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24 MAY 2017

Kirksey Team Members Earn New Credentials

We are proud to have a new Fitwel Ambassador and SITES AP expert on our EcoServices team.

Two of Kirksey’s EcoServices team members are now sporting new letters behind their names. We are proud to congratulate Kapil Upadhyaya on becoming a Fitwel Ambassador (he's already LEED AP and ASHRAE certified), and Katherine Ruiz on receiving her SITES AP credential (she's already LEED AP certified).

Check out the Q&A with Katherine and Kapil below for more info about their new designations and what it means for architecture, design and better serving our clients.

Q: What does having a SITES AP credential mean?
Katherine: The SITES AP credential is used as a demonstration of expertise in the SITES certification process, similar to the existing LEED AP credential. What makes SITES unique is its focus on sustainable land development and management – the goal of the Sustainable SITES Initiative is to elevate the value of landscapes in our built environment.

Q: What is a FITWEL ambassador?
Kapil: Fitwel Ambassadors are leaders and active participants in Fitwel’s healthy building movement. They are well-versed on the evidence-based connection between design and health and have a clear understanding on how to integrate Fitwel’s strategies within buildings. Ambassadors can also navigate the Fitwel Digital Scorecard to assist companies track progress and attain Fitwel certification.

Q: How can both of these credentials help with architectural design? What does it mean for future projects?
Katherine: When developing projects, the design focus is usually placed on the building, and the surrounding landscape is frequently handled with a lower priority. The land, however, is crucial in providing ecosystem and resiliency services to our projects and their occupants. I believe SITES will lead to our understanding of the value of these services and the acknowledgement that current land practices can imperil these natural and undervalued benefits, such as air purification and water retention.

Use of SITES as a guideline for land development and management can restore and maintain ecosystem services through low-impact strategies that can actually save developers 15 to 80 percent in total capital costs. More importantly, these green infrastructure strategies provide benefits to humankind that far outweigh their artificial counterparts.

Kapil: The goal of Fitwel is to impact community, reduce absenteeism, support social equity, instill feelings of well-being, provide healthy food options, promote occupant safety and increases physical activity. Fitwel can impact architectural and interior design in significant ways.

For example, "building access" strategies would encourage walkability among occupants; "outdoor spaces" strategies would encourage use of landscape areas in a variety of ways; and "stairwells" strategies would increase use of staircases beyond their mandatory requirement for fire-safety. Because Fitwel is geared toward architectural design of workplaces, it will be especially helpful to our Design, Interiors, Commercial and Renovation teams. A Fitwel Feasibility Analysis could be used to provide feedback to clients on site selection and on building operations, as well as to plan for future phase of buildings that promote health and well being.

Q: How rigorous was the testing program?
Katherine: As a collaborative effort of the American Society of Landscape Architects, The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at UT Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden, The Sustainable SITES Initiative created the SITES certification as a specialized rating system with a heavy emphasis on interdisciplinary participation throughout all project phases. Due to the number of these moving parts within each pursued credit, as well as performance-focused measures replacing simpler prescribing measures, I found the SITES rating system to be a much more thorough, rigorous and dense set of challenges than what we would see in the LEED rating system.

Kapil: The testing program for Fitwel is very easy, and intentionally so. The intent of the test is to ensure that participants understand fundamental spatial attributes, operational policies and community connections that affect health and wellbeing of building occupants. Target audience are Designers (Architects and Interior Designers) and Building Owners. 

Q: What motivated you to receive these designations?
Katherine: I’ve always had a strong passion for landscapes and urban planning (I had a bad childhood habit of saving hundreds of cut-outs from Better Homes and Gardens), which was further encouraged by the urbanism focus of the School of Architecture at Notre Dame. Upon entering the workforce, however, it seemed that the design of the site and its integration with the urban fabric was not as valued by most clients as the design of the actual building. With the emergence of the SITES rating system, I hope to see design teams push toward prioritizing our project sites through community connection and naturally occurring ecosystem services at an equal priority to the building design.

Kapil: I personally see building performance as a universe within which lie various issues that are important to various clients. For example, reliability is a critical issue for datacenter clients, maintenance is a critical issue for institutional clients, and sustainability is an important issue for commercial clients.

Most of these building performance issues are inter-dependent, and getting a certification helps understand the inter-dependencies very clearly, especially those that offer opportunities to get the maximum bang for your buck. For example, adding an exercise room for "Fitwel points" will improve employee health, but will impact building energy use and HVAC equipment. Alternative HVAC systems and/or natural ventilation could be integrated with "running trails" to offer a design that meets both Fitwel and LEED. I see Employee Health being increasingly recognized by businesses as an important issue that Fitwel can address through active design principles.

Q: What else would you like for people to know?
Katherine: You don’t have to pursue SITES certification in order to adopt their practices! There are tons of design, construction, and management strategies utilized in the rating system that could (and should!) be adopted by any project. A little extra attention to the preservation of an existing site element, for example, can provide a built-in level of resiliency that could protect your site from a natural disaster.

Kapil: Center for Disease Control and General Services Administration, together, created Fitwel. Center for Active Design, a non-profit, operates the program and has already run pilot-tests on 89 buildings. Fitwel was rated ‘Easy’ by property managers and the fee to register and certify Fitwel spaces/buildings is $6,500. There are 63 strategies in Fitwel based on health-research, which in most cases is peer-reviewed and done by academic and research institutions. These strategies fall within the following categories: Location, Building Access, Outdoor Spaces, Entrances, Stairwells, Indoor Environment, Workspaces, Shared Spaces, Water Supply, Cafeterias & Food Retail, Vending Machines and Emergency Procedures.

Photo by Ruben Serrano
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