On Monday afternoon, Interior Design hosted its annual NeoCon-focused Health & Wellness Roundtable. Nearly 30 attendees, from design practitioners to product manufacturers, gathered at the SANDOW Innovation Lab. The conversation was moderated by Interior Design's Jen Renzi and Jess Cooper, chief commercial officer of the International Well Building Institute.
The spirited two-hour conversation covered much terrain. Topics included ideas about how to define and then integrate diversity into wellness projects, what some of the emerging trends in healthcare design look like, and the value of incorporating facilities teams into conversations about specification during the design process. All in all, a clear picture of designers' enthusiasm for new materials developments, new technology, and especially new client attitudes towards health and wellness trends pervaded the discussion.
On the topic of diversity, the first thing that became clear at the Roundtable was that there are so many ways to interpret this buzzy word.
"In order to have a conversation around diversity, we have to be able to define it," said Ariane Laxo, an interior designer at HGA. "Having specific language is so important when approaching these conversations."
Some designers discussed diversity in terms of gender, which naturally led to conversations about gender-neutral bathrooms and respite areas; others considered diversity of bodies, thinking about how to best accommodate the wide range of disabilities and sizes in the world. Others voiced observations about designing for neuroatypical people. Many of the designers were in favor of Universal Design, seeing it as the future de facto way of approaching a design project in light of the world's newfound awareness of just how many different types of people exist and what they need from the built environment. The Roundtable certainly made clear that there are many, many ways of reconsidering the one-size-fits-all approach to creating well-designed spaces.
When it came to discussions of healthcare spaces as workplaces, the main crux of the issue revolved around getting clients to get on board with biophilic practices. Hospitals in particular are, ironically, very people-unfriendly spaces; that is to say they lack what people really need—access to sunshine, access to greenery, opportunities to create community, etc.
"Right now, the name of the game is data collection," said Russell Fortmeyer, an associate principal at ARUP. "Clients are open to learning more about WELL and wellness-based design more generally, especially if what we are advocating is backed by observable science. But we just don't have as much data as we'd sometimes like to really drive home the necessity of what we're advocating for."
Finally, the discussion of durability in healthcare spaces came up. This is a particularly difficult quality to maintain in textile, carpet, and furnishings specification because of the demand for the utmost in hygienic potential in healthcare spaces. Many times, facilities departments will clean with bleach-derived products or other harsh chemicals, which speeds up the wear of the specified products.
To combat this, manufacturers have been motivated to develop highly-durable and resistant materials. That's not always enough, though. What would aid in this process, the manufacturer-attendees suggested, would be for a designer to work with a client's facilities team early on in the design process, educating them on what cleaners are permissible to use and which must be avoided. As always, the answer to the problem is more and clearer communication from the beginning of a project.
The Health and Wellness Roundtable will be followed by the annual NeoCon Workplace Roundtable on Tuesday, June 11.
A special thanks to our NeoCon 2019 Health & Wellness Roundtable sponsors: