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Kinder, Greener, More Active Office Spaces Winning Awards

By Amy Zimmer | August 4, 2017 2:31pm | Updated on August 7, 2017 8:39am
 An image from Etsy's Dumbo headquarters.
An image from Etsy's Dumbo headquarters.
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Garrett Rowland/courtesy of Gensler

BROOKLYN — Etsy's hip Dumbo headquarters, home to the workers that make its e-commerce site for handmade and vintage goods hum, may seem a world apart from the new Elmhurst Library, which draws roughly 1.2 million visitors a year who speak more than 57 languages.

But the two have something in common.

They are prime examples of what the future of commercial architecture looks like: focusing on design that promotes physical, mental and social wellbeing, whether through an emphasis on taking stairs or a focus on creating lively and green communal spaces.

Both were among the seven winners from across the globe for the Gramercy-based Center for Active Design's Excellence awards, announced Wednesday and selected by a panel of researchers, designers and urban development professionals from a short list of 50 entries.

The mission of Etsy, with its toxin-free paint, salvaged wood and furniture made by its own community of sellers, is reflected in its space, the judges said.


Etsy's Dumbo headquarters. Photo by Garrett Rowland, courtesy of Gensler.

Its 200,000-square feet of office space at 117 Adams St. received recognition for supporting its employees’ wellbeing by ensuring that greenery is visible from any seat and there is abundant access to daylight. Easily accessible stairs connect all levels.

The company offers healthy meals to workers through its “Eatsy” program, and roof terraces, yoga and meditation rooms, workshop and studio space, are among the many common areas that boost employees' spirits.

The space, by design firm Gensler, also won plaudits for opening its first floor to the community, using it as a public space and art gallery.

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Etsy's Dumbo headquarters. Photo by Garrett Rowland, courtesy of Gensler.

“By inviting the public into the ground floor, maintaining a fun and whimsical aesthetic, and featuring handmade artwork throughout the office, the Etsy headquarters really highlights the company’s commitment to not only its employees, but also the broader community of creators and artists,” Susan Chung, senior research associate at the American Society of Interior Designers and one of the contest’s judges, wrote in support of the company's space.


The Elmhurst Library. Image courtesy of Center for Active Design.

The Elmhurst Library won high marks for providing spaces that meet a range of needs, including its 24/7 entry plaza with WiFi access for Queens Library card holders, a community park and a learning garden.

The design, by Marpillero Pollak Architects, integrates indoor and outdoor spaces with its big glass entry, and its reading “cubes” glow in the nighttime, broadcasting the library’s presence as a safe and welcoming space for community members. There is also after-hours access to an Adult Learning Center and Multipurpose Room, expanding opportunities for community programs, like Tai Chi classes, dance workshops and civic discussions at the $32.4 million space that opened in December after delays.

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The Elmhurst Library. Image courtesy of Center for Active Design.

“The idea that a library can be a beautiful and active place will help show other towns and cities what is possible as the role of libraries continues to transition towards becoming more of a community space for all,” said judge Deb Gorhan, Americas manager of Wellness & Health Promotion at Johnson & Johnson.

The Center for Active Design has been leading the charge on encouraging designers of buildings to think more deeply about the health and wellbeing of their inhabitants.

The nonprofit launched its Fitwel certification earlier this year — and it costs less to obtain than other certifications. It issues a scorecard to a building based on more than 60 benchmark criteria developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as proximity to public transit and stairwell design.

Other organizations have also set up certifications to laud buildings designed for the future.

The Well Building Standard, run by New York-based International Well Building Institute , which looks at seven factors: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.

The Living Building Challenge, run by the Pacific Northwest-based Living Future Institute, also focuses on aspects like beauty, equity and the health and happiness of its inhabitants. It is a more rigorous alternative to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification when it comes to sustainability and pays closer attention to the chemicals in building materials.

Only one space in New York City is certified under the Living Building Challenge Petal system: the Etsy headquarters, which also won an award from the Center for Active Design.

“Over the five years since [Center for Active Design] was launched, we’ve seen a shift in the demand for healthy communities that is now being led by the residents and employees within our communities,” Joanna Frank, president and CEO of the Center for Active Design, said in a statement. “As is evidenced by this year’s winners, cities, real estate developers, businesses, and designers are meeting this demand by prioritizing health within their respective industries.”

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The Elmhurst Library. Image courtesy of Center for Active Design.