A Healthy Trend: How the WELL Building Standard is Elevating Healthcare Architecture

The WELL Building Standard encourages design that takes care of people

Max Parrill, a principal and architect in Dekker/Perich/Sabatini's healthcare studio, earned the WELL Accredited Professional (WELL AP) credential through the International WELL Building Institute, placing him among a group of leading professionals dedicated to supporting human health and wellbeing in the built environment.

WELL AP is the new, leading credential signifying specialization in the WELL Building Standard which focuses on health and wellness of building occupants. We sat down to talk to Max about WELL and what it means for architecture and design, particularly in a healthcare setting.

Interview with Healthcare Architect Max Parrill


Why did you want to pursue the WELL AP credential?

I’ve always been interested in sustainability and health, and as a Board Certified Healthcare Architect, it made sense to engage with WELL as a way to touch the lives of patients and caregivers in a way that would make the most positive impact. The WELL Building Standard and the credential complement the work I’m already doing, but there are some things that we might not always think about, and this helps bring a higher level of awareness to our design work.

What are some of the advantages of incorporating these types of wellness objectives into the design of a building?

A lot of the WELL Building Standard has to do with what goes on in the buildings after we [designers] are gone. How are people living within a building? That’s what WELL is concerned with, and as designers, there are things we can do to make buildings healthier for people.

For example, we always try to build a stair that is inviting, that’s day lit, that’s spacious, that feels like a place you want to be... so if that means that people are going to bypass the elevator and use the stairs to go up and down four floors for the life of the building, that’s a great thing.

The WELL Building Standard helps articulate these kinds of concepts, and it helps show why these features should be important design elements. It gives us and clients another way to think about the project.

Rust Medical Center

So will we be seeing a lot of projects seeking WELL certification?

Actually achieving certification has many requirements, and it’s not always the right program for every project. But there are things within the WELL Building Standard that should be applied to every project, even if you aren’t seeking certification.

There are things in the standard that I see clients doing and that we’re doing here at D/P/S already.... it's more than just another standard with more requirements; it’s a real set of values.

What types of wellness features do you see implemented at D/P/S already?

So things like yoga classes. At D/P/S we have in-house yoga classes, support for staff mental health, gym memberships, and even our Fitbit Challenges where we’re encouraging people to be active. One of the WELL Building features has to do with altruism and volunteer work, and we’ve always been very supportive of that as an organization.

Our culture here at D/P/S is truly committed to wellness, and you see it in the fact that we respect people’s family life, that we try to make this a joyful place to work, that we have all these elements that reinforce people’s health. I think that’s maybe one of the things that I got out of this process personally, was realizing that, yeah, it really is true to who we are already.

D/P/S employees practicing yoga

And how do you see clients employing wellness?

We've recently worked with DaVita Medical Group, a division of DaVita Inc., who is opening the recently completed Sunport Healthcare Center. At its core, the organization is committed to health and wellbeing as they deliver healthcare in the community. When working with DaVita Medical Group, they really thought about ways to make it a positive environment for their teammates as well as patients and visitors.

The elements of the WELL Building Standard support their “Trilogy of Care” (“Caring for Our Patients, Caring for Each Other, and Caring for Our World”). WELL also parallels DaVita’s approach of a “Community First and a Company Second", so there is a good deal of concurrence between their corporate culture and WELL.

While not certified under the WELL Building Standard, the project still includes many aspects reflecting the intent. The stair is an easy way to motivate people to be active, so we made sure they were open, provided views to the landscape, and aligned with the feature for Interior Fitness Circulation.

We helped them design a fitness gym and locker rooms with showers, (Active Transportation Support) and incorporate sit/stand desks, which fit into the criteria for Active Furnishings and Ergonomics. Their teammate break rooms are gathering places and reflect healthy eating options (Mindful Eating). Orienting windows in order to maximize daylight and minimize heat and glare works towards Visual Lighting Design, Daylighting Fenestration, and Right to Light. High ceilings, vistas to the mountains and volcanos, intrinsic wayfinding that orients occupants to the exterior, and a landscaped courtyard harmonize with features for Biophilia and Beauty and Design.

Sunport Healthcare Center, DaVita Medical Group

What does the WELL Building Standard mean in terms of healthcare design?

A lot of it is about staying healthy in the first place. What you eat, how active you are… some of it is as simple as eating fresh vegetables and reducing consumption of processed foods. Ultimately, that’s really the frontline of healthcare in this country – helping people achieve healthy lifestyles.

A lot of what we do as healthcare architects is reacting to diseases after they’ve gotten out of hand, but at the same time, much of our work is focused on safeguarding people’s health. We think about that a lot here, about the distinction between sickness and wellness, and how that informs design.

Much of the evolution in healthcare in this country in recent years is an awakening to the need for preventative care, to ensure people stay healthy in the first place, so it’s all related.

How does WELL relate to LEED? What’s the connection between health and sustainability?

There’s some overlap. LEED is a system focused more on sustainability from an energy standpoint and from a standpoint of the building itself. The WELL standard has really more to do with people’s lives and what they’re doing over the course of the day. But yeah, there are obviously things like daylight, or the quality of the air inside of a building, where the standards echo one another.

There’s a WELL Building Feature related to site walkability, so both standards consider how a building relates to its context. And actually some of the WELL features connect to aspects of LEED directly in terms of how criteria are laid out.

There is a LEED system for healthcare, and a future WELL pilot program for healthcare under development now.

What’s the most important thing for people to know about WELL?

Ultimately, there’s something about when we put a name to a thing... like naming a plant; it existed before we named it, but the name changes the way we relate to it. And that’s how I see what’s happening here. WELL changes our relationship to this whole set of ideas, bringing them into focus.

The WELL Building Standard encourages design that takes care of people, which embodies our values in a meaningful way, particularly in a healthcare setting.