Dunwoody Architecture students visit the Delos-Mayo Clinic Well Living Lab

Latest Architecture studio shows students how the design of a building can influence the health of the people in it.  

Photo of Well Living Lab Door21 hours a day. According to the Well Living Lab, that is the amount of time the average American spends inside a building. For Dunwoody Architecture students, that brings up a whole lot of questions:

How does being indoors affect our health and well-being? Can alterations to a building or structure improve that experience? How can we change the way most people think and feel about indoor spaces?

The Dunwoody Architecture Studio 7 class chose to tackle these questions head-on by touring the Well Living Lab, a Delos-Mayo Clinic Well collaboration focused exclusively on human health and the built environment.

 Well Living Lab research inspires latest Architecture studio

“I always feel that it is important to introduce students to contemporary ideas that push them out of their comfort zone. We have been discussing many design issues in class and how our environment can impact human health in both positive and negative ways. Learning how researchers are measuring our built environment and its users could help students get a better understanding of how their design decisions impact health,” said Architecture Principal Instructor Stephen Knowles.

Dunwoody Architecture students tour Well Living LabDuring the tour, students were exposed to the many different ways researchers study and alter the interior of a room. The lab has 5,500 square feet of configurable space dedicated to researching how the indoor environment impacts our comfort, health, and productivity.

And this left quite the impression on Architecture student Roman Zastavskiy:

“[The tour] helped me realize how often buildings are being repurposed,” Zastavskiy said. “Usually when you design a building you design it for a specific use. So, it’s comfortable when you’re using it for that case, but then if it’s reused, things are completely different.”

And changing the actual building is not as easy as changing the building’s purpose. The fixtures, lights, floors, and vents are for the most part rooted in place, which can be challenging for those remodeling and those who will use the building after the remodel. Zastavskiy explained that the Well Living Lab recognizes these difficulties and incorporates potential solutions into their space:

Photo of tinted lights at Well Living Lab

An example of how lighting within a room at the Well Living Lab can change colors and brightness.

“At the Lab, it was a very dynamic system,” Zastavskiy continued. “The lights change tints, the floors are retractable, so you can move it to re-plumb or re-do electrical work, etc. It is kind of a one-building fits all approach, which allows you to say ‘okay, this space doesn’t work for this reason anymore. So let’s change it.’” 

In an effort to make the studio more hands-on, a tour of the Lab wasn’t the only thing required of the students. They were also asked to find a specific aspect of indoor living they would like to help improve.

Throughout the semester, students studied and researched their topics, and later this year will present architectural drawings that show how a structural change could potentially fix that very problem.

Project focuses include sound acoustics (interior and exterior); active design (a planning approach to creating buildings that promote physical activity); biophilia (the study of interior and exterior foliage impacts), and for fourth-year Architecture student Gianna Madison: individual thermal control by way of heating and cooling:

Photo of Well Living Lab showcasing a wall of indoor plants/greenery

This particular Well Living Lab room has an entire wall of indoor plants and greenery.

“The focus of my project is individual thermal control,” Madison said. “I chose this particular subject because this is a real life problem that is encountered, within most buildings, and it remains one of the most difficult things to regulate. Most often someone is always going to be too hot or too cold, rarely is there a happy medium.”

“And when you have someone in an office that is freezing, there are statistics that say they’re less likely to be productive because they’re so busy trying to keep warm. The same is true if they are too hot; it’s difficult to focus,” she explained.

Studio encourages new thoughts, ways of designing

Both Zastavskiy and Madison shared that focusing on a singular topic—and how it can affect someone’s well-being—requires a completely different way of thinking; something that they haven’t quite done before.

A wall of computers that control the Lab’s rooms and features

Students were also able to see how many of the Lab’s rooms and features are controlled.

As Zastavskiy explained: “[In prior projects] it has been all fun and games. You can design whatever you want. Usually it looks nice but does it actually make sense? Well, probably not. Because you didn’t really think it through and you didn’t really research these different aspects. You could design a building that looks nice, but then after building realize it’s freezing cold because you loved windows so much you built the whole thing out of glass.

“Where as now, even just focusing on my project focus, which is sound—you start to pay attention. How will people feel in this building? If I walk into this space, will it be loud? Will it be quiet? I never really thought about that. Now I approach [designing] completely differently. A project like this forces you to start thinking about that kind of stuff. That’s what I really like about this studio.”

Learn more

The Studio 7 students will present their findings and recommended building designs during their final project presentation in mid-December.

Learn more about Dunwoody Architecture.

Learn about previous Dunwoody Architecture studios with Will Steger and Minnesota’s Independent Filmmaker Project.