Bill Gates sounds like a prophetic voice today when talking about the day to day impact of a global pandemic and the need for diagnostic preparedness and self-quarantine. Still, his depth of understanding of the current crisis comes as no surprise to those who have watched where the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded big grants over many years for research designed to improve global health.
Last fall, I sat down with Kristen Dotson, an architect in the center of the design of the Hans Rosling Center for Population Health at the University of Washington which 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 key part of that global mission is reflected in the work of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, which is also supported by Gates and others. Today, governors and world leaders are in constant communication with IHME to track the rate of infections, mortality and supplies of protective equipment for health care workers. The work of the IHME in building predictive models over many years is now providing real time data for front line decisions in every state and in many countries around the world.
That same type of innovation is driving the design and construction of the Population Health building, according to Dotson. “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 Gates 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 unique global mission demands a unique building. Dotson brings 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 IHME.
“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 Gates 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.”
This fall, the Population Health building will open to faculty, researchers and students. Well before the global pandemic, the building’s stakeholders promised to use this resource to reach people around the globe, hoping to reduce disease, promote good health, and environmental resilience. Today, the urgency appears even greater as scientists and world leaders collaborate to fight disease and promote global health.
Updated post from November 13, 2019
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.