Press Releases November 30, 2023

Perkins&Will Launches Open-Source Tool to Help Designers Create Healthier Environments

PRECEDE is a free online dashboard that enables public health data-supported design.

Architecture and design firm Perkins&Will today unveiled a digital resource that allows architects and designers to access key public health data to inform their design decisions. The “Public Repository to Engage Community and Enhance Design Equity,” or PRECEDE, centralizes demographic, environmental, and health data from across the U.S. into a geospatial database, making it easier for designers to acquire insights that will empower them to create a healthier built environment. 

The tool presents public health data as a percentile so designers can see at-a-glance which demographic factors, exposures, and outcomes are most relevant to their project. For example: What is the median income, proximity to traffic, or prevalence of cancer at a state, county, or census tract level in a selected location? What strategies can design teams use to mitigate these factors? PRECEDE provides educational resources and suggests actionable solutions based on these findings.

“Each community has a unique health context and requires a tailored health response,” says Dr. Erika Eitland, a public health scientist and co-director of the Perkins&Will Human Experience (Hx) Lab. “PRECEDE was built to advance restorative environmental justice by embedding public health priorities early into the design process. If every designer is a public health professional, then PRECEDE is an essential tool to advance the success of their design and support occupant health.”

Funded by a Transform Grant from the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) Foundation, which was matched by Perkins&Will, PRECEDE underwent two years of testing and development prior to its launch today. The development was led by  Eitland and a team of design practitioners and researchers, as well as interns from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Graduate School of Design, and Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

PRECEDE allows designers access to resources that deepen engagement with community stakeholders and make decisions that improve the health and well-being of occupants and the community at large.


Health disparities have widened in the U.S. for decades, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought these inequities into sharper focus, exposing how closely correlated environmental factors and preexisting health conditions are to quality of life. Designers, architects, and urban planners are responsible for creating the spaces in which people spend 90% of their time, and the choices they make directly impact people’s well-being.

PRECEDE allows designers to easily identify the public health factors most relevant to a given community by synthesizing data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and City Health Dashboard. Ultimately, PRECEDE reduces the time it takes to uncover key metrics—including socioeconomic factors, environmental quality, and health outcomes—that inform an effective design response.

An Educational Tool

PRECEDE’s “Learn,” “Explore,” and “Act” pages work together to educate designers on the health significance of each indicator (such as asthma or obesity), visualize health data (to show prevalence across a geographic area), and identify potential design strategies. Illustrated comics in the “Learn” section make education about the issues more fun, while the “Explore” section allows designers to input their unique project site into a map to see which indicators most heavily impact the local population.

Once key indicators are identified and understood, the research team wanted designers to feel empowered to act. The “Act” dashboard is a growing database of evidence-based design recommendations that can be sorted by health indicators and scale of project including interiors, architectural, and urban design. For example, if a designer is looking at a building with flood exposure, PRECEDE recommends strategies for drinking water filtration and management, emergency preparedness, and green roofs. An interior design inquiry for noise pollution produces recommendations for exterior acoustic comfort, noise stress reduction, and sound absorbing surfaces.

PRECEDE in Practice

The tool has already been used on several Perkins&Will projects. The firm was awarded a 6-12 school at Durham School of the Arts after sharing initial PRECEDE findings on racial/ethnic segregation, children in poverty, and income inequality. PRECEDE was also used on a workplace interior design project with Greenpeace in Washington, D.C., and an affordable housing development in Chicago, Thrive Englewood. For each project, the design teams were able to identify potential social and health-related vulnerabilities that created challenges for occupants, and tailor design strategies to address them. Additional case studies will soon be available on the PRECEDE site.

“An outcome of using PRECEDE is the opportunity to engage project stakeholders during the early discovery phase,” says David Cordell, an interior designer at Perkins&Will and member of the PRECEDE development team. “Designers can present data gathered by PRECEDE and use that data as a conversation starter and education tool to find out what is important to the community that will be impacted by the design. We’ve seen the success of this already in a few of our projects from interior design to urban planning.”

What’s Next? 

Perkins&Will is currently pursuing partnerships with individuals and organizations to expand the depth, rigor, and accessibility of PRECEDE, beyond the interior scale which was the focus of the ASID Transform Grant. For example, individuals can suggest design recommendations through a “Contribute” feature in the “Act” section; the research team will review all contributions before publishing them to the site. To contact the Perkins&Will Hx Lab directly, visit their website and submit inquiries on the Contact Us page. 

With support and future funding, PRECEDE will eventually incorporate more design strategies, focusing on mental health and disability inclusion. 

“It quickly became clear that we couldn't just give designers data. We need to tell them, why is it important? What do you do with it? We hope PRECEDE becomes their first stop for research, health data, and design strategies before engaging clients.”

Dr. Erika Eitland