Designing Architecture Around Health + Wellness

05.12.22 | Alicia Drumm, Lauren Perry, + Erik Tellander | Sustainability

There has been an increasing focus on health and wellness trends in the field of architecture. Not only do clients want their architects to deliver beautiful, efficient, budget-conscious buildings, but also designs that promote a positive environment, occupant comfort, and social, emotional, and intellectual wellbeing of all users.

In the wake of COVID-19 universities, offices, and civic buildings alike are responding to an increased demand for spaces that foster community and generate a renewed sense of connection with nature. The architectural response to this need for integrated health and wellness cannot simply be a facade, rather it must encapsulate these principles of wellness in all aspects of the design, from the choice of structural systems to the selection of finish materials within.

The goal for Brown University’s Wellness Center and Residence Hall was not only to outwardly show a commitment to wellness, but to create an environment whose character truly supports healthy living.

While material selection is a vital cornerstone of healthy building design, these choices are not the only way to infuse a design with wellness.

The building’s holistic approach to wellbeing begins with the commitment to select healthy and sustainable building materials. Using a hybrid structure of cross-laminated timber (CLT) and steel, the project infuses natural building materials into the bones of the building and leaves them uncovered and on display. The exposed wood is a celebrated element of the design that amplifies the healing quality of natural materials. Exposing the CLT additionally reduces the amount of man-made materials on the project such as gypsum wall board, paint, and other synthetic materials used in conventional construction.

While material selection is a vital cornerstone of healthy building design, these choices are not the only way to infuse a design with wellness. Indoor air quality, proper daylighting, innovative building systems, and access to nature (to name a few) must also be considered and integrated into the design.

The residence hall above Brown’s Wellness Center employs natural ventilation in bedrooms for improved indoor air quality and utilizes energy recovery technology in its mechanical systems. This mix of passive and active design strategies serve to reduce the building’s overall energy use. All of the building’s systems, equipment, and appliances are electric (supplied by off-site solar and wind providers), eliminating the burning of fossil fuels.

The design also places a heavy emphasis on providing occupants direct access to the outdoors. Gathering spaces for residents on upper floors optimize views to the Pembroke Field across the street, while end users in the Wellness areas have access to four distinct courtyards - each with its own character.

A viewing garden for the counseling and psychological services department is the focal point around which counselors’ offices are arranged. A convening courtyard is an extension of the building’s community kitchen in which residents, patients, and employees may gather for a casual cup of coffee or a more formal nutritional event. The two courtyards facing Pembroke field are extensions of the park, providing a front yard and sense of arrival for all users.

This center for on-campus health at Brown University is designed to LEED Silver standards and uses the FitWel and Well certification systems as guidelines for the design of healthy buildings.