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Feeling Good in the Neighborhood: Healthy Urban Affordable Living

Posted by Hannah Feil Greenhood

Wellness is quickly becoming a major trend in real estate - and for good reason. Chronic disease now accounts for seven out of every 10 deaths in the U.S.1 To address the problem, improve the health and well-being of residents and to meet consumer demand for healthy living, designers are increasingly turning to the WELL Building Standard.

How can design professionals help?

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans spend 90% of their time indoors, 65% of that time is spent in our homes.2

Design professionals have an opportunity to influence this space in ways that have positive impacts on health. Incorporating the WELL Building standard into design provides a benchmark for building performance and operation to ensure that time spent indoors is helping, not hurting.

WELL is for people

The WELL Building Standard is made up of seven concepts that directly correspond to the needs of our body’s systems: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.

D/P/S took a holistic approach in the application of the concepts by considering such things as the location of stairs, healthy sleep habits and water quality.

The seven concepts served as guiding principles in the design and development of Sterling | Downtown, a 107 unit, affordable, multifamily housing community in Albuquerque, New Mexico:

Air

  • Smoking ban reduces exposure to second hand smoke.
  • Elimination of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during construction reduced occupational risk during construction.
  • Carpet tiles at entrances only decrease dust and dust mites.
  • Operable windows for primary ventilation facilitate optimal cubic feet per minute (CFM) or airflow in the building.
  • High efficiency MERV 13 filters improve overall air quality.
  • Easy to clean, nonporous finishes and details throughout the building.

Water

  • Exceptional water saving methods throughout the building including WaterSense certified plumbing fixtures, low-flow toilets, faucets and showerheads along with water saving irrigation strategies.
  • Access to high quality, filtered water at two prominent water stations in the public spaces of building.

Nourishment

  • Basins and fixtures: The size including depth of basin and distance between faucet and basin were carefully selected to increase usability space along with promote cleanliness while washing hands or food.
  • Community area that supports mindful eating strategies by providing a shared fridge, space to prepare meals and eat together.
  • Active transportation support featuring a bike storage room with space for a bike per unit, lockable storage for bicycle gear, air for tires, a fix-it station with necessary tools, and filtered water station. Critical site selection with access to healthy foods. There is a local grocery store within walking distance and a Downtown Grower’s Market two blocks away. The Grower’s Market accepts food assistance credits or EBT.
  • Space to grow in order to stimulate healthier food choices. An herb garden on the South side of the building welcomes the community and privacy trellises give residents the ability to plant if they choose.

Light

  • Light influences sleep quality and affects how a person feels overall. Integrated lighting design mimics natural circadian rhythm and tunes light to people’s needs in the private and public spaces of the building.
  • High CRI makes true color appear as intended.

Fitness

  • Fitness center adjacent to the roof terrace featuring great views and machines for cardio, stretch and weight bearing exercises.
  • The building has a bike score of 91 and a walk score of 83.
  • Activated stairs (interior and widened exterior).
  • Active transportation support featuring a bike storage room with space for a bike per unit, lockable storage for bicycle gear, air for tires, a fix-it station with necessary tools, and filtered water station.

Comfort

  • Large exterior windows accentuate great views
  • Natural art work, and custom wall coverings speak to the beauty and culture of New Mexico.
  • Signage throughout the building describes and encourages residents to stay engaged with the healthy aspects of the building.
  • Acoustics are critical to human comfort. By upgrading the base code requirements in the exterior shell and between dwelling units, the building helps mitigate acoustic issues while still balancing the costs of construction.

Mind

  • To connect residents to the outdoors, large exterior windows accentuate great views.
  • Biophilic imagery, natural art work, and custom wall coverings speak to the beauty and culture of New Mexico not only supporting our inherent connection to nature, but defining the culture of the place.
  • Educational signage throughout the building describes and encourages residents to stay engaged with the healthy aspects of the building.
  • Social services are readily available to residents at Sterling | Downtown. It’s critical residents’ have the support they need in order to focus on what is truly important: health, family, work, and community.

Health and wellness for all

Currently, projects that have adopted the WELL Building Standard are market-rate and/or luxury projects. An example of healthy urban, affordable living, Sterling | Downtown is the first WELL registered multi-family housing project in the Southwest. It is also designed to achieve LEED Platinum, because human sustainability and environmental sustainability go hand in hand.

Learn more about the WELL Building Standard and the International WELL Building Institute.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic Disease Overview page. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/overview.htm. Accessed April 6, 2007.
  2. US. Environmental Protection Agency. 1989. Report to Congress on indoor air quality: Volume 2. EPA/400/1-89/001C. Washington, DC.

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