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How to Assess Whether Your Workplace Is Healthy, or Harmful

Article February 7, 2020  |  Text by Markéta Miková Text by Markéta Miková

Praga Studios is aiming to be the second commercial real estate project in the Czech Republic to acquire the WELL building certificate. We’ve asked two WELL assessors about the details of this certification process.

The size of the entry cleaning mat, the sprays for the terrace  plants, and the distances from seats to windows—all of these affect whether or not you’re working in a healthy environment. Health aspects are evaluated within seven categories as a part of the WELL international certification process.

Last year, the office building named Visionary in Prague’s Holešovice district set a benchmark for the Czech real estate market: it was the first project in Central Europe to acquire a WELL certificate. Now another project—also the work of the real estate developers Skanska Property—is aiming for this certification too. It’s the Praga Studios building in Prague’s Karlín district.

The WELL “healthy buildings” certification process is partly based on documentation presented by the applicant, but it is also based on measurements taken right on-site. In December, Marine Querné and Anne-Lyse Percheron from the French firm ARP-ASTRANCE performed these measurements in Karlín. We asked them a few questions during the occasion.

Marine Querné is controlling the air measuring in the neighbourhood of Praga Studios building.

How long does it take to “measure” a building? What exactly do you measure? What is the most demanding aspect from your point of view?

It's always from two to five days; this building (Praga Studios) will take two days. It’s shorter for shell-and-core projects. For existing interiors, it takes a longer time. Here in Prague, we’re doing a lot of measurements regarding air quality, thermal comfort, acoustic comfort, and water quality. There are two of us here assessing this building, and so the measurements will take us a shorter time than otherwise, as we will split up the responsibilities. We also do a lot of visual verifications based on the WELL building standards.

Looking back at the buildings you’ve visited, which one was the best?

It’s hard to say. There was one project in Madrid—for both new and existing buildings—with great interiors for teamwork, focus and silence rooms, and relaxation rooms… but the location could have been better; it was in Madrid’s suburbs.

During the noise measurement even the orange piano went silent.

Do you see any differences among the buildings across Europe?

We were surprised by one detail in the restrooms right here at Praga Studios—soap is dispensed by the same tap as the water. We haven’t seen that in other countries. But there are no major differences across Europe. However, we’ve taken measurements at an office building in Dubai where they had a giant aquarium with beautiful fish from a variety of species. You won’t find that in Europe…

What technological and sustainable solutions in buildings are the most important for the people working there?

I would say there are three major things: 1) air quality definitely in the long term, 2) light (it influences your focus and your demand for sleep) and 3) acoustics—the foremost and biggest complaint. There are some people for whom open spaces will always be too noisy. You need to find solutions to help them. But this is about their comfort rather than their health.

An inspection of underground parking equipped with the smartest software system.

KNOW THE STANDARD

What do you like the most about this job?

We have to note that WELL assessments are not our main job. We are building consultants for other certificates as well, and WELL is only about 10% of our work. We like traveling and seeing all the different buildings.

Do you need any special skills for this work?

You have to know the standard in every area, and you have to know a bit about the buildings’ systems, their construction, air quality, water quality, etc. Actually, you can learn everything needed with WELL.

Do you like Praga Studios?

Yes definitely, I like the industrial style, the stairs with the piano, and the restaurant located next to the entrance. That restaurant—Spojka—is really good; we’ve already tested it!

Interior of Praga Studios office building. Photo by Tomáš Hejzlar

PEOPLE FIRST

Why did the “second generation” of building certifications, like WELL, come into existence? What was the driving force behind this?

The first green certifications were started ten or maybe more years ago due to a global sustainability “awakening.” These certificates, such as LEED and BREEAM, are about the building and the system, but not about the people. WELL, on the contrary, expresses a newer focus on the people, on their comfort. This is a change that we’re seeing. And now there are two types of certificates existing side-by-side. In France for example, we have other certificates aimed at health besides just WELL.

WELL is becoming increasingly widespread in Europe. What kinds of projects that you’ve seen were the most inspirational for you so far?

We’ve noticed that project teams aiming for WELL certificates for new and existing projects focus far more on interiors and design than on shell-and-core projects. We’ve performed WELL evaluations in a number of places in Western Europe, for example London, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Milan, and the Netherlands. And every one of these projects is more than just offices, and the quality of all the projects is always very high. Praga Studios could easily be in London, Paris, or Barcelona. Projects that are striving for WELL are the best out there on the market.

In an ideal office layout, 75% of the seats should be located within 7.5 meters of the nearest window.