This Earth Day, global architecture and design firm Perkins+Will announces the grand opening of its newly relocated Seattle office—the first of the firm’s 23 locations worldwide whose workspace was designed specifically to avoid the use of chemicals on the firm’s Precautionary List. The Precautionary List, unveiled in 2009, identifies 25 substances that Perkins+Will has classified as chemicals of concern due to their potentially harmful impacts on human health and/or the environment.
“The firm has long been dedicated to creating healthy, sustainable environments, so when we decided to relocate our Seattle office, we also made the decision to reflect this commitment in our own design,” said Kay Kornovich, principal and managing director of the Seattle office of Perkins+Will. “While the process of creating a workplace free of the chemicals on our Precautionary List wasn’t easy, we’re proud to show that a space can be beautiful and functional—as well as healthier and safer—simply by making more informed decisions about its products and materials.”
Unlike the food industry, there is no federal government agency regulating toxic chemicals in building products. So, Perkins+Will had to start from scratch to source non-toxic offerings for its Seattle office. The firm worked closely with manufacturers to vet the ingredients of every building product against its Precautionary List. But the process proved difficult: some manufacturers wouldn’t disclose their product information, and others claimed not to know what ingredients are in their products.
Ultimately, 32 of the 34 finishes and products evaluated by Perkins+Will—everything from tile carpeting and tack-board to wood acoustic panels and roller window shades—adhered to the Precautionary List standard based on the material disclosure forms that Perkins+Will received from manufacturers.
“We are incredibly proud to have reached 94 percent of our goal right out of the gate,” said Ed Palushock, associate and senior project designer with the firm and leading member of the firm’s Material Performance Research Lab. “Next time we will approach a project armed with the vital knowledge and experience gained from this process, and we’ll get to 100 percent—no doubt about it.”
In 2009, Perkins+Will began its firm-wide effort to research toxins and carcinogens commonly found in building materials. Two years later, the firm launched its Transparency website, the first free, universally accessible database aimed at creating greater transparency into building materials. The Transparency site features not only the Precautionary List, but also a list of known or suspected asthma triggers, a list of flame retardants commonly found in the built environment, and a collection of white papers, research and relevant news reports.
Today, the larger building industry is making great strides in addressing toxic products and materials, as reflected in the Living Building Challenge 3.0, the newest version of LEED, and the American Institute of Architecture’s (AIA) first white paper on materials transparency and risk, released just last week. Last June, a panel of “healthy materials” task force members from all over the country, including those from Perkins+Will, Living Building Challenge, USGBC, Cradle to Cradle, GreenScreen, and Health Product Declaration Collaborative, convened for a summit in British Columbia to advance the cause.
“The industry is at a coming-of-age with respect to the issue of material toxicity,” says Palushock. “It’s a growing concern and we are wrapping our heads around how to solve for it. The issue of ‘healthy materials’ is today where the issue of ‘healthy buildings’ was decades ago, when the profession banded together to address the issue of climate change. We hope that our firm’s work, together with organizations like the AIA, USGBC and Living Building Challenge, will help find progress, faster.”
The Seattle office’s new address in the historic Rainier Tower is 1301 Fifth Avenue Suite 2300.
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