Q+A: Healthy Space Research
DLR Group is committed to investing in R&D programs focused on technology, process improvement, and evidence-based design, and dedicates time and resources annually for employee-owners to produce primary and secondary research and publications. Exhibitions, media, and design projects also fall under the purview of the firm’s R&D grants, and we prioritize sharing knowledge gleaned from our studies through publications and communications.
As a firm, we recognize that in-house research benefits not only our employee-owners, but also our clients. Research proposals selected each year are those that foster the development and exchange of diverse and challenging ideas about architecture, engineering, planning, and interior design. Our R&D program contributes meaningful perspectives to design culture, the built environment, and greater society.
One of DLR Group's R&D grant programs is Healthy Space, a research project from Building Performance Analyst Shona O’Dea and Architect Michael Vander Ploeg. Healthy Space will capture real indoor air quality (IAQ) data points to quantify the healthiness of the air we breathe, and qualify how we think about workplace productivity. Across more than 20 DLR Group’s offices, O’Dea and Vander Ploeg will track temperature; relative humidity; CO2; PM2.5 (an atmospheric particulate with a diameter less than 2.5 micrometers); and TVOCs (a range of organic chemical compounds) of the air in our offices in real time.
I sat down with the Healthy Space team to discuss their project goals.
Premnath Sundharam: Why does your research project focus on indoor air quality?
Shona O’Dea: DLR Group is committed to designing and engineering holistic and innovative solutions for both its clients’ environments, as well as its own work spaces. This research will identify gaps and opportunities for workplace IAQ. Our hypotheses aim to address how our design impacts IAQ. It is an area with limited amounts of scientific information, and the fastest growing concern for occupant health and wellbeing.
In addition to our observed data, Healthy Space will gather existing research in the area of indoor environmental quality (IEQ). We hope these findings lead to further correlations between healthy workplaces and key performance indicators such as occupant productivity, revenue, and ROI addressed in DLR Group’s Workplace Elevated program.
Sundharam: What will happen to the data you gather?
Michael Vander Ploeg: All live data will be fed directly to QLEAR, a cloud-based IEQ dashboard, which can be accessed by each DLR Group office to evaluate IAQ in real time. The data will be monitored by DLR Group researchers and graduate students at partner universities.
Sundharam: What are some of the anticipated outcomes of monitoring and measurement?
O’Dea: Our Number One goal is to elevate the employee-owner experience through IAQ transparency. Studies have shown that sharing this data alone can increase occupants’ positive perceive of environments they cannot fully control.
A byproduct of continuous IAQ monitoring is a select certification. DLR Group offices that meet RESET standards for health and well-being will be earn RESET Certification, a performance-based building standard recognizing measurably healthy results for PM2.5, CO2 and TVOC levels in indoor spaces . If all offices monitored in our study meet the RESET IAQ Standard, DLR Group will be the first company in the world to certify all of its permanent offices.
Vander Ploeg: This will be great for DLR Group, but ultimately, we will extrapolate what we learn for the benefit of our clients. With each breath we take, we ingest particles from the materials that surround us. Healthy materials are the first line of defense in ensuring that what we breathe doesn't compromise our cognition, health or wellbeing, followed by adequate ventilation and filtration.
O’Dea: It is the norm for buildings to track temperature to control the HVAC system, and more advanced energy codes require lighting and HVAC controls to modulate daylight and CO2, respectively. However, few existing—and even new—buildings are measuring beyond CO2 to assess IAQ.
Our Healthy Space research will help close that gap by measuring particulate matter, and VOCs along with baseline metrics of temperature, humidity, and carbon dioxide. We’ll also analyze specific IAQ optimization strategies such as green walls, air delivery, and distribution methodologies against the IAQ metrics listed above, and occupant satisfaction. This will inform a feedback loop for our interior design best practices that elevate the human experience.