Post-Occupancy Evaluation: Swedish Medical Center Ballard Behavioral Health Unit

Project background

As we embarked on our work for Swedish Medical Center Ballard’s Behavioral Health Unit in Seattle, our client’s primary drivers were to promote patient healing and safety, while providing a safe and calming work environment for staff.

To assess the performance outcomes of the new space and investigate how the physical environment affects the staff, patient and family experience after a full year of operations, ZGF conducted a post-occupancy evaluation – that included surveying 18 behavioral-health unit providers – to benchmark the new facility against these design objectives.

We identified statistically-significant relationships between distinct design elements and the perceived impact on patients and staff.

Click here to read the completed post-occupancy evaluation report.

Key findings

Results from the analysis show that ZGF’s design decisions promote a calm patient environment, positive patient-care experiences, and a sense of safety.

The findings:

  • Engaging colors and textures in the communal spaces are perceived as soothing and link positive patient experiences directly to the project’s design intent.
  • Circadian lighting regulates calming.
  • Provider perceptions of physical safety were highly correlated with a reception desk at the main staff workspace area. Custom-milled and built from Corian, its unique shape and textural edges emulate an art feature. The desk doubles as a potential barrier between patients and staff when needed.
  • Additional acoustic insulation—a relatively inexpensive solution—could improve the effectiveness of the rooms.

Responsive Design for the Future Legal Workplace

As the cost of real estate and construction costs increase, law firms are increasingly seeking solutions to maximize their space and design efficiently for the future. Advancements in technology and business practices have forced drastic changes in the operations of law firms, increasing the need for firms to remain nimble and flexible. Culturally, law firms are shifting toward workplace strategies that promote communication, foster collaboration, and increase productivity, while enhancing employee satisfaction and the client experience. In response, the following ten drivers are beginning to influence and will continue to shape the future legal workplace.

  1. Other than salaries, real estate costs are the highest expenditure for law firms, and these costs continue to increase. Thoughtfully designed and employed workplace strategies can affect the bottom line and can be used to maintain margins and a competitive edge.
  2. Advancing technologies have enabled law firms to work productively across larger geographies. As a result, many larger firms are relocating administrative staff, including I.T. and accounting, to less expensive real estate. Connectivity of these regional offices is essential to business operations and in ensuring those employees feel connected to their organization.
Photo Credit: © Benjamin Benschneider
  1. Firms are under increased pressure to evolve as a new generation enters the workforce seeking a company culture that aligns with their personal goals and beliefs. This new generation is looking for increased transparency, access to partners, and cultures that value and promote sustainable practices.
  2. Because clients rarely follow a nine to five schedule, neither can their attorneys. An office designed with the right technology and tools for communication is critical in providing superior service and legal guidance. This is especially true for firms operating with international, national, and regional locations.
  3. Although law-firm office planning has historically been dictated by employee tenure and title, this inflexible model has caused costly growing pains in an ever-changing world. A more uniform approach to office planning has become popular as many firms have realized the benefits and decreased costs associated with flexibility in their workspaces.
  4. Clients’ expectations are shifting from the value of a single lawyer to the impact their collective legal team can provide. To foster teamwork, workspaces must allow for properly allocated and designed team spaces for increased efficiency, collaboration, and synergy.
  5. As the need for collaborative space increases, quiet focus areas remain critical to the nature of a law firm’s business. While many professional service companies have moved away from a more traditional enclosed perimeter office model, confidentiality and employee retention / recruitment concerns mean the private office is here to stay for the majority of law firms in America and abroad.
Photo Credit: Nick Merrick © Hedrich Blessing
  1. With increased demand from existing staff and new employees, many firms are providing tools and features to promote wellness and employee productivity. Environments that provide maximized access to daylight and views, while promoting stair use and healthy eating habits, positively impact human health and happiness.
  2. Amenity spaces attract and retain top talent, enhance the employee and client experience, and boost company culture within law firms. Our experience and research have shown that these community-focused spaces including roof terraces, fitness centers, coffee bars, and full-service cafes, promote employee wellness and greater team collaboration.
Photo Credit: © Alan Schindler
  1. A law firm’s office environment should establish or reinforce the firm’s brand and in turn display an identity and culture. A well-established and distinguished brand can be an invaluable tool for recruitment, retention, and to foster a greater connection with a firm’s clientele and staff.

These key drivers are reshaping the legal landscape as we know it. Keeping them top of mind will help support client needs and business efforts in the coming years.

ZGF’s Tammy Felker on Humanizing Behavioral Health Spaces Through Design

Before embarking on a career in architecture, ZGF’s Tammy Felker – featured in the below video – had an inkling that design was in her future, so much so that family-vacation itineraries were often dictated by visits to historical sites and buildings.

While working as a critical-care nurse at the University of Virginia Medical Center, her career intersected with architecture during her involvement with the university’s hospital replacement project. It became apparent to Felker that healthcare design could benefit from a clinician’s perspective. After 16 years in nursing, she earned a Master of Architecture in 2001 and has worked in medical planning and design ever since.

During her career, Felker has seen a dramatic shift in the way hospitals and healthcare systems approach behavioral health. Compared to all healthcare facility types, she says, the physical environment of an in-patient behavioral-health unit, in particular, has the greatest potential to impact patient outcomes.

When it comes to designing spaces for the greatest therapeutic benefits, Felker says ZGF’s approach is to introduce design interventions that promote a sense of normalcy and healing, while balancing patient and staff safety considerations.

“The spaces and rooms, the furnishings, the fixtures, they’re all tools to help with healing, just like an IV pump in a medical-surgical unit,” she said. “Presenting options for patients’ choice of care, control of the environment and interactions with others is really important as well. This can all be enhanced by the physical environment we create.”

At Swedish Medical Center’s Ballard Medical Behavioral Health Unit (BHU) in Seattle, the ZGF design team inherited two floors of an existing hospital that would be renovated into a 22-bed space promoting recovery, mindfulness and safety. Designed to simulate the activities of daily living, the facility includes private spaces for patient bedrooms, transitional zones, and communal spaces for dining, activities and interactions with fellow patients and staff.

In stark contrast to what Felker first encountered as an architect – when only prison-grade fixtures were available to those designing BHUs – the Swedish project incorporates wood, fabrics, wall coverings, Corian counters and even ceramic tile. These are familiar materials found in homes that also lend a feeling of sophistication. While elevating the experience for patients, these finishes also carry the dual benefits of safety and durability. Acoustical considerations also drove design decisions, as noise can often agitate patient populations, she said.

The solid-core reception desk at the main nurse circulation area serves dual roles. Custom-milled and built from Corian, its unique shape and textural edge help it act like an art feature. But the desk also provides a potential barrier between patients and staff when needed, in contrast to old models like the kind depicted in the movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” with nurses seated behind a wire-glass enclosure, and pills being slipped under a pass-through cutout.

Another key design driver for the Swedish BHU is the emerging trauma-informed model of care. To minimize the need to restrain patients – which can trigger memories of past trauma – the project includes calming rooms for de-escalation. The quiet spaces allow patients to change the color and intensity of lighting in the rooms, imparting a sense of safety and control. Patients also use them to meditate and practice breathing exercises, the kind of skills that can be developed in the inpatient environment to manage symptoms after being discharged.

An exercise room featuring a stationary bicycle, yoga mat and exercise ball – unique to the Swedish BHU – is helpful in combatting depression and foundational to overall health and wellness.

Circadian lighting helps synchronize patients’ natural sleep-wake rhythms, marking the passage of time and providing a sense of calm as the day winds down.
Circadian lighting helps synchronize patients’ natural sleep-wake rhythms.

In common areas, tunable LED lighting helps synchronize patients’ natural sleep-wake rhythms, marking the passage of time and providing a sense of calm as the day winds down.

To destigmatize the environment in the BHU, existing structural columns were transformed into nature-inspired art features covered with glass and ceramic tile. This is another departure from BHU designs of old, where structural columns were wrapped in concrete and painted, leaving grooves, steel housings and fixtures exposed.

“What’s really important is the message we send to patients, their families and the community,” Felker said. “Through the design, we are signaling that these are valued members of society and that the hospital and the organization has invested in these spaces to provide comfortable, warm and therapeutic environments for their wellbeing.”

During the month of May, ZGF is recognizing Mental Health Awareness Month with a series of posts and videos that explore the topic of designing behavioral health spaces.


Architect Magazine Highlights ZGF’s Approach to Pre- and Post-Occupancy Evaluations

Pre- and post-occupancy evaluations of the spaces we design can provide the data to not only validate our design decisions, but inform our own teams about how well these buildings serve their intended occupants.

In a new article from Architect magazine hitting newsstands this month, ZGF’s Dane Stokes, Tim Deak and Paul Diaz were interviewed about how emerging digital tools can unearth more insights than ever before, while enabling us to make the most informed choices possible.

These assessments also help us optimize the interaction between people and the built environment, make recommendations for future design interventions, and show our commitment to our clients and the success of their projects.

IPD Process Leads to New Façade at OHSU Center for Health & Healing South

Integrated Project Delivery is oft-lauded as a collaborative process that increases project efficiency by bringing all stakeholders into the discussions early and often, eliminating misunderstandings and redundancies. At the site of Oregon Health & Sciences University’s Center for Health and Healing – South (CHH-South), a 430,000 SF ambulatory surgery center in Portland, Oregon, the IPD process included co-location of team members in an onsite office where designers worked elbow-to-elbow with installers, engineers, vendors and contractors. During the schematic design phase, the ZGF / Hoffman team was seeking a concealed fastener façade panel that could be both field-installed and glazed into the curtain wall, with a texture dynamic enough to interact well with the building’s scale.

During their research, the ZGF designers found the MORIN W-12 (below), a folded panel that is oft-popular because of its dynamism, ease of installation and overall flexibility. Given the building’s scale, the design team thought a similar panel with just one more fold would be ideal, but no such panel existed. With project team members all in one location, designers had only to swivel around in their chairs and ask the on-site panel expert if MORIN could create a custom panel for the CHH-South exterior.

Original Morin W12 Panel_With Caption










Less than a week later, a mocked-up prototype was in-hand, and roughly eight months later the Z-12 panel (below) made its debut named in homage to the ZGF designers that conceived of it and the W-12 panel that inspired it. As a result of the IPD process, an entirely new product was created at no cost and of great value to the client.

Proposed Morin Z12 Panel_With Caption










Forty-one thousand feet of the panel are currently being installed at OHSU CHH-South, slated to open in early 2019, and will serve as a testament to the innovation, hard work, and collaborative spirit of the entire project team.


VIDEO: The Power of Computational Design

In our latest video, we share a variety of case studies highlighting our use of computational design to make informed design decisions earlier than ever, and to understand the larger ramifications of those choices. The result: more and better options for our clients, and more cost-effective solutions overall for human-centered, high-performance spaces.


Our teams use computational design in many ways, including:

  1. Simulating employee movement within a new tech campus. By using data from the client’s existing office space, we can ensure that proposed circulation paths are optimized to handle the flow of employees at high-traffic times including their arrival at work, when they head to lunch and during their end-of-day departures.
  2. Balancing energy use and occupant comfort in a proposed office mid-rise by modeling external shading configurations. This led us to shed an unnecessary and costly external louver, thereby saving money without sacrificing comfort or energy performance.
  3. Intentional, rather than intuitive, building programming for a proposed Seattle tech campus where the effects of the sun’s daily arc were simulated minute by minute. By minimizing glare and heat gain in key areas, thermal comfort and access to daylight were maximized while the energy needed to cool the building was dramatically reduced.
  4. Rapid design iteration of a complicated curved-façade high-rise allowed hundreds of iterations to be generated in days rather than weeks, providing the design team with access to a range of options and new solutions for the client.

For more, watch the video above.


In Pursuit of Healthier Building Materials

While millions of building products and materials are marketed and sold each day, the people most involved in selecting them for projects – architects, designers, contractors and others – remain largely in the dark about their chemical makeup and effects on occupants and the environment.

Phthalates (commonly used in vinyl flooring and wall coverings), flame retardants (prevalent in foam, plastic and furniture) and other toxins are present in the most common building components. Each has proven to be harmful to human health.

Yet today, many manufacturers do not disclose the ingredients they use, making it difficult for building-industry professionals to help discern bad options from healthier ones. Considering that the average building is comprised of thousands of products, each with a different chemical composition, product specification has become increasingly complex.

In 2015, ZGF architect Melissa Balestri, along with then-ZGF colleague Ed Clark and former ZGFer Chris Hellstern, founded the Healthy Materials Collaborative (HMC) in Seattle to address a knowledge gap in the local architecture, engineering and construction industry (AEC) community. By educating members about industry-recognized chemicals of concern, teaching them methods of evaluating products and working with manufacturers to help establish sustainability priorities, the aim is to create market change locally, regionally and nationally.

The HMC and its members pool learnings, ideas, resources and their collective passions to curb the health and environmental impacts of building materials.

The HMC counts 115 Seattle design professionals from 50 different firms among its ranks, including architects, interior designers, specifiers, owners, sustainability consultants, educators, contractors and an attorney.

For established practitioners, the HMC provides pre-built tools and checklists to make product vetting less time-intensive. For smaller firms with fewer resources, HMC removes barriers to entry through knowledge sharing and support.

Members of the HMC host monthly meetings and co-organize events like the “Green Your Specs” workshops and happy hours to inform the design, vetting and specification processes. Each of these workshops offer attendees a crash course in digital tools and strategies. Also featured are one-on-one consultations with other architects, specifiers, and sustainability consultants.

Lack of disclosure standards

Today, there remains no single standard to measure a building’s toxicity and environmental impact.

While many industries are required to disclose the makeup of the products they sell – the FDA’s Nutrition Facts label requirement is an example we encounter each day – no such disclosure requirement exists for the building industry. The lack of regulations, combined with inconsistent product disclosure practices, has put the onus on the AEC community to exert market pressure on manufacturers and vendors.

Since its founding, HMC members have advocated for greater materials transparency. Shifting the building industry toward the use of healthier, more sustainable materials, they encourage project teams to consider the human and environmental costs of the supply chain.

Newer certification programs like the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED v4 and the Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge incentivizing healthier materials through design credits, but determining which materials comply with what standard remains challenging. HMC attempts to bridge the knowledge gap by inviting competing firms to the same table to pursue a common goal.

By empowering practitioners to more readily vet building products, reduced health impacts can be achieved for building occupants, the people constructing the buildings, the people manufacturing the materials, and the people reusing and disposing the material.

Benefits that go beyond

Along with reduced health and environmental impacts across the building supply chain, using healthier and more sustainable building components can launch new industries and spur economic activity.

Shifting the building industry toward less toxic materials like cross-laminated timber – coupled with new efforts to manufacture this responsibly-sourced material locally – carries the dual promise of rural economic development and environmental resilience for future generations.

Environmental and social sustainability impacts

On average, Americans spend 90 percent of the day indoors, where the concentration of pollutants is between two and five times greater than the levels encountered outdoors, according to the EPA.

Many building products are manufactured in disadvantaged communities, where the health and environmental burdens of industrial activity often fall on residents. Examples include Seattle’s Greater Duwamish industrial land – a couple of miles from the ZGF Seattle office – that has been designated as an EPA Superfund site with dangerous levels of PCBs, arsenic and numerous carcinogens, that originated from a variety of sources. These include industrial shipping, PCBs from paint and sealant in the storm water runoff, and manufacturing facilities (such as those making hardware and rebar). Areas along an 85-mile stretch of the Mississippi River in Louisiana from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, dubbed “Cancer Alley,” is home to more than 150 plants and refineries, including those operated by the most prominent building-materials manufacturers. In both regions, industrial activity is curtailing the lifespans of residents living nearby.

Promoting product transparency and the use of healthier, more sustainable materials can reduce the health impacts on affected communities, thereby promoting social equity.

With healthier products, building occupants breathe cleaner air and the impacts of manufacturing are reduced. And when buildings inevitably meet the wrecking ball decades after opening, their components can more readily be integrated into new buildings.

Below is a half-sheet reference developed by the HMC to aid practitioners in their pursuit of materials transparency goals and education.


Transforming Downtown Seattle’s Public Realm

Amid an employment boom and an influx of new residents, Seattleites are shifting their trip choices away from drive-alone commuting to public transit, walking, cycling and carpooling.

As a result, the impetus for vibrant, inviting and safe downtown pedestrian experiences has never been greater. In the Feb. 22 issue of the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce, ZGF urban planners Heidi Bullinga and Brian McCarter share their vision for enlivening downtown’s Pike-Pine corridor alongside the City of Seattle, Waterfront Seattle and the Downtown Seattle Association.

Construction of these Pike Pine Renaissance: Act One public realm improvements could begin in 2020.

Q&A: Computational Design with Dane Stokes

Years before ZGF design technology specialist Dane Stokes embarked on a career in architecture, he was entrenched in the Las Vegas car scene.

At age 16, Stokes restored his first vehicle: a 1937 Plymouth. Eventually, he was named a lead designer and fabricator for a Porsche racing and restoration shop. He gained an appreciation for not only the design and construction of racing vehicles, but for the analytical approach to research and development: a blend of structural analysis, performance metrics and aesthetics.

Stokes noticed parallels between the automotive industry and architecture, where dual performance and aesthetic requirements pose complex challenges. He eventually returned to school to earn a masters in architecture from the University of Pennsylvania.

Today, his first career shapes his approach at ZGF. Stokes and colleagues regularly turn to computational design — tools for translating processing power into unique design solutions — to solve complexities inherent to high-performance architecture. He recently took some time to trace his career path, and to describe how computational design is being deployed on ZGF projects.

Dane_originalHow does your background inform and inspire your work now at ZGF?

I have always had a love for building, designing, fabrication and problem solving. Although the entirety of my current work is centered around the power of the computer, it is really the thrill of making that drives me. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter what the end product is: a race car, a building, or a database. The process with which it is made, and the challenges that need to be overcome during the design process, is really where my passion lies.

Can you describe why you first started using computational design?

I started using it during my undergraduate studies. I was completing a series of fabrication projects including a wall of several hundred unique panel components. Adopting a computational design process allowed me to manage these unique items simultaneously, while building more complex and advanced installations. The ability to dictate design intent to an algorithm, and to have it respond with specific and intricate geometrical solutions, which are organized and quantifiable, was a real game-changer for my capabilities as a designer and builder.

How are you currently using computational design?

Computational design processes really excel where large amounts of data or objects in a design model need to be processed in unique ways. For example, the city of Seattle’s energy code requires architects to produce a drawing, wherein every unique façade panel is outlined and color coded based on its type. Areas of these panels are also calculated into a spreadsheet. A typical building of the scale we usually build has 10,000 to 20,000 panels on it. With computational design, we write an algorithm that shortens the time needed to complete a task from months into hours.

What’s the most interesting way you’ve applied computational design on a project?

We had an interiors project that involved weaving a couple hundred unique panels throughout a space, in unique positions and orientations. The act of making the panels wasn’t terribly difficult. However, when the sheets required to document the panels needed to be produced, the simple process of laying every panel flat and arranging them on sheets — with all dimensions and angles documented across these hundreds of panels — became totally unreasonable. The process was so labor-intensive that the designers were hesitant to explore multiple design options for the installation. In this example, writing an algorithm to automatically document every panel allowed the design team to focus on the actual design. This is how we use computational design: to allow more freedom for our design staff by focusing on the design decisions that really affect our finished product.

What’s on the horizon for future uses of computational design?

I see almost endless possibilities for the implementation of computational design within our industry. More advanced algorithms and more powerful computing systems will allow us to speak more generally to the computer programs we rely on to produce our work, rather than focusing on explicit commands.

Using Revit as a Collaboration Tool

Communicating the value of 3D collaboration to consultants using Revit as a 2D drafting tool.

At ZGF, Building Information Modelling (BIM) is at the center of our collaborative design process, organized around the creation of parametric 3D modeling of the entire project. When used as a 3D coordination tool, Revit allows for a smooth delivery of the BIM workflow and better coordination between consultants across documents. But, when a consultant uses Revit as a 2D drafting tool only, keeping workflow on track can get tricky.

At Autodesk University, ZGF’s Design Technology Manager, Laura Kay Smith, discussed how architects can work with consultants to effectively use Revit as a collaboration tool. In her session, Laura shared best practices for coordinating with consultants using Revit’s capabilities and setting up 3D modelling requirements to facilitate consultant BIM use. The session detailed critical planning steps that all project team members should engage in, including project kick-off meetings, mapping out 2D to 3D workflows, and writing BIM execution plans.

“Every project needs a kick-off meeting and a BIM execution plan. All parties need to understand how to collaborate on the project effectively,” says Laura. Drawing from her experience working with consultants to facilitate interoffice BIM goals, Laura also explored case studies and sample execution plans for different levels of BIM involvement.