If your climbing gym was at the office, you’d spend a lot more time at work.
If your climbing gym was at the office, you’d spend a lot more time at work. (illustration: Bryan Christie Design)

This Is What the World’s Healthiest Office Looks Like

A new building standard has your health and fitness in mind

If your climbing gym was at the office, you’d spend a lot more time at work.

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Imagine this: You walk into your office to find sunlight pouring in the many windows, every workstation with a standing desk, a cafeteria serving farm-to-table food, and a full-service gym that hosts daily spin classes and boot camps. Outside, a garden allows you to pick fresh mint for your afternoon cup of tea. It sounds like a parody from an episode of Silicon Valley, but thanks to an initiative set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, utopian workspaces like this may soon be commonplace.

Over a five-year period, beginning in 2011, the agency helped analyze more than 3,000 studies published in various academic journals, looking at the variables that most impact physical, mental, and social health. The result was Fitwel: a set of 63 strategies that companies can implement to make their employees healthier and happier.

In May 2016, the CDC selected the Center for Active Design, a non­profit dedicated to a design-based approach to healthier living, to enact the program. “This started with the CDC trying to figure out how to prevent chronic disease,” explains Joanna Frank, the center’s executive director. “Because we spend so much time in our offices, it’s a good place to try to change things that contribute to health problems.” 

Currently, 31 private-sector buildings are using Fitwel. The more criteria that companies are able to apply, the better the rating they’re given. 

Being part of the program isn’t cheap. Companies pay $6,500 to enter, then incur the obvious costs of upgrading facilities to meet the Fitwel standards. “But we’ve seen it pay off,” says Vin Ciruzzi, chief development officer for Alexandria Real Estate Equities, a corporate firm and one of the first companies to adopt the program. Alex­andria’s five Fitwel-certified properties in New York City, San Diego, San Francisco, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, include organic gardens, fitness classes, and a restaurant run by former Top Chef contestant Brian Malarkey. “We’ve seen tenant attraction, tenant happiness, and employees of companies pushing management to be in our buildings,” says Ciruzzi.

“The research shows that these strategies impact health and that health impacts productivity,” adds Frank. “Making these changes is good for well-being—and good for business.”

From Outside Magazine, April 2017 Lead illustration: Bryan Christie Design