Earlier this year we visited ASID’s new headquarters as they were awarded LEED and WELL Platinum Certification status. Wendy Feldman Block of Savills Studley has followed up with additional background information on the development of this groundbreaking project, from the point of view of the real estate advisory team.
Introduced only a few years ago, WELL Building Standard has become the next-gen in building standards. With some similarities to LEED, which rates a building’s performance and the impact on the environment, the WELL certification applies to the design and policies that improve human health and well-being.
The WELL standard can be implemented in buildings of all types – new build or adapted reuse. It is customizable to fit individual needs, but spaces must address seven guiding categories: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort and Mind.
In spring 2015, the American Society of Interior Designers [ASID] retained a team at Savills Studley, led by Wendy Feldman Block, to assist in finding a new headquarters in Washington, D.C., that could improve their employees’ health and well-being, using the WELL Standard as guide.
To kick-off the project, a planning meeting was arranged with key members of ASID’s executive staff; project team members from Savills Studley, who would serve as brokers and project managers; and the architectural and design firm Perkins+Will.
Next, the leasing agent and the building owner, Carr Properties, were brought on board to discuss WELL requirements and how it can be implemented to improve the performance of the space.
Although WELL is now being broadly implemented, at the time of planning and construction, the standard was relatively new. The ASID headquarters set records by becoming the first space in the world to achieve both Platinum Level Certification for the WELL Building Standard™ (WELL™) under WELL v1 and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), under the LEED ID+C rating system.
Learning from the Experience
Although WELL standard was relatively new, Savills Studley and ASID outlined a process, which ultimately led to success. Here are four recommendations, based on first-hand experience.
1. Bring in experts. Early.
Owner Carr Properties engaged a third-party advisor to assist in understanding the recently- introduced WELL Building Standard and the impact on the collective process of signing a lease and building out the space.
The Savills Studley and ASID teams met with engineers of GHT Limited, who would handle mechanical, electrical and plumbing, and general contractor, rand* construction corporation, to ensure all participants were fully engaged in the design development and pre-construction phases.
Throughout this early collaboration, rand* construction provided in-depth pricing analyses to determine the feasibility of WELL features. These were then implemented into the design development and final construction drawings. Working with Perkins+Will, rand’s sustainability team also helped advise on the implementation of WELL and LEED requirements.
2. Rely on your real-estate advisor for guidance.
WELL’s requirements are thorough; but an advisor, such as Savills Studley, can help distill them so that they can be easily understood and agreed upon by all parties. In this case, a relatively simple document was included in the letter of intent, codifying the major business terms.
Next, an expanded version of the document outlined each specification for the building and tenant space to achieve WELL certification. All required the owner’s approval and collaboration, since many features affected the base building’s operating infrastructure, as well as other tenants in the building. Many of the upgrade costs were borne by the tenant.
3. Anticipate an investment up front and schedule accurately
Although working with a relatively new set of standards on a first-time project, it was understood that there could be unforeseen expenses and schedule adjustments. ASID also believed these would be justified by the outcome and knew that with the energy savings, employee productivity and retention, the initial investment was worthwhile.
For this project, ASID invested in a circadian lighting solution and improved building HVAC systems.
- Once fully specified, it was determined that an additional eight weeks were required to procure special lights that responded to the body’s daily circadian rhythms. That’s a considerably longer timeframe than for most standard lighting.
- Note: As more products have come to market, it’s reasonable to assume that pricing will come down and products will be more readily available. At this time, however, lighting cost was nearly 20 percent higher than typical lighting.
- Modifications to the base building’s HVAC system, including the installation of carbon filters, were essential to meet project requirements. Because of these filters, the building’s fan-powered motors needed to be increased to maintain the necessary airflow.
- Note: New projects can incorporate the WELL HVAC requirements construction. Also, tenant interior projects or retrofits can overcome HVAC obstacles and ultimately create a healthier environment by working closely with building management.
We spend about 90 percent of our time indoors, and our physical environment impacts our health more than lifestyle, medical care and genetics. For companies, investing in people and helping to improve their physical and mental health is common sense: 90 percent of corporate expenses are tied to salary and benefits, which means the ROI of healthier and happier employees extends to cost savings, too.
4. Prepare to secure certification from the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI)—then maintain it.
- Unlike with LEED, where applicants simply submit paperwork showing compliance, WELL requires teams to review project documents and letters of assurance.
- Once approved, a WELL assessor visits the space to perform on-site visual inspections, spot checks, measurements and performance tests.
- A project cannot achieve certification until all steps are completed. At ASID headquarters, certification was ultimately awarded by the Green Business Certification, Inc. (GBCI), a third-party certifying body, in mid-2017.
- It’s important to be aware that WELL requires ongoing monitoring. Once LEED status is achieved, the process ends. But an integral part of WELL is re-certification every three years.
The innovative 8,500-square-foot ASID headquarters incorporates many features adhering to WELL standards, such as:
- Air & Water – Carbon filters were installed in the air-handling units and the water purification systems. All cleaning and chemical storage units are closed from adjacent spaces and equipped with exhaust vents.
- Nourishment – Fruits and vegetables are always available. The hydration station provides filtered water to encourage non-sugary beverages. The preferred event caterer specializes in fresh menu options.
- Light – As mentioned, special circadian lighting mimics the 24-hour natural body cycle (known as the circadian rhythm). In addition, 90 percent of occupied office space has direct access to natural light.
- Fitness – Sit/stand desks encourage movement and collaboration. A gym offers various types of exercise.
- Comfort – Acoustics of the space are designed so that collaboration areas reduce sound levels. Six different styles of meeting rooms feature whiteboard walls, TV screens and notation tables, and staff members have the option to select which area best fits their gathering.
- Mind – The office has a dedicated wellness room for relaxation and mental pauses, which is acoustically engineered to limit outside noise.
ASID can truly claim that they practice what they preach—by creating a space reflecting their belief: Design impacts lives.
Employees report productivity improvements with the work environment and improved well-being, attributable to the availability of healthy foods and the on-site gym. In addition, staff retention is well above historical standards.
A direct and significant influence on employee productivity, efficiency and creativity has been observed. To demonstrate the impact of design on people, ASID is conducting multiple pre- and post-occupancy studies, funded by the ASID Foundation.
- The pre-occupancy study measured the employees’ interactions, movements and environmental conditions.
- After six months, the study was replicated to evaluate how the design of the new space contributed to the behavioral changes toward healthier lifestyles and increases in productivity.
Additionally, during the required third-year recertification, more measurements will become available.
It is smart business to recognize that Millennial preferences in the workplace are influencing the office market. For example, Millennials request natural light, fresh food options, acoustic controls, ergonomics, and sustainability—all of which are addressed by WELL. The result is that WELL can prove highly valuable for employee recruitment and retention.