In recent years, artwork has become an integral part of the design process, rather than a decorative afterthought. The goal of art in architecture is to improve the environment, provide wayfinding, and enhance the physical and mental well-being of employees and guests. The impact of art in healthcare design is no different, especially for behavioral health facilities. Art that is integrated into the design of a space from its conception plays a vital role in creating a positive patient experience and recovery. Not only does it provide an aesthetic escape and help with wayfinding within a space, but it can also help create a sense of community and calm, especially in a clinical setting.
Examples of beneficial uses of art in behavioral healthcare design include but are not limited to; paintings, murals, landscape photography, biophilia, and interactive sensory opportunities where light, touch, and sound are all part of the experience. Sensory experiences have been shown to help patients self-soothe when experiencing emotional distress. Biophilic installations, such as live plants and green walls, have been shown to help reduce stress in both healthcare and workplace settings, which is beneficial for patients and providers alike. Abstract and landscape paintings, as well as photography, can enhance patient experience, lessen recovery time, and improve staff morale.
While biophilia and plants may not be your initial thought when you think of art, they are an essential part of our natural world and are becoming increasingly common within indoor environments. A study has shown that spending 120-minutes per week in nature is tied to good health and well-being. With the pandemic, we have seen activities in nature and incorporating natural elements into the workplace becoming more common. Further studies have shown that enriching a space with plants can increase productivity by as much as 15%. Not only do plants help with productivity, but they can also help with stress relief as well. When surrounded by greenery, people have a more relaxed and tranquil attitude.
Incorporating art into the design of the expanded behavioral healthcare units at Sanford Medical Center in Sanford, ME was critical to the project. Photos of scenic Maine lighthouses and waterfront views were carefully selected to create full wall murals. The intention behind using these images was to help foster a sense of calm in patients and instill a sense of place and community between patients. Natural imagery and organic textures were also used, when possible, to help create a sense of calm. A relaxing color scheme was curated to avoid causing patients or staff negative emotions, as certain colors can evoke negative feelings. The group therapy room features a textured installation with primary colors, and customizable lighting and sound to generate a full sensory experience.
Incorporating art of all types into the design of clinical care settings, especially behavior healthcare facilities, is integral to creating a calming experience for patients and staff alike. We foresee this trend becoming only more prominent in the future.
This year will be one in which the life sciences market will moderate due to economic factors, even as it remains resilient, according to a December 2022 report by CBRE. New construction is forecast in the three top-tier markets: the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, and Boston-Cambridge. As part of the normalization process, the report cites that there will most likely be demand for multi-tenanted lab/R&D space in smaller geographic markets, and larger life sciences companies may be in acquisition or partnership mode with small but promising firms.
This bodes well for the industry and economy, spurring construction projects ranging from small-scale renovations of existing lab space to relocations driven by the need for increased square footage or a more customized environment. Because laboratory construction is expensive—a fit-out in an existing building in one of the top three U.S. life sciences markets can range from $300 to $650 per square foot versus $110 to $315 for typical office space—understanding how the process works will save time and money while realizing a finished product that accomplishes most, if not all, project objectives.
Existing Lab Renovation vs. New Space Fit-Out
Whether planning for renovations to your current leased space or considering new space at another location, the process is similar but not exactly the same. Here’s why.
Renovating or expanding in the same building in some ways may be simpler in that the building systems are known; a precedent has already been set for your lab equipment, layout, and ancillary space; and site search and lease negotiations are not required unless the expansion is into another area of the same building. Factors to consider when planning this type of project include confirming that the program plan is code compliant; phasing the renovation so that the existing lab can remain safely operational during construction; verifying that new equipment will fit; and determining whether upgrades to existing mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP) and lab utility infrastructure are necessary to accommodate new equipment.
Aside from location, cost, and amenity considerations, a life sciences company looking for new space must also evaluate such factors as the availability of space on the lowest floors of a high-rise building for optimization of control areas; construction type classification; sprinkler and/or fire suppression systems; and the ability to comply with all applicable federal, state, and local laws, regulations, and ordinances. The new space search will ideally incorporate careful review of existing conditions such as floor-to-floor heights, sufficient building systems, and proof that the floors are rated to allow for separate control areas. When the floors aren’t rated—this includes the gap often found at the perimeter of the building where the slab meets the building facade—there are alternatives. One is to upgrade the floors to create a two-hour rating. Another is to fill the perimeter gap with an approved fire safing assembly. Lastly to create a rated storage area on the first floor of the building. The latter, which takes advantage of the higher capacity of chemicals permitted to be stored at lower levels, allows chemicals to be transported to the lab when needed. Whatever the approach for control area strategy for the building, it should be clearly documented in your lease and discussed during lease negotiations. If you are planning to take more space than you currently need to sublease, be aware that your company is now the landlord, the control area strategy needs to be confirmed with your sub-tenant, and that if your science grows faster than originally anticipated, the space may not be available for you to reclaim due to contractual leases.
A Technical Process
Renovating an existing lab or fitting out space in a new location is a highly technical process that will synthesize key input from the life sciences end users and stakeholders to facilitate a functional design that is responsive to their immediate and future science needs. No matter what the renovation scenario is, the first step in the process is to determine how much and what type of space is needed, keeping in mind that it is the size of equipment, equivalent linear feet (ELF) of bench and types and amounts of chemicals to be used and stored are what will drive the design program.
During the pre-design phase known as programming, the architect or lab planner works with the client to establish the project goals and vision to better understand the proposed use of the space while analyzing the client’s program components—square footage, head count, equipment, adjacencies, furnishings, etc.—to determine if sufficient space has been allocated for each function. At this stage, all components and their interrelationships and adjacencies are verified, and program requirements such as major pieces of equipment, chemical usage, and control area strategy are confirmed. The client should be prepared to answer dozens of questions leading to this outcome, some general and some very specific. Examples include:
How many employees should the space accommodate, now and in the future?
What biosafety level will your lab require?
What gases and/or utilities do you anticipate using in this lab?
Do you prefer fixed casework or movable benches?
What type of support spaces are required?
What spaces or departments need to be adjacent or any that need to be segregated?
Provide a list of the chemicals you plan to use in the lab with classifications and amounts.
Provide a list of existing and proposed equipment for this project, including dimensions.
At the conclusion of programming, the architect or lab planner will produce a programming report summarizing their findings, with practical recommendations for optimum lab layouts. The report will include basic information such as total headcount, growth projections, and square footage requirements. Also included will be a description of how the workspace should function, what equipment and furnishings will be retained from the existing workplace, if applicable, and/or replaced with new, and what should be avoided.
The next steps after programming are visioning and a preliminary layout, or test fit. The test fit takes all of the information gleaned during programming and translates it into graphic form. This provides the basis for the schematic design phase, which introduces early design concepts, floor plans, lighting plans, and incorporates an equipment matrix for coordination with mechanical and electrical loads and any required process utilities. It is not uncommon to perform a preliminary cost estimate near the end of this phase.
The design development phase crystallizes favored concepts established during schematic design and finalizes choices involving lighting, finishes, and color. It is at this point that a more accurate cost check can be performed, and the construction manager can prioritize long lead items for early purchase. With the recent supply chain issues, these may include rooftop mechanical equipment, generators, electrical panels or switchgears, lighting, cold rooms, and casework. The last two phases are construction documentation, which produces the final documents and specifications that will be submitted to the city or town for the construction permit, and construction administration, which is oversight of construction to make sure that the design is implemented as intended.
Perhaps the most challenging part of the renovation process is the relocation itself—no one enjoys packing and moving under any circumstances, and especially not when the transport of glassware, samples, reagents, instruments, and sensitive equipment are at stake. This is a job for a laboratory relocation specialist that will manage all facets of your move, including packing and unpacking, decommissioning equipment, establishing IT connections, security, and performing required compliance procedures, among other services. Specialized moving companies that have experience in laboratory moves and relocations are needed. They have the required electrical support to move freezers on their trucks and understand the sensitivity needed in a lab move. Some equipment, such as mass spectrometers and confocal microscopes need to be disassembled, crated, moved, and reassembled by the manufacturer to maintain warranties. Because transport of sensitive equipment can affect settings and performance, calibration and validation once reassembled are critical to the science readiness of the new lab. This needs to be managed appropriately and scheduled well in advance of the actual move.
There may be opportunities to accelerate the project schedule. This is most successfully done when the project team is aligned in their understanding of the client’s goals for the project. When the client is able to internally identify their goals and prioritize the design, the design team can leverage that information and incorporate it into the program for the space, focusing during programming on a finer level of detail that can save time in later phases.
Also, having access to accurate existing condition drawings for the building, including mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection, and structural, provides the design team with more information about the base building and its existing infrastructure. This information is critical for lab and GMP design. The ability for the design team to include more information in drawings allows the contractor pricing the drawings to provide accurate pricing quicker than if there were unknowns during the design phase.
No matter what its size, scope, or location, a laboratory renovation is a highly specialized project and process that requires dedicated in-house and external teams to see it through to successful completion. Our best advice to all lab managers is twofold: plan ahead, and always incorporate maximum flexibility into the design, because no one truly knows what the future will hold.
The March 2023 ASHE PDC Summit in Phoenix Arizona did not disappoint. A lively mix of baseball spring training, the world baseball championship, and several thousand healthcare professionals descending on downtown Phoenix provided a level of energy to the area that was exciting to see. At the conference, I was lucky enough to present with Jeff O’Neill from RWJBarnabas Health and Teresa Harris from isgenuity a presentation titled “Herding Cats: Implementation & Management of Functional Programs & Safety Risk Assessments” in which we facilitated a lively morning conversation on critical requirements of the FGI guidelines and who is responsible for completing them for each project. I learned a lot from the conversation, and if you have any questions on these two areas of the guidelines, don’t hesitate to reach out. We are here to help!
There were great talks and keynotes throughout the conference. These are my top hot topics from this year’s conference:
BIG DATA is coming! Investing in sensors and data collection for augmented reality, personal device customization, and improved clinical predictive medicine.
Healthcare transitions to retail experience. Healthcare organizations need to shift their thinking from “patients” to “customers” and design for that experience.
Lots of doom and gloom on the financial side of things with a variety of examples of the financial toll COVID-19 has had on hospitals and their employees.
Telehealth reimbursement has been extended for two additional years; an inkling that this delivery of care model is here to stay in terms of reimbursement. It will be interesting to see if this sparks any new investments in projects related to expanding the implementation of virtual visits.
Of these hot topics, I see a hospital’s ability to invest in data collection across a wide spectrum of disciplines, from building management and infrastructure to patient clinical information to real time location services for staff patients and equipment, a key area of investment over the next 3 years. A great idea from “Hey Alexa, How Can Hospitals Use Intelligent Lighting?” by Todd Hermann from Smith Seckman Reid and Abigail Lipperman from Children’s Health was purchasing Wi-Fi sensors that are integrated into light fixtures. This simple concept allows a hospital to expand their sensor coverage via a hardwired system when areas are renovated, or lighting upgrades are made. The sensors are often open-source code, allowing them to integrate with bio med for medical equipment tracking and personal devices for patients and staff wayfinding and navigating the hospital as well as wellness prompts, for instance, to take the stairs vs. the elevator.
So, that was what was discussed on stage, but what was everyone talking about at the bar? The electrification of the hospital to reduce carbon emissions was a key goal being discussed. The question I kept hearing was: Why take a critical care facility and place it at the bleeding edge of this transition with the current state of the broader electrical grid? A diversity of systems and fuel sources seems like a more resilient answer to the overall risk assessment for the critical care hospital. Hospitals should be focused on proven sustainable solutions to help their energy reduction, but a move to full electrification, even with the benefits of the microgrid, seems to be putting all the eggs into an infrastructure basket that has capacity issues. Failure could place peoples’ lives at risk. This question really resonated with me, and it is often how I assess new products to the marketplace. Cool and shiny work well in a lot of commercial real estate projects, but when I am specifying products and designing for healthcare, I lean towards tried-and-true solutions that will hold up to the heavy use of environments of care.
A critical part of any lab planning and design project is getting the equipment list correct. Traditionally, the end users provide an initial list to our lab planning and design team that includes each piece of equipment they need for their work. The list should include the size and weight of each piece of equipment, as well as all electrical, plumbing, and gas requirements. We review the list for accuracy with the client and then against a database we have developed. The content is adjusted so that it’s formatted correctly and ready to integrate into our Revit Model. For existing equipment, if the equipment list is insufficient, our design team can survey the equipment to create an accurate list that includes any computer requirements, UPS or backup power, special exhaust requirements, or waste streams. This is also beneficial to the design process because it provides a look into the existing lab and confirms which pieces of equipment are adjacent to one another or directly connected.
For startup client’s advancing from the incubator environment and leasing their first new space, the equipment list is still a critical piece of laboratory planning and design. The design team can work with the end users or procurement team to help develop and maintain their equipment list, even working through projected growth and workflows for equipment that may be purchased later. There are also specialized lab procurement companies that can help procure the equipment to get client’s operations up and running.
Overall, the equipment list becomes a central design tool for the project. It’s used to layout the different sections of a laboratory. Once it’s loaded into Revit, it helps determine the size of each room or clearance requirements, as well as how many adjacent laboratory spaces are needed. We have developed a plugin integrated with our Revit software that loads the equipment list into Revit and creates detailed individual items called “families” for each piece of equipment. These “families” automatically show the utilities needed on the equipment drawing itself. The Revit plugin also creates a 3D visual for clients to view the lab, including the lab equipment. This helps end users visualize how their space will look and how the lab is laid out.
The Revit file is then sent to our MEP engineering partners to reference the information in a single document. This makes it less likely that there will be inconsistencies between the architectural and engineering drawings. BIM360 is also used to integrate consultants’ drawings with the architectural drawings. Prior to developing this approach, engineers had to reference both the equipment plan and the equipment matrix or schedule to see all the details of the equipment, often resulting in conflicts. Since the MEP drawings are the primary resource that the subcontractors on-site use to install the utilities, accuracy is critical. The contractor also can use a 3D view of the lab to coordinate where lab benches, equipment, and other components will be located. It can be shared with the subcontractors that otherwise may not look at the architectural drawings but often will reference a 3D view of the lab if it includes equipment to inform their work on-site.
The value of this process becomes evident at the end of the project when the space is built out and the owner moves in their equipment. These laboratories are critical to the success of our clients. Avoiding delays in operations is paramount. Because the utilities are installed in the correct locations to service the owner’s equipment, the company can begin operations on time, avoiding costly delays.
One of the business world’s most sacred traditions at year-end is for industry leaders to predict what’s in store for the coming year. After nearly three years of coping with a pandemic that has changed mindsets as well as the physical work environment, we and our clients have learned two important lessons: change is the only constant, and flexibility is key to adaptability.
As architects and interior designers, one of the questions we are frequently asked is, “What are you seeing as the office environment of the near future?” During the pre-vaccine pandemic, the answer was easy: modify the work environment to protect workers at all costs. We collectively bought into the notion that once vaccines were available, things would return to a “new normal,” and a mass return to the office would follow.
Now, in a volatile health and economic landscape, our response varies depending on the decisions we see our clients struggling with and how they address them. We know of one company that had an epiphany when they realized that the 100,000 SF building they own sits mostly empty, because in their new hybrid work environment, they have never had more than 50 people show up to work in the office on any given day. Possible solutions included selling the building, relocating to less space, and designing it for how their staff works now—or subletting half the square footage and proceeding with redesigning the space they occupy. This is but one example of our certainty that there will be no return to the 2020 B.C. (before COVID) work model soon—or maybe ever.
Management is coming to terms with the new reality of employee expectations. Whereas pre-pandemic, they were assigned a specific workspace and that was often enough, today’s office environment is more employee focused, with incentives to bring back those workers who work remotely with some regularity and consistency. That said, there are many types of businesses that cannot function with remote workers, such as hospitals and research labs. Many of these businesses have a mix of remote and essential on-site workers, which can create experiential disparity among employees.
Incentivizing remote staff to return to the office is management’s holy grail, and we have created a roadmap to achieve it through the introduction of collaboration space. At Margulies Perruzzi, we often compare the plan for a successful physical work environment that empowers employee choice to that of a three-legged stool because it relies on three essential components for stability: physical space that can be curated to be an asset for employees; supportive technology for that physical space; and an HR policy that balances flexibility with fostering culture and knowledge sharing.
Though none of us truly know what the future may hold, emerging trends are often reliable predictors. To foster collaboration and bring workers into the office with some regularity, we are seeing the introduction and enhancement of “neighborhoods” aligned by either functional teams or acoustic preferences, and a rich variety of formal and informal meeting and social gathering spaces. We recognize that there will always be a need for some personal, heads-down space. But no matter what the use or type, standardizing and strategically sizing spaces to allow for future flexibility is paramount, as is integrating supportive technology that will enable employees to choose where and how to work.
Dr. Linda Lee ~ Medical Director of Endoscopy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Director of the National Pancreas Foundation Center for Treatment and Care of Pancreatic Cancer at BWH/DFCI, and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School
Christopher C. Thompson, MD ~ Director of Endoscopy, Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Co-Director, Center for Weight Management and Wellness; Director, Advanced Endoscopy Fellowship Program; and Professor, Harvard Medical School
Modernizing Today’s Endoscopy Suite to Meet Future Demands
The planning of an endoscopy unit focuses on three key areas:
Pre- and Post-Patient Care
The project process begins by establishing quantity and type of procedure rooms based on the specific needs of the patient population. A patient volume analysis overlaid with procedure type allows the team to define the required number of procedure rooms, and to develop a space program that lists all the required support spaces (nurse stations, toilets, storage rooms, clean and soiled rooms, etc.) and their size to determine the area required to accommodate the future endoscopy suite. This area can then be used to identify lease space, construct a new building, or identify an area for renovation within the existing hospital or clinic. Once the location of the project is determined, the clinicians work with the architects to establish patient flow through the department and lay out the spaces. A series of meetings follows to review the details of the layout of each clinical space. For our purposes, our project focused on a phased renovation and expansion of an existing endoscopy suite.
The idea of WELL started in 2013 with a question posed by Delos, a global wellness leader with a mission to enhance health and well-being in live, work, learn, and play spaces: “How do we merge real estate with health and well-being?”
One thing led to another, and a year later the first version of the WELL Building Standard® was launched; administered by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), a subsidiary of Delos.
The WELL program (WELL) applies the science of how physical and social environments affect human health, well-being, and performance. Developed over 10 years and backed by the latest scientific research, the current WELL Building Standard contains 112 features organized into 10 categories called concepts. IWBI’s sophisticated digital tools allow organizations to implement the WELL Building Standard in a flexible and customizable way to meet specific health and well-being goals and drive desirable business outcomes.
In 2015, the Well Living Lab™—a collaboration between Delos and the Mayo Clinic—was founded on the premise that, “The only way to know how indoor environments can contribute to health and well-being is to scientifically study them.” By 2018, IWBI applied what it had learned from scientific research data, users, and practitioners to an update of the WELL Building Standard, referred to as the WELL v2™ pilot.
The Path to Certification
WELL is supported by three separate rating systems which allow participants to take a targeted approach to certification by focusing on a subset of strategies that address specific themes. These are: the WELL Performance Rating™, the WELL Health-Safety Rating™, and the WELL Equity Rating™. There is also a WELL Community Standard, which applies WELL principles on a neighborhood scale.
The WELL Performance Rating is a roadmap for leveraging building performance and occupant experience data to shift business decisions and organizational culture. Informed by the WELL Building Standard, it focuses on measurable building performance strategies that are verified through onsite testing and sensor technology. The seven performance themes are indoor air quality, water quality management, lighting measurements, thermal conditions, acoustic performance, environmental monitoring, and occupant experience. Strategies enacted through the WELL Performance Rating are automatically applied to a WELL Certification scorecard or WELL Score.
Launched in July 2020, the WELL Health-Safety Rating was in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. IWBI defines it as “an evidence-based, third-party verified rating focused on operational policies, maintenance protocols and emergency plans to address a post-COVID-19 environment now and broader health and safety-related issues into the future.” This rating system promotes indoor safety by providing a means to guide, validate, recognize, and scale management of health and safety issues in shared spaces. Directed towards facility operations and management, the rating is applicable to all new and existing building and facility types across an array of markets and large and small organizations alike.
Developed in 2021, the WELL Equity Rating’s purpose is to address the needs and priorities of the most marginalized populations in workplaces and the communities in which they operate. The rating system contains more than 40 features in six action areas: user experience and feedback; responsible hiring and labor practices; inclusive design; health benefits and services; supportive programs and spaces; and community engagement. The rating recognizes projects that have achieved innovative approaches to promoting the creation of equitable spaces.
WELL Certification is the highest pinnacle of achievement of strategies across all 10 WELL Building Standard concepts. Projects must achieve all preconditions as well as accrue a certain number of points towards the four available levels (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum) of certification.
Since WELL’s initial launch in 2014, IWBI’s mission has been to “advance healthy buildings for all.” The organization listened, observed, and then channeled user feedback and scientific and medical research about how building environments affect human health and behavior into the creation of a more accessible, adaptable, and equitable product.
The program’s evolution is most evident in changes made within its four key structural components defined below:
A Concept is a category of wellness. Each concept consists of features with distinct health intents.
Features are either preconditions or optimizations.
Preconditions define the fundamental components of a WELL Certified space and serve as the foundation of a healthy building. All preconditions, including all parts within them, are mandatory for certification.
Optimizations are optional pathways for projects to meet certification requirements in WELL. Project teams may select which optimizations to pursue and which parts to focus on within each optimization.
So, what are the changes, and why were they made? For starters, the latest version–WELL v2, unanimously approved by the IWBI Governance Council in June 2020—expands its predecessor’s original seven concepts of air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind, to 10 concepts, adding sound, materials, and community, with modifications to fitness and comfort. As with the original version, each concept comprises features, preconditions, and optimizations. Whereas WELL v1 could be restrictive, WELL v2 strives to reward companies for what they accomplish rather than censure them for what they do not.
The evolved, current WELL v2 reduced preconditions and expanded optimizations allow for a customized project journey through the certification process. Its consolidated features reduce complexity and strengthen feature sets is a response to meet industry needs.
For the architect and/or interior design practitioner, WELL v2 has consolidated previous iterations and pilots into a single rating system that is designed to accommodate all project types and sectors. The system is intended to grow in specificity and specialty over time, adapting to accommodate diverse project types and geographies and in response to new evidence and ever-evolving public health imperatives.
WELL v2 projects fall into one of two main groups, determined primarily by ownership type:
An owner-occupied project is owned or leased by the project owner, even if they are not the building owner, and regular occupants are affiliated with the project owner.
A WELL Core project is more closely aligned with core and shell buildings where an owner is seeking to implement features that will benefit tenants. Any building type can register for WELL Core, provided that at least 75% of the project area is occupied by one or more tenants and/or serves as common space in the building accessible to all tenants.
Both owner-occupied and WELL Core projects are eligible for WELL Certification at all four levels.
All parts of WELL v2 are designated for specific space types, which refer to spaces within a project and not the project as a whole. In addition to the classification of space types within a project, WELL v2 also distinguishes spaces based on their level of occupancy as either regularly occupied space or occupiable space. The former is defined as areas inside the project where an individual spends at least one continuous hour or, cumulatively, at least two hours per day, such as offices, conference rooms, and classrooms. The latter is defined as spaces that can be occupied for any task or activity, including transition areas or balconies, but excluding spaces that are rarely accessed, such as storage or equipment rooms.
Because WELL is a performance-based system, every project is verified through on-site testing. During the performance verification process, on-site measurements are taken for various air and water quality parameters, as well as sound and light levels. Different from the traditional building commissioning process, it must be completed by an authorized WELL Performance Testing Agent, whose goal is to assure that the building performs as intended according to WELL requirements.
Global Influence and Buy-In
Scientific and medical research has proven both the beneficial and harmful effects indoor environments can have on body, mind, and spirit, so it is not surprising that WELL has been embraced globally. Today, IWBI cites 21,268 projects certified and rated; 18,480 projects enrolled; projects totaling 4.33 billion square feet in 125 countries; and 11,295 WELL Accredited Professionals, with another 11,211 registered, in 123 countries. Participating companies are immediately recognizable across an array of market sectors: CBRE, Citi, JLL, Uber, Bloomberg, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, T-Mobile, Hilton, Four Seasons, and Hines, among others.
As with USGBC’s LEED rating system, there is a cost attached to WELL Certification. Consequently, some companies opt to have their facilities designed to various LEED certification levels without pursuing registration, and the same approach can be taken with WELL. Although we advocate participation in both programs, only an owner can weigh the value of either investment against their project goals and budget. One of our clients decided not to pursue WELL Certification because of the cost but had already achieved much of WELL’s criteria during design.
Benefits Make the Case
WELL is holistic. It influences design, operations, and policy, and presents a comprehensive approach to well-being. Put into practice, it is an equitable, global, evidence-based, technically robust, customer focused, and resilient program. Its flexibility is an asset for owners and design practitioners alike; after meeting required preconditions, you can select from optional optimization features to advance healthy building elements that are most important to you and your project.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on how companies link employee health and wellness with recruitment and retention. WELL Certification is an investment in a company’s most important asset and highest cost factor aside from real estate: its people. By prioritizing the health and well-being of employees through WELL Certification, an organization also benefits by integrating its mission and operations under a shared vision; enhances its brand equity through thought leadership; and creates a baseline for ESG (environmental, social, and governance) factors that will draw and keep top talent and provide a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
“Housing First” is a proven strategy in the nationwide fight to solve the seemingly intractable problem of homelessness. People are assisted to locate housing first, without preconditions around compliance, and then are engaged to address other issues in their lives once they have the stability of a home.
For “Housing First” to work, however, there must be a sufficient stock of housing for people with very low incomes. Though the causes of homelessness are myriad, one of the major propellants has been gentrification of low-cost housing and the virtual elimination of “flophouses” – places where those in need of shelter could stay inexpensively without long-term commitment.
While many individuals who are homeless long term may have disabling conditions such as mental health issues or substance use disorder, the overarching issue for all people experiencing homelessness is they do not have adequate financial resources to afford housing. It is almost impossible to provide support for them with stabilizing their lives if they do not have a safe, affordable and respectful place to live.
A Modern Successor to Triple-Deckers
Enter the concept of modular micro-housing units in the program that the Massachusetts Housing & Shelter Alliance (MHSA) calls “A Place to Live.” Working with a variety of agencies, most notably the South Middlesex Opportunity Council in Worcester, MHSA has advocated for the construction of buildings of 18 to24 units that are purpose-built for adults who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness.
The “A Place to Live” building looks much like traditional triple-deckers or the contextual architectural equivalent. These small, efficient buildings can fit onto vacant lots available throughout urban areas, allowing new residents to become reintegrated into their neighborhoods close to public transportation, near support services and convenient to shopping and education.
These micro-units, usually about 250 square feet, can be designed to meet all current code and accessibility requirements of the municipal, state and federal funding agencies. The best part for residents is the units are full-size studios with a kitchenette, private bathroom and sleeping space – the kind of spaces that people with lived experiences of homelessness say they prefer over old-style rooming houses. The buildings also contain spaces for private and group counseling, common laundry and bike storage facilities.
Comparative cost analysis of modular versus traditional construction clearly shows that for this type of project, the modular approach costs 30 percent less and takes half as much time to build.
Overcoming Hurdles to Construction
Modular micro-units are becoming more common elsewhere in the U.S. and around the world. Given the clear case for them, why haven’t we seen a proliferation of these micro-units around Massachusetts? There are several reasons that point to challenges to be overcome:
Zoning policies for multifamily residential buildings almost always require providing a large number of parking spaces, which drives up the cost and limits the use of available land for housing. As few of the target homeless residents have cars, and the sites are selected for their adjacency to public transportation, the parking requirement becomes an unnecessary burden.
Public funding agencies are challenged to approve non-traditional procurement processes. Collaboration with modular manufacturers is essential to these projects; each factory has its own technologies and systems that allow it to be most efficient. These partnerships with manufacturers need to be put in place early, often before funds are awarded. The old “Design-Bid-Build” approach is not the best way to take advantage of modern or innovative modular construction processes.
Purchasing land for the construction of housing for people who are homeless is fraught with challenges. The timeframe for securing an agreement to buy the land, applying for and receiving funding, obtaining neighborhood approval (or surviving neighborhood opposition), and finally closing on the purchase of the land often takes years. Few property owners want to sell their land to an agency that may or may not be able to close for several years. Clearly, we need a better way to identify and obtain ownership of appropriate sites than battling restrictive land-use barriers and a tight real estate development market.
Homelessness has become a national crisis, and we have a moral imperative to come up with solutions. Modular micro-units are one solution that meets this urgent need and makes economic sense. Let’s address the barriers in order to create such housing now. There is a place for everyone to participate and support the “A Place to Live” concept to help our most needy neighbors without housing.
By Janet Morra, AIA, LEED AP, Principal and Partner at Margulies Perruzzi
The shape of future office environments will be largely determined by three factors: the ability of company leaders to direct and manage change; the subsequent development of organization-wide policies concerning remote work, safety, and occupancy; and the financial implications of those policies on facility decisions.
A successful transition from the peak pandemic work-from-home scenario to a return-to-office scenario will require a spectrum of expertise and depend heavily on corporate agility and flexibility.
Margulies Perruzzi’s report, Volume 4: Post-COVID Workplace, presents four workplace models that corporate leaders can adapt to their own company’s unique blueprint. They are traditional, flexible, balanced, and lean, and range in 25% increments from 100% of the workforce returning to the office in the traditional model, to 25% in the lean model. Each model comes with its own financial and logistical considerations, especially if more space is needed to accommodate social distancing.
Long a staple in certain high-tech industries and made possible through advancements in digital technology, COVID-19 has pushed the hybrid work environment model to the mainstream. Now, as the world grapples with the omicron variant and new facts about its transmissibility to and by the vaccinated, Margulies Perruzzi’s Volume 5 Workplace Strategy Report: Embracing the Hybrid Workspace affirms the logic of transitioning from a traditional to hybrid model. A survey of 8,600 people across multiple business sectors revealed that 44% of workers plan on being in the office three days a week, and 25% plan on two days. Only 9% responded that they would return to a pre-pandemic office presence.
Corporate leaders are becoming more receptive to the idea that work environments must embrace change as a constant and evolve in response. Catalysts include an increase in workplace utilization rates and safety protocols; restoration of employee engagement and culture; continuation of remote work and subsequent management of a reduced in-person population; and an increased need for collaboration technology and training.
By Daniel P. Perruzzi, Jr., AIA, LEED AP, Principal and Senior Partner at Margulies Perruzzi
Predicting the future in real estate is tricky in the best of times. The continuing uncertainty posed by the pandemic makes any prediction that much more difficult. However, we have learned a lot about how real estate and the real estate industry will respond, based on emerging trends.
You cannot put the toothpaste back in the tube, just like you cannot make everyone recommit to five days in the office any longer. For many industries, some tasks can be performed better in remote mode. Teamwork and higher quality collaboration tools will be the reasons for maintaining office space, but the hybrid model is here to stay. That does not mean the office goes away. On the contrary, companies will continue to assess their current workspace and upgrade it to meet the higher demand for voice/video calls and meetings that can integrate those who are remote with those present in the office.
According to a recent industry panel, there is a regional demand for six million square feet of new lab space. Even if that’s wrong by 50 percent, it is still a staggering number. Look for office-to-lab conversions to continue to pick up speed, especially amongst newer, but less fully occupied, office buildings.
GMP space, where the drugs and therapeutics are manufactured, is also at a premium. Because of their demand for services and high-bay space, these will compete for suburban space with industrial uses as that market looks to expand its “last-mile” portfolio.
While we were all distracted by the pandemic, alarms have been raised on the accelerating deterioration of the environment. All of us in this industry have a role to play in creating a more sustainable future. Buildings account for nearly 70 percent of the emissions in urban centers. Boston is embarking on an ambitious plan to convert buildings to full electrification. Look for other cities and towns in the region to follow suit.
At the same time, a renewed emphasis on health and well-being will mean new challenges in building design.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
The pandemic has exposed the economic and social inequities that afflict our society, including our industry. All the stakeholders in the real estate sector – contractors, engineers, architects, brokers, designers, project managers – have to reevaluate how they source staff, who they choose to work with, and how they procure products. The industry has already begun that effort and must continue in a positive direction. Real estate can provide tremendous, long-term economic opportunity. It is incumbent on all of us to ensure all sectors of our community can reap the benefits.
Will there be curveballs and unexpected challenges? Of course. Look no further than the current supply chain crisis and the impact it is having on construction costs. Very few saw that coming. Inflation also is a problem today that few predicted. If supply chain issues extend well into 2022 and if inflation does not abate soon, we could be in for an easing of this growth period.