When our redesigned New York and Chicago offices opened in 2021, our staff returned to a workplace that puts health and wellness at the forefront. Two years later, our efforts in both projects have been recognized with WELL Platinum certification by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI). The prestigious distinction was awarded through IWBI’s WELL v2 pilot, the latest version of the WELL Building Standard, which identifies and quantifies the steps needed to enhance human health through architecture.
The New York office, located at 7 World Trade Center—the 52-story tower designed by SOM and completed in 2006—focuses on four main tenets: openness, mobility, sustainability, and wellness. It showcases healthy, low-carbon workplace design, spanning two interconnected floors that foster community through a forum, a shared cafe and lounge, amenities for meditation and breaks, and collaboration zones spread throughout the studio.
“Our goal was to holistically integrate the program of a contemporary design studio into a tranquil interior. This certification shows us that we met that goal,” said SOM Partner Chris Cooper. “Our workplace is an expansive, flexible space characterized by healthy materials, a responsible approach to the use of resources, and a focus on well-being—it all stems from a design philosophy of radical reduction of carbon and chemicals in our environment.”
SOM’s Chicago office, located in the iconic Railway Exchange Building on South Michigan Avenue, features a full-height building atrium that emphasizes variety and connectivity across its two floors. Drawing on studies in neurodiversity and well-being, the office includes a customizable event space, communal tables, cafe-style huddle booths, a communicating stair and varied seating arrangements.
“Our office redesign was informed by the feedback gathered through a series of all-staff workshops,” said SOM Sustainability Director Marzia Sedino. “The result is a space that offers breathtaking views of Lake Michigan, encourages mobility with a network of daylit circulation paths along the atrium, and features a low-tech green wall system designed, installed, and maintained by our staff. Our fully exposed ceiling showcases the ventilation and chilled beam systems, and our integrated demand-based control system, linked to lighting, shades, and thermostats, empowers employees to control their visual and thermal comfort. Acoustic comfort is achieved through a sound masking system that provides the optimal level of white noise.”
Of more than 45,000 projects in the WELL directory, fewer than 400 are certified platinum—including only 12 in New York and 10 in Illinois. SOM is currently pursuing WELL certification for all of its offices worldwide.
“The architecture of our studios reflects the direction we believe office design should be heading,” said SOM Associate Principal Charles Harris. “Our approach emphasizes decarbonization while harnessing the value of working in person, bringing openness, light, mobility, healthy air, and a diversity of collaboration spaces together to support all styles of work.”