Day Two: Health & Wellbeing in the Workplace

By promoting health and well-being, agencies have an opportunity to show leadership & innovation in a truly holistic approach to total worker health, while benefiting workforce productivity & happiness.

Division 13   bus operations and maintenance facility. "A model of energy efficiency and design and will serve as an example for other transportation agencies world-wide."   - The Source  |  Photo Credit: Chang Kim

Division 13 bus operations and maintenance facility. "A model of energy efficiency and design and will serve as an example for other transportation agencies world-wide." - The Source | Photo Credit: Chang Kim

Studies have shown that the U.S. workforce generally is in a crisis of stress, sleep disorders and preventable illnesses. RNL considers the impact of design on health and wellbeing in all our projects, and nowhere is this more apparent than in our transportation studio’s work. For transit operators in charge of passenger lives, the negative impacts of mental and physical stress can quickly become dangerous.

Read part one of our four-part series on the need for prioritizing health and wellbeing in the design and operations of transit facilities.

Transit ridership is at its highest level in four decades, and many agencies are expanding their operations in response. Now is the time for organizations to look at their impact on employees and the message it sends to the greater community. - by Rachel Bannon-Godfrey & Ken Anderson for Metro Magazine

The Bad Rap of Blue Light

By: Rachel Bannon-Godfrey, Rachel Fitzgerald and Katherine Stekr

RECENT HEADLINES BLAME BLUE LIGHT FOR THE CURRENT SLEEP DEPRIVATION CRISIS. But what does that really mean?  Why is blue light so bad?  More importantly, how does it affect you and the built environment?

We are living in a glowing age of information – literally. We are constantly bathed in light from a barrage of sources – phones, watches, computer screens, TVs, fitness trackers – you name it, and most anything with a screen or digital output has a component light in the blue spectrum. As technology brings smarter devices into our lives, our awareness of the potential detrimental effects on the human body has grown. Artificial blue light has been shown to disrupt our natural sleep patterns. According to recent studies, sleep disorders contribute to multiple health ailments – from Type 2 Diabetes, obesity, cancer, heart disease, and clinical depression. The dangers are real, but there’s also a lot of misinformation that paints blue light as the enemy. The key is all in the timing.

When Blue Light is the Good Guy

We actually need blue light. It is an important part of how our biological time-clock functions; it controls our Circadian Rhythm, which is in charge of our sleep/wake cycle. Blue light entering the eye in the morning and throughout the day suppresses our body’s production of Melatonin and increases the production of Serotonin and Dopamine. This allows us to be alert during the day. Blue light is in league with the blue sky and the high angle of the sun, which is mimicked by the overhead lighting in most offices. We need sources of blue light during the day, as many of us spend most of our waking hours in the built environment where access to natural daylight is often limited.

When Blue Light Is the Bad Guy

 As the sun sets, the angle of light into our eye decreases and the ‘color’ of the light shifts from blue to a warmer amber color. This shift increases the production of Melatonin in the body. This is the body’s natural sleep aide, helping you fall asleep and stay asleep. Blue light at night, even for a millisecond, resets the body’s internal clock and disrupts all these processes. Prolonged exposure to blue light right before bedtime prohibits your body from performing normal brain and body functions that keep us healthy. Studies have shown significant negative health impacts with exposure to blue light after 8 p.m. It has been linked to higher incidences of cancer in shift workers and greater instances of confusion and disorientation in those affected with Alzheimer’s.


So how can those of us who have an impact on the built environment support a healthy balance of light?


Circadian Lighting

The term circadian lighting essentially refers to a system with the potential to produce lighting sequences that stimulate cortisol production (blue light) during peak daylight and suppress melatonin production (elimination of blue light) at night. Put simply, circadian lighting tries to imitate the light patterns we would have experienced before the built environment and technology came along. Caveman lighting, if you will.

Addressing Circadian Lighting in the Built Environment

Achieving the perfect ‘caveman’ circadian lighting is no easy feat. The typical person today spends 90 percent of our time indoors, under a growing amount of LED lighting, which has a component of blue light. Thought is now being put into how a shift in the color temperature and output of LED lights could address circadian disruption currently happening in most buildings. At RNL, as designers and architects of the built environment, we see more opportunity to implement LED lighting systems with variable outputs which mimic the color output of the sun, providing the good peak blue light output at mid-day, eliminating the blue light component at night with warmer white outputs.

It Takes a Village

The problem with (and solution to) circadian-related health impacts is not the sole responsibility of the architectural lighting community. RNL strongly believes the key to solving this problem lies in cross-disciplinary partnerships. We are actively collaborating with not only lighting designers, manufacturers and architects, but also public health and medical professionals, urban planners and municipalities. Society has become alarmingly dependent on glowing screens. Ultimately, collaboration needs to extend to the electronics and wearables industry. If we can create lighting systems tuned to follow our circadian rhythm, then why not every light we find ourselves exposed to? If the designers and engineers of our spaces, places and devices work together, we can find solutions that keep us digitally connected, well illuminated, and biologically in sync. We can get that healthy caveman lighting back, but it’s going to take a significant re-tooling of technology and re-training of personal habits to get us there. 


LA Metro’s First Secure Bike Parking Station

The El Monte Bike Hub will have 24/7 access, 56 bicycle spaces, accessory sales and is stocked with all the tools needed for commuter to do repairs. Photo Credit:  Metro

The El Monte Bike Hub will have 24/7 access, 56 bicycle spaces, accessory sales and is stocked with all the tools needed for commuter to do repairs. Photo Credit: Metro


As part of The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (Metro) commitment to enhancing bicycle infrastructure in the L.A. region, Metro today celebrated the official opening of its very first “Metro Bike Hub,” a dedicated, full-service, secure-access, high-capacity bicycle parking facility at the El Monte Station, the busiest transit hub in the San Gabriel Valley.

The new $635,000, 1,100+ square-foot facility is conveniently located in prime ground-floor retail space at the front of El Monte Station, the largest bus facility west of Chicago.  The facility will provide a full suite of bicycle-related services including controlled entry for 56 bicycles under closed-circuit TV surveillance, peak-hour staff availability, folding bike rentals, same-day repairs, accessory sales and bike-related classes.  The facility adds 60 percent greater bicycle parking capacity to the station. -
LA Metro


After doubling its size in October 2012, El Monte Station has become the busiest transit hub in the San Gabriel Valley. Photo Credit:  RNL

After doubling its size in October 2012, El Monte Station has become the busiest transit hub in the San Gabriel Valley. Photo Credit: RNL

The next four Metro Bike Hubs planned to open at high-demand transit stations across Los Angeles County will be at:

  • Hollywood/Vine
  • Culver City Expo Line Station
  • Los Angeles Union Station
  • North Hollywood Red/Orange Line Station



The International Living Future Institute announced Thursday the projects it has selected for the Living Building Challenge Affordable Housing Pilot Project.  From now through Dec 31st 2016, the ILFI will work with the design teams of each project, ranging from SRO to Multi-Family and Mixed-Use, providing Living Building Challenge education, membership, a charrette, DD and CD phase documentation reviews. Tracking these projects, it will be interesting to see how the principles of the Living Building Challenge are applied to projects with significantly lower budgets than the signature projects that are publicized to date.

I hope they are all a success, and the results strengthen the challenging financial argument for pursuing this admirable rating system. 

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of


In July, three Google Street View cars roamed Denver for 750 hours, capturing 150 million data points on air quality to make people more aware of how cities ‘live and breathe’. Place-making, meet public health.

Air quality is the most fundamental component of human health. It is also, globally, one of the most threatened. In recognition of this health crisis, the most heavily weighted section of the WELL building standard is ‘Air’. From testing, monitoring and display of air quality inside your building, to filtration, ventilation, and microbe control, WELL pre-conditions and optimizations aim to limit pollutant concentrations in the buildings we live and work in.

photo credit: Joe Pemberton

photo credit: Joe Pemberton

The challenges are many though. At a building-level, increased filtration often increases pressure drop which affects air delivery and efficiency. Sensors are expensive. Many external conditions are beyond the engineers’ control (I hear stories of smoking students outside the RNL Denver office air intake…). At a more fundamental level, exposure to harmful air quality is nebulous and hard to pinpoint: ‘monitoring is complicated by the fact air is everywhere, yet scientists can’t be.’

Scientists can’t be everywhere, but in the age of the IoT (internet of things) they don’t need to be. Physical cloud, meet your virtual counterpart. Networked sensors and smartphone apps are stepping in to capture data on air pollution at a much more granular level than previously possible – specific to communities or neighborhoods rather than the nearest airport weather station. This article describes sensors and apps developed to help Joe Public track air pollution levels, including low-cost devices in recognition of the social-environmental inequity of the least affluent communities suffering the worst air quality. This is good news for our WELL projects, as we try to think of innovative, people-empowered ways to provide monitoring of the most important environmental conditions, without adding to the project budget or impeding the performance. All it takes is a few people with the smartphone app / sensor networked to the building’s website, intranet or display monitor, to create an air quality map of the project locale.


This is not a new article, but it came up in a discussion of the need to design cities for people, not cars, and is worth a read. It basically reminds us of the need to walk for the sake of walking, not just as a means to go from A to B quickly. And apparently aimless walking is the key to literary genius, but wait till you finish walking before texting your agent.

"A lot of places, if you walk you feel you are doing something self-consciously. Walking becomes a radical act."


Do Bike Paths Need Ride-In Toilets? YES. And other things. Read on for a discussion on how to make Bike Paths more functional. But focus on the ride-in toilets because, yes.

photos credit: MarkA on Flickr

photos credit: MarkA on Flickr