What is WELL? Lessons Learned at the Kentucky WELL Workshop

Well combines best practices in design and construction with evidence-based health and scientific research – harnessing buildings as vehicles to support human health and well-being.”

–International Well Building Institute

Can a building improve the health and wellness of its occupants?

Can a strategically designed building nurture mental health?

Can Architecture help to reduce obesity, cardiovascular disease, and ultimately reduce mortality rates?

The WELL Building Standard resoundingly exclaims, “YES!” After seven years of rigorous research by leading physicians, scientists, and industry professionals, the International Well Building Institute (IWBI) released the first-ever Building Standard focused exclusively on occupant health and wellness. This is a major step forward in our understanding of how the built environment actually affects US – a people who spend 90% of their time INDOORS.

For those familiar with LEED, WELL is a building standard with a similar structure, and although there is some overlap (it turns out there is a link between environmental and human health), the expressed goals are different. WELL Certification provides a building owner with assurance and evidence that their building is an asset to the physical and mental health of its occupants. And, although WELL Certification comes at a cost (similar to LEED), the third-party review is critical, because through on-site performance verification, the WELL-Assessor measures how the building actually operates to prove that the building does what the plaque on the wall says it does. And, when health is in the balance, isn’t it worth it?

On September 15, Harshaw Trane hosted the first ever WELL-Workshop in Kentucky. It was an opportunity for Kentucky designers, policy makers, and health professionals to get an in-depth overview of the concepts of the WELL Building Standard including air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. We also had the pleasure of hearing from the project team behind the Harmony Project in Louisville, which is the first Kentucky Project to register for WELL Certification. It is currently under design development, but the project represents an exciting and forward-thinking local client who has recognized the value of building for community health.

As a WELL AP and WELL Faculty Trainee, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to join Jaclyn Whitaker (Vice President of Technical Solutions for the IWBI) in presenting the concepts and features of the WELL Building Standard. Our focus was on how each feature was designed to address issues that impact health and wellness through design, operations, and behavior. Now that word is out about WELL and spreading through the bluegrass, it is my hope that design professionals and clients will take a hard look at the benefits that the Standard can deliver. When considering a building-life-cycle cost of 30 years, personnel costs significantly outweigh any other building or operational cost. (The US average is 92% of overall costs are in the people.) The WELL Building Standard is focused on ensuring that a 92% investment in reducing medical costs and absenteeism, while also improving productivity, retention, and happiness is WELL worth it.

Knowing our health is so intrinsically linked to the design and operation of our built environment is both alarming and empowering. We now have the tools to measure progress in how our designs can truly create a healthier and happier society. Health and Wellness has appropriately been termed “The Second Wave of Sustainability.” Kentucky has already demonstrated itself to be a leader in Green Building. I think Kentucky is ready to catch this second wave.

Michael Hogan, AIA, NCARB, WELL AP, GCP, LEED AP BD+C, CPHC, GGP