Chicago Design/Architecture Think Tank Explores Health, Safety, and WELLfare
Third annual Legat/DIRTT symposium brings together leaders in healthcare, education, law enforcement, sustainability, and design to consider the future of performance-enhancing environments
“What do we need to quit?” This is the question that Jeff Covey, director of education at DIRTT Environmental Solutions, asked to kick off the third annual Legat/DIRTT Think Tank. More specifically, Covey asked, “What do we need to quit doing or thinking that will help us use our gifts and talents to better impact the future?”
The University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) David Taeyaerts, one of nine speakers, had a thoughtful response. “We need to stop thinking that we’ve already seen, experienced, or know how students should be learning.”
That attitude of openness to new knowledge infused the event, at which over 75 participants gathered in DIRTT’s Green Learning Center ten stories above the Chicago River. Sunlight streamed through tall glass walls while attendees from diverse fields enjoyed an exploration of health, safety, and wellness as they relate to design and its impact on how we live.
Robin Randall, Think Tank founder and director of preK-12 at Legat, said, “Think Tank participants showed a willingness to learn, whether the source of knowledge was a professional with 30-plus years of experience, a 12-year-old girl, or even an octopus.”
The Think Tank is a platform for creating cross-disciplinary discussions about achieving environments that help individuals perform at a higher level. This year, speakers covered topics that ranged from sobering to whimsical: patient-centered responsive healthcare environments, higher education active classrooms, safe facilities, design for the whole person, first responder training centers, the WELL Building Standard, and consciousness and wellbeing.
The Think Tank divided into three sections: Health, Safety, and WELLfare (a reference to the WELL Building Standard). Each section, moderated by a Legat segment leader, included presentations by three speakers, followed by a brief Q & A session.
Health: Between the Visits and Active Learning
Keynote speaker Dr. Lee Francis, president/CEO of Erie Family Health Center, discussed the growing influence of community-based health centers, now used by 25 million people annually, as well as their impact on economically disadvantaged and socially challenged neighborhoods.
“The problem with the word ‘clinic’,” said Francis, “is that it conjures a notion of take a seat in a rusty chair in a dingy waiting room, take a number, and wait. You may or may not be seen that day by the doctor you saw last time. What we’re trying to do at the community health center level is turn that on its head so that the care you would receive in the Gold Coast is the same care you receive at Erie Family Health.”
Erie Family Health, founded in 1967, works with nearly 70,000 registered patients throughout the Chicagoland area. Francis showed several of Erie’s facilities, including those in Waukegan and Evanston.
He also revealed the shift in mindset that health centers have adopted. “What happens in between the doctor visits is just as important or more important than what happens at the doctor visits,” said Francis.
According to Francis, health centers have begun to incorporate design elements and programs that position people to improve their lifestyles and therefore reduce visits to the doctor and the ER.
David Taeyaerts, associate vice chancellor of learning environments and campus architect at UIC, explored health in a different environment: the university classroom. He cited research showing that students in active learning courses get a half letter grade higher than those in traditional lecture courses, while those in traditional courses are 1.5 times more likely to fail than their active learning counterparts.
“We’re trying to avoid treating students like empty vessels to be filled up with knowledge,” said Taeyaerts. “What we’re after is making students successful by having them gain knowledge, but also develop core skills and competencies. The fastest way to do that is through active learning.”
Drawing from examples from throughout the country, Taeyaerts analyzed different active learning settings in both flat floor and tiered-floor classrooms. He also shared active learning advancements that UIC has researched and applied to promote student-to-student interaction and improve student and faculty mobility.
Legat’s Director of Interior Design Sylvia Kowalk concluded the health section by investigating the convergence of body, mind, and spirit in interior environments. Her presentation touched on color, ergonomics, infusion of culture into settings, and biophilic design (the focus of last year’s Think Tank).
Kowalk said, “Biophilia isn’t just having photos of nature all over, but it’s also taking the complicated patterns, textures, and materials we see in nature and integrating them into the space.” She cited the Oakton Community College Enrollment Center, which has lighting and colors that give the space an outdoor feel and an organic ceiling feature that guides users through the space.
Safety: Protecting Ourselves and Training Our Protectors
Community colleges across the country have taken the lead in simulated first responder training. Such was the focus of the safety session’s speakers, all of whom are connected by the College of DuPage’s (COD) Homeland Security Training Institute (HSTI).
Legat Principal Jay Johnson categorized what makes people feel safe (from pacifiers to guns), who makes people feel safe (from police officers to teachers), when people feel safe (from being alone to joining large crowds), and where people feel safe.
“Architects concentrate on where people feel safe,” said Johnson. “This is where we need to make a difference in the profession.”
Johnson’s voice trembled as he touched on some tragedies that have recently befallen the nation—the room soon had a different aura.
Johnson, also project manager for COD’s Homeland Security Education Center and Homeland Security Training Center, then stressed the importance of facilities that strengthen first responder skills by creating simulated training scenarios of situations that they may encounter in real life.
In what was no doubt the afternoon’s most sobering presentation, COD HSTI Associate Dean/Director Thomas Brady addressed the growing threat of an “active shooter” at the workplace or elsewhere. Brady said, “You have to be attuned to the reality that this could happen.”
Brady summarized recent active shooter events within the U.S. and encouraged participants to always have an escape plan, whether they’re at work or at a movie theater. He also reviewed the three key responses to an attack: run, hide, and fight.
“You need the mental attitude to be able to do something in the event something happens,” said Brady. “The worst thing you could do is take a defeatist attitude.”
Joseph Cassidy, dean of continuing education/extended learning at COD, bridged safety and active learning with a case study about COD’s HSTI, one of the nation’s largest comprehensive training centers for first responders. The session explored the institute’s simulation zones, ranging from the 4D immersive training lab, training tower, and mock courtroom to an “immense” tactical interior firing range and 911 call center.
Cassidy also shared the rigorous process for developing the facilities and their programs. He said, “We did design charrettes, we talked to many state, local, and federal agencies, and we surveyed some 23,000 first responders to determine what these buildings should have.”
Cassidy detailed the wide range of activities that occur in the HSTI. For instance, during the 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago, the HSTI served as a command center, bringing together 14 state and federal agencies along with military personnel. It also hosts cross-curricular emergency simulation exercises (e.g., a bank robbery, a domestic dispute gone wrong). Other innovative programs include a GenCyber career exploration camp for students and teachers, as well as a senior public safety academy.
WELLfare: A Redesign of the Design Process, Fidelity in Simulated Settings, and Consciousness in Design
According to Legat Director of Sustainability & Energy Vuk Vujovic, sustainable building strategies seen as novel a few years ago are now becoming commonplace today. The next step in the evolution of design, therefore, is how the built environment addresses the wellness of building occupants.
Vujovic introduced the WELL Building Standard, a rating system that “not only examines buildings, but also incorporates health, nutrition, water, and other things that we take for granted and are essential to our ability to perform.”
Citing stunning statistics, Vujovic covered everything from the national nutrition crisis to the growing scarcity of fresh water resources. He advocated the “redesign of the current design process to better connect to academia and research institutes, and development of design that is research-driven, evidence-based, and human-centered.”
Vujovic also showcased the College of Lake County’s new Café Willow as an example of design integrating elements of the WELL Building Standard, such as natural light, views to the outdoors, and healthy food options.
While she was coming up the ranks of academia, Dr. Marcia Stout of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science (RFUMS) noticed “that there was a lot of lecture-based education, but not enough hands-on, real-life experience.” She advocated for offering realistic scenarios within university health sciences and medical facilities.
Stout gave Think Tank participants a primer on university-level medical simulation
spaces. Drawing from her experiences at RFUMS (where she served as director of simulation),
DePaul University, and UIC, Stout revealed some of the challenges that these institutions overcame to create a sense of “fidelity” physically and content-wise within their simulation spaces.
She also discussed RFUMS’s newest simulation space, the Legat-designed RFUMS Huntley-Centegra simulation lab, which is slated to open in the fall. It includes a virtual hospital complete with simulated outpatient clinic, operating rooms, inpatient units, ER, and ambulance.
“If we’re not able to do deliberate practice with these students in realistic emergency and other clinical situations, our students walk away feeling ill-prepared,” said Stout. “Every detail within these simulation spaces has been thought out, so when students get to clinical settings, they are ready.”
The WELLness session concluded on a thought-provoking note with Claire Butterfield, program director of the Illinois Science and Energy Innovation Foundation (an organization that funds energy advances).
In this interactive presentation, Butterfield explored the consciousness of a highly misunderstood creature—the octopus, a “camouflage artist that mirrors the colors around it.” She posed to participants a series of questions that investigated the deeper meanings of design, materials, architects, and builders.
In one spirited exchange, the group discussed architecture’s ability to address communities that have different ideas of what wellbeing is.
Design Competition: School without Classrooms
Jeff Covey announced the winners of this year’s Think Tank design competition, which tied into archasm’s international School without Classrooms competition. Five teams of Legat designers envisioned “a [Berlin] middle school (age group 5-12) that completely negates the present day ‘bench-table-chalkboard’ idea of a classroom and a regularized building typology of a school.” The Think Tank also asked designers to include sustainability concepts and a program element from another market segment besides K-12.
Entries were judged by Think Tank speakers and moderators, excepting one “People’s Choice” award that all attendees voted on.
Loren Johnson, Evan Menk, and Catherine Varnas’s Unmanned Autonomous Classroom received “Overall Winner” and “Most Innovative Concept.” Steve Blye’s playful Jack and the Beanstalk Space Elevator won “Best Graphics,” while Ecological Conservation Academy by Danny Nelson and Lauren Peterson won the “People’s Choice” honor. Judges recognized Shifting Gears (Mitch Beck, Jessie Laughridge, Zach Whitmire) as “Strongest Description/Purpose Statement” and AGE-less LEARNING (Sarah Martinez, Robin Randall, Tyler Wade) as “Most Noble Expression.” All entries can be viewed here.
Legat President/CEO Patrick Brosnan closed the event. “We appreciate the time and effort that went into these presentations and competition entries,” he said, “but what’s most exciting is the collaboration that it took for all these things to come together. With the way our industry is moving, it’s not about the individual, but rather it’s about incorporating a diversity of thinking, as we have seen today.”