Jaclyn Whitaker serves as Senior Vice President of Market Solutions for the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), where she leads a team of highly proficient experts in WELL requirements, feature intentions and the certification process with an emphasis on WELL coaching – project-specific technical support offered to teams toward successful WELL certification. Beyond continuously developing solutions to overcome challenges and general technical WELL resources, Jaclyn’s team leads the effort of international technical expansion of the WELL Building Standard, including determining overlaps with global green building standards.
Prior to joining IWBI, Jaclyn brought extensive sustainability design and consulting experience with a focus on wellness design to Delos as Director of Project Management. Within the Delos Project Management team, Jaclyn worked closely with design, construction and owner teams to incorporate the WELL Building Standard into projects as well as managed the build-out of the WELL Living Lab on the campus of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Previously, Jaclyn led the sustainability department of the New York City architectural firm HLW, providing LEED, sustainability and wellness consulting for HLW projects and has certified many LEED for New Construction and Commercial Interiors projects. Prior to HLW, Jaclyn gained valuable custom residential design experience as a member of Brooklyn firm Nandinee Phookan Architects and Chicago firm Burns + Beyerl Architects.
Jaclyn is a licensed architect and serves on the steering committee of the NY Chapter AIA Committee On The Environment (COTE) and Living Building Challenge NYC-NJ Collaborative Chapter.
Q & A w/Jaclyn Whitaker, AIA
Q. First, would you give a short summary of what you’ll be speaking about at the AIA TN conference and its importance for architects/designers?
A. We spend over 90% of our time indoors and our buildings and communities have a profound impact on our health and well-being. We need to take a data-driven approach to creating healthy spaces because
our bodies react to the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink, the light we see and the sound we hear. We can’t improve what we don’t measure, therefore our environments should be optimized and tested to promote health and well-being.
The WELL Building Standard™ (WELL) provides over 100 strategies for creating healthy spaces. All strategies are based on scientific research that demonstrate an impact on human health. WELL outlines a comprehensive approach to creating healthy spaces by providing a variety of achievable strategies, including design criteria, operational protocols, personnel policies and performance thresholds. Projects pursue WELL Certification™ to demonstrate that they are meeting WELL’s global benchmarks for performance, gaining recognition for their visible commitment to human health.
Employers acknowledge that they are seeking WELL Certification to attract & retain high-quality employees, maximize employee performance and productivity, reduce impacts of presenteeism and absenteeism and promote improved health for employees. They also enjoy the brand equity they earn from being leaders in their industry and the associated marketing value of the media exposure.
For me, the wonderful thing about the WELL Building Standard and the WELL program is that it puts architects and designers in a position of agents of public health. WELL certification is a rigorous, third party certified benchmark that requires on-site performance testing, validating the health and wellbeing of our indoor spaces.
Q. This year’s AIA TN conference theme is “In Scale,” recognizing the various scales of projects and design thinking – not just from its physical size but its context from the city level to international level. How do you tackle that spectrum from a wellness perspective?
A. Wellness and human health are simply a universal concern – a human lung is a human lung – and is the same for someone living in Boulder as someone in Beijing. We’ve taken a data-driven approach by pulling from the best medical and scientific research on enhancing indoor environments for occupant health, happiness and productivity when establishing the thresholds set in the WELL Building Standard. While we’ve created provisions allowing for reasonable achievement of WELL certification in places with poor outdoor air quality, we see healthy indoor spaces as a basic human right, regardless of geographical coordinates and socio-economic status. To me, starting with a foundation of basic human health, we’re able to scale our reach and cross boundary lines instantly.
Q. How do you assess the dynamics and identity of a place and its effect if any on the project?
A. My role at the WELL Building Institute is 100% focused on regionalism. In providing technical support for projects in 34 countries, my team of WELL coaching contacts assist projects in identifying how to adapt WELL feature intents and requirements to meet a project’s individual goals, which is heavily focused on equivalencies (for example, allowing projects in Australia to design to local ventilation standards) and regional adaptations (not forbidding naan in India). We’ve built WELL to be accommodating and flexible to individual project needs and a customer service model to help to inspire creative alternatives when a requirement we’ve set simply doesn’t work.
Q. Do you have other interests outside of design that contribute to your work at the WELL Building Institute?
A. Practicing what I preach (healthy lifestyle) has been critical to my work. I try to stand periodically throughout the day, practice meditation and yoga, limit sugar, cardio and a race here and there, getting plenty of sleep, immersing myself in nature occasionally and taking an annual vacation (with no cell service or Wi-Fi). I’m the first to admit I could be better about stepping away from my desk for lunch and taking walking meetings
Q. Significant moments in your career. Often we earn awards and accolades that are significant from a professional level but do you have other moments or achievements that you personally find significant and more valuable?
A. I’ll probably never stamp an architectural drawing in my career, but earning my license was a big achievement for me. After some self-reflection in the early years of my career as an associate architect, I discovered I didn’t necessarily need to practice design in the traditional sense and began to guide my focus on environmental sustainability (which eventually led me to healthy indoor spaces). With this realization came some heartache because I’d set out to become an architect at an early age. Earning my license meant I am always able to introduce myself as an architect, despite how I spend my day-to-day.
Q. Advice for young architects – any lessons learned you would find useful for the new design minds out there?
A. Be patient. Give your intern years your absolute best – you will get noticed. I promise you’ll eventually move past the 8+ solid hours of interior elevations and bathroom partition details onto more exciting things and new responsibilities. Always seek solutions to challenges that arise and don’t wait on your boss to tell you what to do – you’ll be an extremely valuable employee by just taking initiative. Finally, ladies, speak up in meetings!