Cundall Office, One Carter Lane
Cundall Office, One Carter Lane
Friday, May 18, 2018
Cundall and Dirk Lindner
Potted plants are more than just decorations in multi-disciplinary engineering firm Cundall's One Carter Lane office. Rather, they yield important data for managers who are actively re-tuning and optimizing their space for human health. Among many of their holistic efforts, from ergonomic furniture to healthy snacks, the Cundall team learned how to purify office air by experimenting with an array of plants in a conference room, a notable part of their journey to become Europe's first WELL Certified office in November 2016.
From their WELL Certification experience came more data about the water they drank, the way they snacked and the chance to improve their lighting. Their fresh space has drawn more visitors, too, eager to experience the innovations, some of whom become new clients. The office draws on biophilia, custom furniture and the engineering firm’s willingness to dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to a challenge to create a healthy space that sustains staff and visitors alike.
In 2015, managers at Cundall had to decide whether to re-up in their Hatton Garden offices or find someplace new. Partner Alan Fogarty’s team had consistently vetted and measured air quality and chemical composition in the existing office, so working toward WELL Certification seemed like a way to codify what they were already trying to improve. The idea of boxing up the office and moving it across town, recalled Fogarty, seemed more promising if it meant customizing a space to a new paradigm for wellness. They zeroed in on a fitout space facing St. Paul’s Churchyard.
One of Cundall’s efforts to advance wellness in their space, prior to targeting WELL Certification, involved conducting an experiment with office plants.
“We had looked at CO2 reduction effects,” he recalled. “We put plants in a meeting room to have a more controlled environment. It was interesting watching people’s reaction to seeing their plants being moved.” That reaction, he explained, involved long faces and tense shoulders. “There seemed to be an interesting connection between plants and well-being.”
There were other major learnings from the informal potted-plant experiment. Given the proper soil and spacing, plants could reduce CO2 concentrations. Likewise, many office features could affect well-being levels.
“We said we would implement the work we had started in the new space,” he said. As a result, the conference room experiment anted up to bringing a whole office into compliance with the WELL Building Standard.
At a glance:
Approaching the WELL Certification Process
Like many WELL pioneers, Cundall brought pertinent expertise to the process. Their professional work extended to helping schools, landlords and hospitals achieve cleaner water and purer air.
“Most of the design elements we knew we could deliver ourselves,” Fogarty said. For those elements that required an architect, Cundall found ready partners in Studio Ben Allen. “The architect toured the space and immediately asked where we would put desks, etc., to meet the WELL Building Standard,” Fogarty said. “So they seemed up for it.”
Successes & Challenges
While designing for purer air and smoother lighting was attainable and well within Cundall’s wheelhouse, Fogarty said that “evolving to an American standard in the UK” brought some challenges.
But they were not deterred by their need to make some adaptations as an early adopter of WELL and the first certified project in Europe.
“Furniture suppliers couldn’t tell whether they met the standards, so the most straightforward thing was to have a local joiner make all the desks, cupboards, etc.,” said Fogarty. All the desks and tables in the new space came custom-built, “Except some chairs we bought in Spain.” Fogarty praised their contractor for rolling with the new requirements at a time when many contractors were still getting to know WELL.
Cundall’s culture of learning from experiments led them to try new designs and arrangements throughout the fit-out process. That culture, you’ll recall, drove the experiment with greenery: in the potted-plant study, CO2 in the meeting room actually rose until staff tinkered with lights and soil. The team’s experience with patiently working to get things right pushed them to overcome the challenges in pursuing WELL Certification and excel in designing a better, healthier office.
Photo credit: Cundall and Dirk Lindner
WELL scorecard: See the features Cundall achieved within each concept
|Fundamental water quality (P)|
|Inorganic contaminants (P)|
|Organic contaminants (P)|
|Agricultural contaminants (P)|
|Public water additives (P)|
|Periodic water quality testing|
|Drinking water promotion|
|Fruits and vegetables (P)|
|Processed foods (P)|
|Food allergies (P)|
|Hand washing (P)|
|Food contamination (P)|
|Artificial ingredients (P)|
|Nutritional information (P)|
|Food advertising (P)|
|Responsible food production|
|Visual lighting design (P)|
|Circadian lighting design (P)|
|Electric light glare control (P)|
|Solar glare control (P)|
|Low-glare workstation design|
|Color quality (P)|
|Right to light|
|Interior fitness circulation|
|Activity incentives programs (P)|
|Structured fitness opportunities|
|Exterior active design|
|ADA Accessible Design Standards (P)|
|Ergonomics: Visual and Physical (P)|
|Exterior noise intrusion|
|Internally generated noise (P)|
|Thermal comfort (P)|
|Sound reducing surfaces|
|Health and wellness awareness (P)|
|Integrative design (P)|
|Post-occupancy surveys (P)|
|Beauty and design I (P)|
|Biophilia I - qualitative (P)|
|Stress and addiction treatment|
|Biophilia II - quantitative|
Outcomes & Metrics
Cundall’s WELL Certification provided a framework for interpreting the results from their various experiments to maximize wellness within their space. An internal report on the plants found a substantial reduction in CO2 concentrations, from 1545 parts per million (ppm) before plants to 1453 ppm after plants, and an increased rate of air exchange of almost 11 percent. That’s not all: Fogarty recounted, “With science this acute, the team drove water in the new space to a purer level than the government required” – and, noted Fogarty, perhaps purer than what staff sips at home.
Following processes to their limits inspired Cundall and its architect, Studio Ben Allen. They set out targeting WELL Silver, and achieved WELL Certification at the Gold level through re-testing air quality and food service innovations. They also ended up with formaldehyde levels less than a hundredth of what WELL tolerates, and ozone around a tenth of the allowed limit. They were on a roll.
In all, the project cost €850,000 (or roughly $1.5 million USD). The custom joining materials cost €3,000. And for that price, said Fogarty, the office provides more pleasure. Yoga classes happen. “Daylight is great,” he noted – and you can tell after a few minutes in his company that he’s an exacting critic of daylighting. And, he added, people seem to enjoy the open kitchen enough that they lunch there. Lunching at your desk often means absentmindedly overeating. Now, Fogarty said, “There’s almost a cafe feel.”
“You have the animation of the space. It’s used all day – we’re not rigidly corporate, which is the goal,” he explained. “Visitors will say, I’m here to see such-and-such person, will go into the canteen, make coffee, connect to Wi-Fi and start working.”
Speaking of visitors, they comprise a surprise result of the WELL process. Cundall had always invited experts to talks at its office. After the fitout, Fogarty said, “The reaction was enormous. People started asking, can we come and see your office?”
So they did – and the certification emerged as a calling card. “We had events – it was quite fortuitous because we had people asking to be our clients, phoning us up.... we’ve won work as a result.”
drop in staff turnover compared to the previous year, saving £122,000 (€132,500)
lower absenteeism than the previous year, leading to an annual saving of £90,000 (€132,500)
Visitors experience the open planes, tempered light and calming sounds – a soundscape plays birdsong in the reception area, gaining features in WELL’s Mind concept. They also see a planted wall that Cundall said lowers the need for ventilation by 11 percent, and reflective coatings that Cundall said bring “30 percent more daylight” to the office than a standard floorplan would.
Fogarty said that the focus on wellness that WELL brings feels like a requisite in today’s employment market, where prospective engineers ask pointed questions about quality of life. He compares Cundall’s €200 per person investment in WELL to the avoided losses that would come when promising candidates took a pass on an offer of employment, or established employees started looking for new jobs elsewhere. Absences are about half what they were in the old space – and another Cundall location is now pursuing WELL Certification.
Diligence and data have sparked Cundall’s brand across the world. At a WELL event in Hong Kong, a crowd with a 25-person waitlist heard Cundall’s Global Head of Sustainability, Amie Shuttleworth, explain: “Cundall London demonstrated a positive ROI outcome from WELL within three months merely by calculating their reductions in sick leave and attrition without any accounting for all the other benefits."
For all that success, Fogarty spoke with most animation about future versions of WELL that more precisely capture light’s circadian path. For a firm like his, succeeding in one experiment means setting up questions for another one.
Photo credit: Cundall and Dirk Lindner
WELL AP: Kavita Kumari
Architect: Studio Ben Allen