What Makes Hillman Hall a Healthy Building?

Faculty; Public Health; Research

Exercise. Eat right. Make time to relax. Most of us know what it takes to keep our bodies healthy.

But what makes a building healthy?

Amy Eyler, PhD, assistant professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, wants to find out.

Using the Brown School’s new Hillman Hall as a laboratory, Eyler is conducting a yearlong academic study aimed at quantifying the impact of the building’s many innovative features on the well-being of the people who work in it.

“Hillman Hall was designed to be ‘healthy’,” Eyler said. “The building includes easy access to stairways, abundant natural light, indoor plantings, collaboration spaces, standup desks and walking paths.

“I became quite interested in how the design of the building would impact our faculty and staff,” she said.

Eyler recognized a key opportunity for research in the way office space in the building was laid out. “Design elements such as the location of stairs, types of desks and centrally located printers not only promote more physical activity and less sedentary behavior among employees, but may also improve environmental outcomes and reduce waste,” she said. “Other design elements such as hallways, walkways and meeting spaces can contribute to increased interaction and collaboration among employees.”

Eyler, working with a team of faculty and staff members, set out to assess the impact of building design on physical activity and sedentary behavior, as well as collaborative behavior and team science before the building was ready.

To do so, she attached accelerometers to several volunteers, which provided a baseline of activity in what were the original Brown buildings, Brown Hall and Goldfarb Hall.

She will take additional measurements next spring. She also surveyed employees on satisfaction with their work space and impression of the building and its impact on their health, and conducted observations of stair use, community spaces and collaboration.

“We’re an evidence-based school,” Eyler said. “We are looking to contribute to the evidence on how all of these features influence the health of the occupants of Hillman Hall.”

In addition to physical activity levels, Eyler also is measuring commute choice, electricity use, lighting and use of electronic devices.

Eyler and her team are just beginning to analyze the data, but so far the results have been quite positive.

“Anecdotally, people are saying they walk more,” she said. “They feel refreshed by the natural light and plantings in the building. They talk more with colleagues, which can spur new ideas and new ways of thinking.

“The way people feel about their culture of work is really important to their mental and social health,” she said. “I think more buildings in the future will take that into consideration in their designs.”

Click here for more on Hillman Hall, which celebrates its grand opening Friday, Oct. 2.