ZGF Architects recently announced the hiring of Dr. Flavia Grey to lead its firmwide data and research and development group. Based in the Seattle office, Grey will partner with clients and project teams to incorporate data-driven decision-making into all phases of design, from concept development to construction administration and beyond.
“No matter the industry, clients increasingly expect leading design firms to justify their decisions with evidence that goes beyond intuition and rules-of-thumb,” says ZGF partner Victoria Nichols. “We’re thrilled to welcome Dr. Grey as we seek to tap into new and existing streams of data. It’s critical that we inform and objectively assess the efficacy of our work to provide the healthiest, most productive spaces for end users.”
As a Stanford University researcher, Grey has authored a variety of peer-reviewed studies examining the connection between building design, sustainability, wellbeing and productivity. An upcoming paper will explore CO2 variability indoors and its correlation with work activities and productivity.
At ZGF, she will help strengthen ZGF’s designs with occupancy evaluations, space utilization studies, and other project-specific and firmwide research initiatives.
“When it comes to data collection, the building industry has traditionally lagged behind,” Grey says. “With the proliferation of sensors, evolving design technology, and the adoption of high-tech building systems, today’s architects and designers have more data and tools at their disposal than ever before. The next step is making sense of that data—and expressing it in a digestible way to inform decision-making.”
Grey’s hiring comes as traditional boundaries are blurring between project types. Corporate offices are moving from a paradigm of private offices to open-office plans, or a blend of both. Healthcare organizations are borrowing from the world of hospitality and devoting more space to family and respite areas. Universities are adopting active-classroom layouts to support evolving pedagogies. Research organizations and university departments are housing multidisciplinary teams together to inspire creative collision that wouldn’t happen otherwise.
Clients increasingly expect that their new projects push the boundaries on sustainability while supporting occupant wellness and productivity: from daylighting strategies for circadian health, to healthy materials.
“How do we assess a client’s existing spaces to inform the direction for their future one?” Grey says of her focus at ZGF. “And how do we define the metrics that can quantify whether that new design is successful? For instance, how do we know that the new biotech workplace meant to inspire serendipitous encounters does so? Or that a new multidisciplinary campus building succeeds at bringing students from disparate departments together? Or that inviting café-style spaces designed to help employees make connections does in fact lead to a more positive office culture? The answer is careful measurement.”
Already, Grey is deploying machine learning algorithms to spot trends in the data being collected by ZGF’s project teams. She is also implementing pre-occupancy evaluations for longtime ZGF client Seattle Children’s Hospital. Like many hospitals in constrained urban environments, Seattle Children’s is moving administrative functions off its main campus to make space for critical clinical functions. With the relocation of key departments to a few floors of the 818 Stewart Street building in downtown Seattle—the interiors were designed by ZGF—the hospital has embarked on a long-range plan to address its rapid growth. ZGF’s plan engages staff in the process of change and collects the data needed to ensure that the design of their spaces is aligned with established ways of working.
Grey received a doctorate in civil and environmental engineering from Stanford University. Since 2017, she has hosted the popular U.S. Green Building Council podcast Built for Health, in which she interviews public health professionals, researchers, and building-industry practitioners about designing, building and operating healthier buildings. The podcast has amassed an audience of 13,000 listeners.
In the newly-created role at ZGF, Grey joins a data strategy and research and development team that uses tools including: machine learning, computational design, data visualization, and more to turn data into design insights.