Healthful interiors nourish the well-being of employees and the organizations they serve.
November / December Duluthian by Julie Spiering
We think of the “Environment” as a vast wilderness or pristine mountain setting. But, we spend much of our lives indoors—especially at work. Even as Americans are seeking healthier diets and exercise, millions of us still work in offices with poor indoor air quality, minimal daylight, and little motivation to leave one’s desk.
This overlooked indoor environment is the next frontier in design for wellness. In Duluth, we live on the edge of some of the most beautiful and complex ecosystems in the country. Just as the ecological richness and balance of forests and wetlands matters for their long-term sustainability, healthful interiors are essential to sustain us at work. Research suggests that healthy employees are up to three times more productive than those who are unwell or often tired and immobile at work.
DSGW has been based in Duluth for over 50 years. For decades, we have been leaders in interior architecture—settings where environmental quality is essential for physical and psychological well-being. Today, high-quality interior environments lie at the core of all the work we do—from office spaces to healthcare and government buildings.
Here are a few pathways to wellness from our practice at DSGW:
Activity and Social Interaction
No matter how much time employees spend staring into computer screens, they still need to be around other people. And they need to leave their desks. Wellness in the workplace starts with incentives to be more active—with options such as adjustable sit/stand desks that can be raised to a standing position for typing or taking part in a conference call.
For the St. Louis County Virginia Government Services Center, we are applying “active design guidelines” to improve the daily well-being of employees and the public they serve. Developed by the American Institute of Architects, the guidelines call for circulation spaces such as light-filled stairways and hallways that encourage people to get up and move around, to use the stairs instead of the elevator, to have an impromptu meeting on the landing. There are small break-out areas with comfortable chairs and tables where people can take their work or talk together. Wellness at work calls for quiet spaces too—places to take a private phone call, for meditation, or to have a conversation with a friend. These retreats within the office are part of the balance of a healthy indoor landscape.
Connecting to the Outdoors
It’s a very basic human need to be near sunlight. Yet many offices and healthcare environments are inward looking with views reserved for the top echelon. For our own office, DSGW renovated the historic Spina Building, originally built for the Boston Music Company in 1911. Once a ballroom, the second story is a beautiful tall, clear-span space with soaring windows. We renovated these and the maple vaulted ceiling so that everyone who works here now has access to daylight.
Pride of Place
Healthful work environments stem from more than choosing the right carpet product, wall colors, and lighting balances. They come for a sense of connection to community, to the past, and to other people. We recently completed a Health Center for the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians in Michigan. As with many of our designs for tribal clinics, we included exhibits on tribal history and culture, work by local artists, and a native medicinal garden and paths outside to connect with both the past and the outdoors. In the Spina Building, there’s the old wooden floor and the exposed structure in the former upstairs ballroom. You can almost hear the dancing there—the legacy of movement, vitality and sociability. Places like this recall a broader sense of health that is wholesome, engaged and active. More than a building, it’s part of memory and the larger community that sustains us.