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Office & workplace / Healthy Cities

COVID-19 building design and programming series to aid safe office restarts

By Andrew Sansom 15 May 2020 0

Healthy building certification system Fitwel has launched a series of resources and a collaboration tool to help building owners, operators, tenants and designers adapt their projects, portfolios and office spaces to respond to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Operated by the Center for Active Design (CfAD), Fitwel was originally developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and US General Services Administration (GSA), with the CDC remaining the certification scheme’s research and evaluation partner.

The resources package, entitled ‘Research to action: Building health for all in the face of COVID-19’, will comprise five tailored, evidence-based chapters that examine the intersection of public health and the built environment, and provide guidance on how to create healthier environments. Each chapter offers practical strategies that building owners, operators and tenants can follow based on objective, peer-reviewed third-party research. 

Alongside this guidance, Fitwel has released its Building Collaboration Tool, which is said to enable building owners and tenants to assess the roles each can play in promoting health and wellness, allowing for greater collaboration and resulting in more holistic benefits for all involved.

The first two chapters in the series – ‘Leveraging buildings to mitigate viral transmission’ and ‘Building trust in the workplace’ – are available now at with three further instalments set to be published in the coming weeks. Listed below, the five chapters will cover:

  • ‘Leveraging buildings to mitigate viral transmission’. This chapter provides an overview of the basics of viral transmission, as well as strategies to mitigate infectious disease spread – including limiting physical interactions, handwashing, regular cleaning, ventilation, filtration, and humidity. 
  • ‘Building trust in the workplace’. This chapter will provide guidance for cultivating employee and tenant trust, and enhancing perceptions of safety once office buildings are ready to re-open. It will cover topics, including but not limited to emergency preparedness, communication, surveying, and signage. 
  • ‘Mental health and COVID-19’. This chapter will focus on the importance of considering mental health during crises, and how home environments can be optimised to promote feelings of wellbeing. Strategies covered will include greenery, outdoor spaces, high-quality indoor air, sleep environments, and health-promotion programming. 
  • ‘Density and resiliency’. This chapter will focus on how density can contribute to resiliency and public health, concentrating on a number of areas, including energy savings, affordable housing, diversity, public transit, sustainability, active transportation, and healthcare. 
  • ‘Chronic disease, equity, and COVID-19’. This chapter will explore the interconnected relationships between COVID-19, the social determinants of health, and chronic disease. Topics covered will include healthcare access, food access, housing quality, job roles, among others. This resource will also dig into specific strategies that can help address many of the inequities associated with negative COVID-19 outcomes, such as pollution, food environments, access to outdoor space, and community resiliency.

President and CEO of CfAD Joanna Frank said: “Research shows there is strong connection between the built environment and the health of the individuals that work and reside within. Since its inception, Fitwel has focused on providing actionable, science-based guidelines to help building owners and tenants improve the health performance of their properties and workforces. 

“Never has the focus on these important topics been more pronounced than in the current environment, and they will play a critical role in the future of building design and programming. We’re all in this together and we look forward to continuing to evolve this conversation as the research base expands.”

Fitwel says it is producing these resources to address key questions being asked across the commercial real estate industry in light of COVID-19. These materials are being developed in collaboration with key advisors including Fitwel’s Leadership Advisory Board, which comprises some well-known names in health and real estate, such as Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Tishman Speyer, Vornado, Kilroy, Triovest, Fannie Mae and Anthem.

“Triovest realised that we needed to start early in our tenant re-integration planning efforts,” said Philippe Bernier, vice-president, innovation and sustainability at Triovest Realty Advisors. “Our partnership with Fitwel and the Center for Active Design accelerated our research efforts and assisted Triovest in making informed, evidence-based preparations across our national portfolio of properties. 

“The Research to Action series is a valuable resource to guide decision-making as owners and managers plan to safely welcome tenants back into their buildings.”