The homepage of the Well Living Lab’s site poses a simple yet thought-provoking question. “How much time do you spend indoors every day?” The American average is quite surprising: over 21 hours.
While spending more time outdoors is an ideal solution, for millions of people––everyone from office workers to students––getting plenty of outside time isn’t always practical. Thus it’s important to examine interior spaces so that they might be better for occupants. That people are spending 90% of their days indoors emphasizes the need for more optimized indoor environments.
That’s the purpose behind the Well Living Lab, a collaborative project by Delos and Mayo Clinic. The Lab’s pedigree is outstanding; Delos created the WELL Building Standard to promote better spaces for people, and the Mayo Clinic has a long relationship with the A&D community. The Clinic has called on renowned firms such as Perkins+Will and HGA to create built environments that facilitate wellness. Together, Delos and the Mayo Clinic aim to “research the real-world impact of indoor environments on human health and well-being, and generate evidence-based information that can be used in practical ways to create healthier indoor spaces”. Although the Lab is a fairly new initiative, it’s already one of the most exciting developments in health-first interior design.
At the Well Living Lab, Evidence-Based Design Is Leading the Way
The Mayo Clinic is well known for its focus on evidence-based practice and conducting “evidence synthesis.” The idea is that a larger corpus of academic studies and scientific information is more useful than a smaller body of research. The Mayo Clinic has long worked to compile available research to further the greater world of medical knowledge, and they’re bringing this ethic to the Well Living Lab in the form of evidence-based design. As the Lab’s medical director Brent Bauer summed it up in the Journal on Active Aging, “The goal across all of these studies, whether they’re residential, office, hospitality or hospital-room space, is to find elements that are changeable, so people know what to do the next time they model a building or upgrade an existing structure.” This quest for fully optimized indoor spaces is what’s ultimately driving the Lab’s various research projects.
In January 2017, the Lab completed its first study Acoustic, Lighting and Thermal Conditions in Offices and Their Effects on the Health and Wellness of Adult Office Workers, shortened to ALTCO. A medical records office at the Mayo Clinic temporarily relocated to experimental work modules within the Lab itself, where researchers changed environmental conditions to observe their impact. The study found that varying the conditions affected a wide range of factors in participants from their ability to work to their satisfaction with the work environment. Some changes even impacted the way participants slept, which emphasized the lasting effects that a workplace has on its employees. This sort of evidence-based methodology is the cornerstone for the Lab, offering a detailed look into how our indoor environments affect us.
The Lab currently has one facility in Rochester, MN, but a second facility is being constructed in Beijing. In addition, the Lab “intends to establish several satellite research facilities in major Chinese cities.” That the Lab would choose the infamously toxic Beijing as the location for its second facility speaks to its goals of creating better environments for humans around the world.
At its core, the Lab is based on the WELL Building Standard, which sets performance requirements for seven concepts: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. Naturally, these form the bedrock of the Lab’s philosophy and guide its work to make the indoors a better place for people to live and work. Partnered with the ethos of evidence-based design, these concepts place the spotlight on an exciting new area of experience design.
One of the Lab’s latest initiatives is a landmark three-year study that will focus on five aspects of how humans interact with indoor environments: health, performance, stress and resiliency, sleep, and comfort. This study will build on the ALTCO findings to observe how the interplay of various elements including light and air quality affect occupants. Bauer reported in the press release, “Our responsibility is to advance the science by conducting human-centered research that can be used in practical ways.”
The Lab’s Design Offers a Sneak Peek at the Future of Indoor Wellness
The Lab’s vision for indoor environments is obvious from a glance at its facility. Connecting concepts like biophilic design and experience design, the Lab’s workspace is specifically built with human wellness in mind. The space consists of modules that can be rearranged to form a range of indoor spaces. In the ALTCO study, three modules were set up in an open office configuration. Architect Magazine’s look into the Lab reveals that each module features a raised floor, programmable window shades, tintable windows, and a fully modular layout––even the plumbing is adjustable! The objective is to use the Lab to mimic a variety of commercial and residential indoor layouts.
In addition, the Lab is set up to closely monitor its occupants. ALTCO participants were outfitted with biometric wearables that sent data to a central control system, allowing researchers to monitor in real time how the participants were affected by changes in the environment.
From Architect Magazine: The Well Living Lab’s traditional appearance belies its flexible modular design
Strength In Numbers: The Lab’s Membership Alliance Promotes Corporate Wellness
While Delos and the Mayo Clinic spearheaded creation of the Well Living Lab, they’re not the only companies working to make indoor environments better. The Lab’s Membership Alliance is a network of companies “that want to help generate new knowledge, and interact with Lab experts from a wide range of scientific, medical and technical backgrounds.” Currently, the Lab has 17 founding Alliance members. Partnering companies include industry titans like IBM and Panasonic, A&D firms like HOK and HKS, and environmental leaders like Structure Tone and the International WELL Building Institute.
This robust lineup is excellent not only for the Well Living Lab but also for the general future of corporate wellness. Notably, HOK sustainable design leader Mara Baum says the company will be “implementing research findings that advance the way we design spaces with health and wellness principles in mind.” Structure Tone’s partnership with the Well Living Lab is also a promising collaboration, and the company has already taken steps to enhance wellness, such as gaining WELL Silver certification for its headquarters.
The Well Living Lab and the Future of Indoor Design
So what does the future hold for the Well Living Lab? In addition to its three-year study, the Lab will have access to a greater range of resources and technology thanks to its Membership Alliance, which will lead to more accurate and useful research. The upcoming China facility is another leap forward for wellness in the built environment in a place where such a focus is desperately needed. Aside from the actual research it’s conducting, the Lab is drawing attention to wellness, which has been lacking in indoor design. Hopefully, wellness will become a priority for A&D firms the world over, and if the Lab has anything to say about it, that will certainly be the case.