When a building serves a unique mission to improve global health and environmental resilience, sustainable design becomes more than a talking point.  The Hans Rosling Center for Population Health at the University of Washington was largely funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and reflects the foundation’s desire to help all people lead healthy and productive lives by combating extreme hunger and poverty around the globe.

A unique global mission demands a unique building.  Kristen Dotson is at the center of the action bringing almost two decades of experience in sustainable projects to the team of stakeholders.  Dotson is an architect and director of sustainability with the Miller Hull Partnership in downtown Seattle.  Even the firm’s offices speak to their specialty design practice.

“Miller Hull has an incredible company culture and we wanted to hold ourselves to the same standard that we try to push our clients toward.  So we decided to pursue the living building challenge as part of our office renovation,” said Dotson. “We really wanted to leverage the knowledge we have of red list compliant building materials to make the healthiest environment we could and also take advantage of all the daylight since we overlook the Puget Sound.  No one has a private office and all of our partners are scattered among the projects that they’re working on.”

Like the Miller Hull offices, the Population Health Building reflects the values of its funders, designers and tenants; all stakeholders have worked collaboratively on the design.  It brings together faculty, researchers and students from the School of Public Health, the Department of Global Health and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

Kristen Dotson, Miller Hull Partnership, Seattle

“Putting them all under one roof is designed to see how researchers can collaborate to find population health solutions further and faster, using data visualization and data tracking metrics,” said Dotson.  This approach aligns with the work of the Gate’s foundation, which supports IHME’s work in developing tools like the global burden of disease database which in turn enables policy makers to make better decisions and investments in helping people live longer, healthier lives.

A lot of time went into design on the front end to save time and money on the back end.  “We pulled together as a team to really understand their goals, understanding what they were trying to achieve, not just what the program said, but infusing that mission in every aspect of the building,”  said Dotson.  “For this particular project, the word health is on the building.  So if we’re not addressing health at every scale in this project, if we’re not at least thinking about it, then we’ve failed.”

When you look at the building’s plans, something is clearly missing from most of the floors of the project, that is corridors and hallways.  That missing element is intentional, it’s not like they forgot to include them or ran out of money and needed to cut costs.  According to Dotson, corridors eat up space and kill collaboration, particularly if corridors lead to private offices.

“We want collaboration between these three tenants.  We want them to talk to each other.  We want them to run into somebody they haven’t seen for a while and say, ‘What are you working on?’ Every square foot is trying to build a space where people can linger and socialize in a way that builds their community, but also builds the intellectual capital of the work there.”

Next fall, the Population Health building will open to faculty, researchers and students.  Embedded in its design will be the promise to reach people around the globe, hoping to reduce disease, promote good health, and environmental resilience. These are big goals, but tapping into the kind of innovation that went into design and construction of the UW Population Health building, stakeholders are planning for big results.

Bill Griffith practices land use, real estate and municipal law at Larkin Hoffman.  He represents Mall of America and the City of Columbus, Minnesota, as well as other owners, managers and developers of real estate.  He has a special interest in sustainable solutions to land use and development challenges.