An often overlooked but nonetheless vital element of sustainability is occupant health and comfort. After all, sustainability does not merely pertain to the environmental impact of the building, but the building’s capacity to support wellness on all levels. However, supporting occupant health does not just mean providing clean drinking water and stairs for people to get their steps in (although these are both important facets); it is an expansive, holistic design method that when done properly, impacts every element of the project right down to the raw materials selected for construction. Like the rating systems helping guide our contemporary notion of ‘green building,’ the WELL design standard informs and supports the design of healthy buildings.  The International WELL Building Institute is a global leader in the movement to improve indoor environmental quality and occupant health. The standard is broken up into ten different categories: air, water, nourishment, light, movement, thermal comfort, sound, materials, mind, and community. At Lionakis, we utilize the WELL building standard on a plethora of projects and reference its defined strategies even on projects that are not seeking WELL certification.

One of our current projects, the Tuolumne County CRCs (Community Resiliency Centers), pictured in the renderings below, are working to attain WELL certification. Several key strategies incorporated into the project include material selection, indoor thermal comfort and regulation, mental and physical health infrastructure, and community engagement.  Building materials, particularly indoor finishes, often contain VOCs and other toxic chemicals that have an adverse effect on building occupants.  In an attempt to mitigate toxins in the indoor environment, the project team will limit the presence of Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury on-site and will specify indoor materials, such as sealants, paints, and flooring that meet CDPH Standard Method v1.1-2010, a vigorous standard regulating VOC emission in products.  Indoor air quality will be monitored to ensure safe conditions and thermal and humidity controls will act to improve comfort within the building. Designing to support both mental and physical health is a vital aspect of a successful ‘healthy building.’ From the onset of the project, Tuolumne CRCs placed an emphasis on designing restorative spaces.  Access to nature features prominently on the project site with plenty of scenic outdoor space. Mental health training and education will also be made available to building occupants. Inherent to the practical nature of the designed spaces, the Tuolumne CRCs are built to support the community through inclusive and accessible design.

In line with growing awareness for occupant health and well-being in the building industry, LEED recently rolled out a new innovation credit entitled “design for active occupants,” which has been achieved on Lionakis’ beautiful new Business and Technology Building for Mission Community College, also pictured below. The credit itself strives to improve the overall health of a building’s users by encouraging stair use over the elevator. Seven required features of the staircase include but are not limited to, physical accessibility to at least 50% of the occupants, visual accessibility from the entrance before one even sees the elevator, a centralized location in the main lobby, consistent and solid lighting comparable to the rest of the building, and even sensory stimulation within the stairwell, such as artwork or music. With the main lobby’s sleek, engaging staircase, the design team has accomplished just that.

Regardless of building certification, we strive to support occupant well-being on all projects. Through our Healthcare Studio projects do not seek WELL certification, they meet their own set of rigorous design standards meant to support patient recovery. Importantly, many of our healthcare projects use biophilic design in interior spaces to promote well-being and a connection to place. Biophilic design, or designed connectivity to the natural world through either the direct use of nature (i.e. plants) or the indirect use via organic colors, patterns, and artwork, is an emerging field of design and one gaining traction due to its documented psychological benefits.  At Lionakis, we continue to find new and exciting ways to improve occupant well-being as the industry questions and reinterprets what it means to design a truly healthy building.