NeoCon 2018: Meet the Speakers – Educational Seminars Part 1

NeoCon 2018 is just around the corner! We reached out to some of the speakers of the most anticipated sessions to learn more about their their presentations and thoughts on NeoCon 50.

If you have been following our pre-NeoCon coverage this year, our story outlining the process that The Mart programming team coordinates for speaker selection, you know that the carefully curated assortment of educational seminars has something for everyone.

The vetting process considers the professional background, expertise and subject matter when reviewing the (over 800 applications this year). Having attended many presentations in the past, we know the presenters speak with authority and passion about their chosen topic. As always, we wanted to know more, and reached out to several of the speakers on background and talk about their upcoming event.

We also plan to cover many of the presentations as our team attends the show, next week! If you haven’t had time to register for your CEU seminars, you can peruse the seminar information and register here!

T229 | Tuesday, June 12 | 4:00 – 5:00 PM

Biophilic Design: What Interior Designers Need to Know to Implement it with Compelling Case Studies

We can use the emerging field of Biophilic Design to create building interiors that connect people to nature; that are connected to their place and mimic the sensory delights of a hike through the woods; that evoke the emotions we feel when immersed in water, that bring nature’s smells, sounds, colors and textures indoors. This seminar will explore clear and compelling case studies of built projects that illustrate Biophilic Design strategies in interior spaces. Participants will leave will practical resources, tools and tips they can use to embrace this newly emerging field.

  • Tracy Backus, WELL AP, LEED AP ID+C, director of sustainable programs, Teknion, Washington, D.C.
  • Amanda Sturgeon, CEO, International Living Future Institute, Seattle, WA

Conscientious designers are aware of the movement in the topics related to sustainability and well-being. We caught up with Tracy Backus and Amanda Sturgeon to get their thoughts on the subject.

Tracy Backus – Courtesy of Teknion | Amanda Sturgeon – Courtesy The Living Future Institute

Approaching the topic of biophilic design from your respective positions, what do you think are the most compelling reasons for designers (and people in general) to become more aware of the effect of these elements to be incorporated into the spaces we live, work and play in?

“Teknion’s leadership has been focused on sustainability for many years. The chief sales officer is also the chief sustainability officer. We have invested heavily in our sustainability efforts, for example, we own approximately 80 percent of our supply chain. This allows us to be agile with changes and helps differentiate ourselves. 90 percent of what we sell, we make, we outsource very little. This gives us more control and has become a key business initiative. Our sustainability team is investigating materiality, rating systems, and work as the liaison between the market and what our clients will need in the future. We are investigating materiality, rating systems, and work as the liaison between the market and our clients, in a sense, as “the canary in the coal mine.” – Tracy Backus

“We want to add to the perspective and understanding the elements of biophilic design. There are many lesser known results, such as the psychological patterns of how people and nature interact. We would like to illustrate how a space creates prospect and refuge, and how people’s experiences play out in spaces that are designed to enhance their experience through those interactions. Sometimes it is as simple as making sure the design can protect the view. People need to discover, explore and have ways to quench their curiosity around their environment. Access to views of the outside is key. Until recently many spaces have been monolithic, with a very basic palette, and not a lot of sensory variation. We are finding that the lack of change of light and pattern, creates isolated interior environments. People need to see the changing light patterns outside throughout the day, and need to hear wind and rain, to be in touch with the natural world.”

Biophilic design is not just about providing green walls. We are hoping to encourage people do see the potential to go deeper and have a more profound effect in their design solutions. It is important to collect and provide the data to prove the efficacy of adding biophilic elements in workspaces and to expand on the information designers currently have available to them. Salesforce, Amazon new HQ, Google, are all embracing a biophilic design framework – building the spaces to build their tools, by sharing case studies we are hoping attendees will walk away inspired to incorporate some of these ideas into their current and future projects.” – Amanda Sturgeon

The Living Future Institute website features a map of biophilic design projects. Where are you seeing the most activity and commitment to integrating biophilic elements into projects? If so, what types of projects predominate these efforts?

“We are seeing a lot of activity in Europe, where companies are increasingly more receptive to work-life balance, the challenge here in the US is that the C-suite wants proof that sustainability and incorporation of biophilic elements make a difference. They want assurances that it is not just a “nice to have” but can be a need to have, with measurable results. We need more metrics to provide that proof! We need to prove how these improvements and incorporation of these principles in workplace planning and design also impacts the design of products and materials. Working with evidence-based statistics is the direction we need to move forward with.” – Tracy Backus


T208 | Tuesday, June 12 | 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM

LEEDING and Living WELL in Chicago: A Case Study in Delivering a High-Performance Workplace

It is a whole new world in sustainability with changes to LEED v4 and the introduction of the WELL Building Standard. This panel will present how they took this challenge head on and decided to apply both at once for their firm. Attend this program to learn more about the pleasure and pain points in the lessons learned in generating a high-performance workspace. Hear how they defined the problems, and what that meant for the process of defining the future. Learn how different types of research can be used to enhance the evolution of a project and explore ways in which the built environment can become a laboratory for continual improvement.

We interviewed Lida Lewis, Director of Wellbeing Design at HKS about the design of their Chicago office, which will be presented in the referenced presentation.

We are seeing many new projects going for multiple certifications. For the project you are going to discuss, how did you arrive at the decision to go with these two certifications? One is difficult enough but adding more criteria to meet both, how challenging was that?

It was challenging, for sure—but we like a good challenge! The complexity of pursuing both was lessened when the IWBI (International WELL Building Institute) released a WELL and LEED Crosswalk during the course of the project. In it, they tell you specifically what can get full or partial crossover credit to meet both certification goals. We certainly factored in what would be doubly effective toward both goals in our decision-making.

Of course, part of the reason we went for both is because each program aims for different targets. LEED helps us watch our footprint on the earth. WELL helps us make sure we keep in mind the occupants and their wellbeing. Together, they provide both a ceiling and a floor for a lot of aspects of design.

To see how that factors in, a great example is lighting design. If we were designing only for LEED, lighting design focuses on maximizing natural light, controlling artificial light, and minimizing your watts per square foot. Conversely, if we were designing only for WELL, we might get caught up in looking at occupant wellbeing only. There, we’re looking at color rendering values of the lighting, points of glare which are both artificial and natural, and of course circadian support and visual acuity, among many others. Considering either in isolation can create shortcomings–LEED can lead to projects with insufficient lighting to support tasks or your wellbeing, perhaps projects overheated or troubled by glare with too much natural light, etc. For WELL, you might get so wrapped up in the quality of the light that your lighting use intensity balloons out of control. For this, and many other dimensions of a space, they work in concert to help provide a “ceiling” and a “floor” for us to target an ideal balance range between footprint and wellbeing for what we can truly call an optimal performance environment. The space not only excels in terms of the LEED criteria (energy consumption, sustainability of materials), space that elevates the resilience, health, and productivity of the people that occupy it expands the definition of “high performance”.

What was the motivation for choosing to go this route for the design of your firm’s new workspace?

This was part of our firm-wide commitment to Wellbeing. We’re committed to sustainable development and management of our own assets, be they physical or personnel, at a very high level. WELL certification, because of its more recent entry into the market, was a slightly later addition to the goals for the project than LEED—but not by much. There are some elements which we did not integrate as much as we plan to in the future in our real estate search and negotiations, because of this.

It also falls under, for us, what we call “Responsible Design”. That’s an ethos, a philosophy we are endeavoring to bring to all our work so that we are continually refining and building our understanding of all the stakeholders in that ecosystem, which includes the earth, community, co-creators, users, and investors. We wanted to take full advantage of this golden opportunity to get our process much more streamlined and developed when we could hear all the feedback from each of the stakeholders in real time.

This was an opportunity, when we are both tenant and designer, to test drive and learn many elements of the process using ourselves as guinea pigs. We were about to embark on three different space transformations in Chicago, London and Miami. Working on our own space helped refine the processes we use in designing for our clients. It also gave us the chance to examine the process from the different perspectives of architect, engineer and end user. It’s much easier to understand a host of lessons when you’re invested at multiple levels. Consideration of the WELL criteria also pulled in different resources that the LEED criteria did not. These certifications are tools and provided a clear framework of guidelines which expanded the opportunities to create a space that met more than one set of goals.

Again, on multiple certifications, they are proliferating like dandelions in spring…any recommendations on how designers/clients can sort through to determine which direction will work best for them?

Yes, there are a lot of certifications coming to the fore—no question. And when you look at that “alphabet soup” you might wish the field were more simplified and consolidated. But when you dig in, you find that each have different goals in mind, or might be aiming for different parts of the market, that show that they were developed to answer a need.

Digging into the certifications, there are clearly different goals that engage parts of the market – but all were designed with specific results in mind. LEED is one of the most prominent, and most are familiar with what that system covers. But it had, and has, gaps.

WELL—which, as of last week, is now in its second version–aims at one of those. While there are and will remain parts of the system that edge toward occupant wellbeing, it was largely a missing part of that system. Fitwel is another aimed at that same space, but in that system’s case, it’s aimed at a different part of the market than WELL. Fitwel is more introductory, more intended for the general layperson to approach as a first step toward wellbeing design, where WELL is much more comprehensive and intensive.

Parksmart is another, one which looks at the concerns of how we can think of our parking structures through a sustainable lens. While you could apply LEED or a similar certification to this typology, it’s a specialized space with unique challenges and opportunities. While you’ll see familiar themes of energy efficiency, cleaning products and processes, etc. that are covered by systems such as LEED and WELL, you’ll also find unique thinking such as using elevator adjacent payment systems to reduce idle times at garage gates, or even more interestingly, life cycle thinking for flexible planning. These structures are around for a long time, and while as a garage owner you might think in the short term about minimizing vehicular vacancy, as generational and cultural changes occur which are already leading to decreased car ownership, there will come a time when as a long-term property investor you’ll want to have designed the structure to ensure that asset is convertible into another typology, such as retail, residential, or commercial space.

And speaking of investors, GRESB is an investor driven system which focuses on more holistically and definitively outlining various metrics and thought leadership towards sustainable (in the fullest definition of the term) Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) performance of real estate and infrastructure assets. Bringing that full circle to the certification we started with, WELL, GRESB has a health and wellbeing module that evaluates how property companies and funds are promoting health and well-being in their internal operations, and through the real estate products and services they offer to customers.

Have you worked to gather any post occupancy metrics on how the space is working out for your firm? Measuring changes in employee satisfaction, health, wellbeing? If so, what methodology is being used?

Of course, we couldn’t let an opportunity like that pass us by! We have an internal research team that was and is very excited at the data we’ve collected and will continue to collect and analyze now and into the future.

In fact, we consider this space as a “living lab” where we can do multiple phases of in-field longitudinal research. We’re aiming to do that with this and other select locations to make an investment in directly understanding, analyzing, and communicating the impact our design decisions have. Not just working by intuition, or even modeling—but pushing that on through to when the “messy variables”—people—get in and, much like in emerging fields like behavioral economics, show us where those best laid plans go according to our predictions, and when and where they go awry so we can truly build our “define, design, and deliver” cycle into a continuous feedback loop.

As far as methodology, we’re using a range of tools. We measured analytically several factors such as air quality, acoustics, lighting levels, etc. in pre-occupancy—both new office space as a shell, and in our past office space. We’re measuring those same factors in the new space with what we call our “lab in a bag”, so that we can truly compare the evolution of that environment to its new configuration. We’re also using surveys—what we call “snapshot” behavioral assessments, and in concert with Delos as part of our global alliance their own occupant survey—to measure less easily quantifiable, more qualitative and subjective metrics such as comfort and satisfaction to help us understand how that’s changed from the old space, into the new. We’re even integrating testing and analysis of personality into the mix to provide even deeper insight into the benefits of the transition. We’re hoping to publish much of that work in scientific journals as well as trade publications in the future, but that data is all still being crunched and analyzed for now.

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