How To Design A Healthier Building
Medical facilities aren't pretty, says Robin Guenther, an architect and advocate who designed the country's second LEED–certified health-care structure. "You see white, plastic, badly lit spaces." But sustainability often sounds like "no," so she simplified the message into 12 maxims that she displays in posters around her work spaces. Here are three that played a key role in the building of the new Discovery Health Center in New York:
Why: "There are no nutrition labels at Home Depot. You have to be tenacious about asking what's in the materials." Her team created a list of 25 "precautionary materials"; they were researched and not used if they contained hazardous ingredients.
Why: "I heard that Google CEO Larry Page walks onto construction sites, picks up materials, and smells them. It's such an intuitive idea." Guenther prioritized materials that emit few fumes; some paints, varnishes, and other products could trigger asthma.
Why: "If you imagine a floor in its raw state, what is it? If it's vinyl flooring, it's petrochemicals." Guenther embraced flooring and cabinets made from wood, linoleum, and sunflower board. The pressed sunflower seeds and straw are visible in the cabinets.
Attends graduate school at the Architectural Association, London
A design magazine editor tours one of Guenther's projects for the first time
Quits steady job to start her own practice with architecture classmate John Petrarca
Attends screening of Blue Vinyl at Tribeca Film Center; recognizes people actually care about toxic building materials
The Green Guide for Health Care is published, catalyzing an industry to care about buildings and health
Discovery is the first clinic in the U.S. to achieve LEED certification as a green building
First architect to win Changemaker Award from the Center for Health Design
Publishes her book, Sustainable Healthcare Architecture
Gives first keynote talk to an audience of more than 1,000
A version of this article appears in the June 2012 issue of Fast Company.