equipment only runs when it is required. For example, hospitals can use high-efficiency air cooled chillers for the peak cooling loads in summer and high-efficiency condensing boilers for the coldest days in winter. It’s also important to invest in better controls, especially to allow unoccupied turndown of high-intensity spaces such as operating rooms. By building in adaptability, these smart systems can save significant amounts of energy.

Separate Thermal and Ventilation Systems
An additional building technique is to separate systems that distribute fresh air with those that warm and cool spaces, especially in hospital inpatient rooms. This goes hand-in-hand with exterior building strategies and sun protection touched on above. Used together, these techniques can create smaller energy demands and as a result, more efficient equipment for cooling and heating. In addition, keeping an air circulation system separate allows for more compact ducts and less dedicated space for these systems.

Lighting Strategies
Smart lighting strategies such as features that maximize abundant natural light via high-performance windows, light wells and skylights, particularly in cloudy climates, can help reduce energy use. Additional strategies include dimmable interior and exterior LED lighting that is programmed to turn off when not in use.

Utility Efficiency Funding
Although utility funding varies by country and jurisdiction, where available, utility rebates can compress the return on investment for high efficiency projects to a shorter timeframe, sometimes to just a year or two.

Innovative Materials
By prioritizing healthy materials, healthcare environments can reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted during the production and construction process and create spaces that better support healing. Although typically used in commercial buildings, cross-laminated timber (CLT) — pre-fabricated engineered wood panels — provide unique opportunities to transform healthcare environments. CLT has a low carbon footprint and the natural healing benefits of wood that calm and reduce stress. It can also be easily assembled off-site to save construction time and costs, increasing the timeframe in which clinical operations and revenue can take place.

Renewable Energy
Rather than rely solely on fossil fuels for energy, transitioning to clean, renewable energy, such as solar roofs in sunny climates, can provide a sustainable supplemental energy source. Other renewable energy sources such as wind power can provide a greener source of energy, and even help hospitals become energy independent. Transitioning to clean, renewable energy will be a key energy management move over the coming years as the cost competitiveness of renewables overtakes fossil fuel costs. Make a plan for electrification — if not immediately, then over time. This will enable healthcare campuses to wean themselves off fossil fuels and take advantage of a rapidly greening electrical grid and the attendant carbon emission reductions.

Landscape Elements
Outdoor landscape features like trees and green plants not only lower the temperature of their immediate surroundings in the summer, they can significantly increase air quality as they release oxygen, store carbon dioxide and filter out pollutants, making them natural purifiers. Views and exposure to nature has numerous restorative benefits for patients and caregivers, such as lower heart rate and blood pressure, and less need for pain medicine. Furthermore, hospital gardens with sustainably grown local food can nourish staff and patients while reducing costs associated with imported food.

Green Transportation
It’s important to consider what happens outside the hospital too. Staff, patient and visitor travel to and from a hospital can have a crucial impact. Transit connections, areas to wait for rideshares, walkability and bike-friendliness — via design strategies such as welcoming landscaped paths and covered designated areas for drop-off and pick-up — can reduce the reliance on cars and the costs associated with parking development and maintenance.

To Summarize
The conversation around energy-efficient and sustainable hospitals is only just beginning. As more hospitals consider sustainability as not just a “nice-to-have,” but a critical component of their overall strategy and business model, countries will continue to see accelerated progress. With the right policies, further breakthroughs and innovative systems — such as all-electric and net zero carbon facilities — hospitals can lower and even eliminate carbon emissions from energy consumption. As a result, they can reduce the use of critical resources, provide long term cost-savings and support a healthier environment for people and the planet.

 

Banner image courtesy Bruce Damonte.

Share this:  envelope facebook twitter googleplus tumblr linkedin
Comment Follow nbbX
Next Page »