It’s Flu Season – is your Building WELL?

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It’s Flu Season – is your Building WELL? Check in with what Krysta Aten-Schell has to say below and find out!

HOLT Architects’ Krysta Aten-Schell, a Healthcare Architect and HOLT’s first WELL-Accredited Professional (and one of only 5,200 world-wide), discusses WELL Buildings and the positive impacts of WELL design.

What does WELL mean?  WELL isn’t an acronym, it’s a philosophy.  It is a new global rating system for building design, operations and maintenance that was developed by architects, scientists, engineers and doctors. Its goal is to create environments that support human health and well-being. All the preconditions and optimizations that you earn points for are backed by science and are tied to a specific human body system that is affected by that criteria.  For instance, Precondition 01 – Fundamental Air Quality, is supported by studies on human respiratory wellness with the goal of reducing of asthma and allergies in buildings.

So, what is a WELL Building? A WELL Building is one that supports the overall health and well-being of those who work, live, learn, shop, eat or worship inside of it.  Any building can be a WELL Building, whether it is existing or new as long as the owner is committed to taking care of the employees, customers, students, residents or other occupants who use the space.

How does WELL relate to LEED? WELL and LEED are symbiotic certifications – you could say that while LEED is about saving the planet and our environment, WELL is about saving the people.

Do we go into WELL Buildings every day? We do not – WELL is a new global standard, so there are currently only about 230 certified buildings in the world right now. They are mostly office buildings – that is where it all started. But there are also multi-family housing developments, educational facilities, commercial kitchens and healthcare buildings.

What does it take to certify a WELL building? The first thing that it takes is a commitment the overall well-being for the building’s occupants. This comes by creating building and operations policies that support human health. As the building is being planned and designed, WELL elements are incorporated to the designs.  Communities themselves can also be WELL Certified.  A WELL Community  focuses on planning developments so that they are walkable and provide access to healthy resources such as gyms, playground, trails, grocery stores, gardens, farmers markets or similar amenities for the neighborhood.

What are some WELL elements? There are 10 areas of WELL: air, water, nourishment, light, movement, thermal comfort, sound, materials, mind and community.  There’s a “bonus” area too for innovation in design or operations and management policies that support human health in new ways.

It sounds like HOLT’s new Ithaca office would be a good candidate for WELL Certification – is that something we could do? Yes, we are actually pursuing that right now!  At HOLT, we believe in practicing what we do for our clients.  If we want to encourage them to be WELL, we know we should do it first.

Did HOLT know they were designing a WELL building or were they just using best practices? From what I understand it was best practices.  WELL wasn’t on the radar at the time the building was under design. But the HOLT Ithaca Office received LEED Gold Certification, and LEED and WELL go hand-in-hand. When you are getting LEED certified, you are typically 30% of the way to achieving WELL.

How does planning a WELL building impact a project process? Ideally, it all starts from the very beginning, so the impacts are small cost-wise but they can make a world of difference for the final design. After the team makes the commitment to go WELL, we identify the goals that the building can achieve and start putting ideas together to reach the goal just like any other design project. I call it a “design with a higher purpose in mind”. We are taking something that would be designed anyway and kicking it up a notch to further invest in the people who are going to occupy that space everyday.

Can you give me an example of what a WELL Building could be? Yes, a space that most people can relate to is a Medical Office Building, or a doctor’s office. Stress is very real in healthcare – for both patients and for staff. A WELL Medical Office Building would have all the typical clinical areas but they would be designed with a focus on providing elements that help reduce stress levels and employee burnout, such as: serenity spaces, engagement spaces, healthy food options, natural day-lighting, electric lighting based on circadian rhythm.  The building would also be designed to encourage occupant movement.  Did you know that your metabolism slows down 90 percent after 30 minutes of sitting? We encourage the use of standing desks and active spaces in our designs to try and combat these types of “normal” unhealthy habits we all do everyday.

Can you tell me more about WELL and circadian rhythm? Circadian rhythm is your body’s natural clock that is run by hormones and it is negatively impacted by blue light. We spend 90% of our time indoors in man-made spaces with blue light from our phones to the fluorescent and LED light fixtures that everyone is using nowadays. Nature is where our bodies are meant to be, so we are trying to match our indoor environment to the outside. With WELL, we provide natural day-lighting wherever we can and design adaptable lighting that changes as the day progresses to help minimize the impacts of blue light.  LED lighting is great for saving energy, but it has to be tuned to the right color for our bodies to absorb it with the most positive impact.

Now the money question – does WELL cost more? This is a good question. Like LEED, there are certification fees if you want to go that route, but the cost to design a WELL Building isn’t necessarily more. The design decisions don’t cost more to achieve and about half the WELL points you can achieve rely on company policies and operations.  The way a company runs is just as important as how the building is designed.  There are documented positive paybacks for WELL — reduction in employee healthcare costs, less turnover, less illness, and less lost hours.  Employees report less stress, better sleep habits and overall better quality of work/life balance in WELL buildings.


About Krysta: After attending a WELL Building seminar at the Syracuse COE in 2017, Krysta Aten-Schell decided the WELL Building Standard was a natural extension of her work as a Healthcare Architect and decided to pursue accreditation.  After a lot of studying and one big exam about architecture and the human body later, Krysta became WELL-Accredited. In addition to her WELL Accreditation, Krysta is a LEED BD+C Accredited Professional and a member of HOLT’s Shades of Green Committee that promotes the use of healthy materials and operates under the mantra “Healthy Buildings that Do No Harm”. If you have a question for Krysta, please reach out to her at