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HOK’s Mara Baum Discusses Link Between Building Design and Human Health

Mara Baum HOK

In this excerpt from the March-April edition of Retrofit Magazine, HOK’s Mara Baum, sustainable design leader, health + wellness, weighs in on the importance of healthy buildings and how property owners can achieve WELL certification.

Excerpted from Retrofit Magazine:

“We have always grappled with questions around the real impacts the environment has on our health and well-being but haven’t always had clear design direction” explains Mara Baum, AIA, LEED Fellow, WELL AP, WELL Faculty in HOK’s San Francisco office. “We’re now learning much more about the direct scientific basis behind the health impacts our buildings have on our bodies and minds.”

Drawing a correlation between rising healthcare costs and the amount of time people spend indoors (up to 90 percent on average), Baum says the time for market transformation is now.

“If you consider the significant health problems we as a society are facing and the massive health costs these health problems are incurring and then consider the research that links these problems with specific conditions inside and around buildings, then connecting these dots can become a call to action,” she says.

In terms of the existing building stock, there are some unique challenges with pursuing WELL certification, but none are insurmountable.

“With WELL—because there are many preconditions—some of those preconditions might present a barrier, particularly for the retrofit market. That will be a little bit more difficult for some types of projects,” Baum explains.

For example, she says in a building where an existing air handler is not designed to meet air-quality requirements, the prerequisite in WELL might be very difficult to meet—inexpensively, anyway. Replacing an air handler might require adding square footage to a mechanical room in an existing space that may be cost-prohibitive. However, Baum points out that WELL was designed with alternative adherence pathways that “are structured in such a way that allow for relatively straightforward achievement of alternative approaches as long as you’re meeting the intent of the requirements.”

Baum adds that larger retrofits, which include mechanical upgrades, are relatively straightforward in terms of meeting WELL’s requirements. Building systems that do not meet current codes, on the other hand, will be much more challenging.


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