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Mindful : February 2019
n all likelihood, the office space you occupy doesn’t quite measure up—in any way, shape, or form—to the Washington, DC, headquarters of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). After all, mod- ern buildings routinely expose us to conditions that may compromise our well-being, sabotage our mood, squelch our creativity, and even keep our focus squarely on Friday at 5:00. By contrast, every high- and low-tech detail of ASID’s workplace has been reimagined and retrofitted to pro- mote physical and/or mental health, the goal being to positively affect both the well-being and productivity of everyone working there. And the results of this nearly-three-year-old experiment, which may one day serve as a model for a vast assortment of cubicled wastelands, have been so striking that it’s not hard to imagine the staff of 30 collectively uttering the unthinkable: Thank goodness it’s Monday. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Alan Green is a veteran investigative repor ter in Washington, DC, whose books include Animal Underworld: Inside America’s Black Market for Rare and Exotic Species. His most recent piece for Mindful, in August 2017, was a firsthand account of taking part in an MBSR course. I “A building can do more than ‘no harm’... it can actually enhance the way that we live.” Rachel Gutter, president of the International WELL Building Institute Among the many hallmarks of this 7,500-square-foot office is the atten- tion paid to the quality of light. The space purposefully faces northwest, so it’s bathed in a soft ambient shim- mer throughout the entire day. The interior lighting is synced to parallel the human body’s circadian rhythm, so the bright, white bulbs that supple- ment the morning sun gradually give way to warmer, yellow hues that help prepare for the brain’s nightly surge of melatonin, the hormone that aids in the control of daily sleep–wake cycles. Sensors affixed to window mullions calculate glare and, if necessary, auto- matically raise or lower the shades to regulate its intensity. Equally notable is the attention to biophilia—the human affinity for the natural world, which creates a posi- tive, healing atmosphere. For exam- ple, the office is filled with desktop terrariums, window-ledge greenery, and architectural patterns that mimic the natural world—everything from curved, cloudlike ceiling details to a conference room’s rich blue carpeting, fashioned from recycled fishing nets, whose randomized purplish swirls create the sensation of gazing across a not-quite-still pond. What’s more, a prominently displayed flat-panel monitor serves as a digital canary-in- the-coal-mine, offering a real-time snapshot of ozone, carbon dioxide, and other air-quality levels aggre- gated from sensors scattered about the office. When any of those readings exceed acceptable levels, the HVAC system flushes the space with fresh, filtered air. Similar attention is paid to the social interaction and self-care the space fosters. There is no assigned seating, for instance, leaving the organization’s employees—including its CEO—to decide each day which workstation, office, or conference table best suits their individual whims or collaborative needs. Sit-stand desks are purposefully angled to provide those facing each other with visual privacy (as a bonus, those angles add another biophilic element). The customer-service area, where workers field some 4,000 monthly phone calls, are designed with thicker walls and acoustic dampening to mitigate the distracting din of the classic office. A consultant analyzed the organi- zation’s demographics to calculate the optimal room temperature—a setting that corporate America has historically configured to accommo- date men. A café stocked weekly with organic fruits and vegetables awaits those in need of a healthy snack, while a comfortable out-of-the-way break room is reserved for breastfeeding, meditation, or an afternoon snooze. Just as significant, however, this “living laboratory” at ASID showcases the intersection of mindfulness and the modern building, which offers the promise of dramatically transforming the structures in which we live and play, study, heal, and even spend the waning days of our lives. It’s part of a growing global movement to create spaces that contribute to healthier minds and bodies—an effort spear- headed by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), a New York-based public-benefit corpora- tion founded in 2013. By tapping an exhaustive body of evidence-based scientific and medical research, IWBI devised an elaborate template for measuring, certifying, and then monitoring a wide array of elements that may impact the physical and mental healthfulness of a building’s occupants. → PHOTOGRAPHBYLUMINA/STOCKSY February 2019 mindful 67 well-being