The Think Bank project led to Orfield Labs’ being hired by Olmsted County to consult on an 80,000-square-foot human-services building whose design would be driven entirely by occupancy quality. Helen Monsees, Olmsted County’s construction project manager, had attended a seminar at Orfield Labs when the county was deciding whether to repair its existing building or build a new one.
“We had Orfield conduct an occupancy survey at our current building, which confirmed what we suspected,” she says. “There definitely was a connection between the physical problems—air flow, daylighting, thermal comfort, and acoustics—and staff morale issues.”
Monsees is quick to point out that the new building—still in the design stage—won’t cost the county any more money than a traditional building. “We want a building that is designed from the viewpoint of the seated occupant, designed from the inside out . . . . The design team has come up with a module design in which literally nobody is more than 25 feet away from a window. And it’s not just any window—it’s a south-facing window.”
One of Orfield’s jobs on the Olmsted County project was to help select the architect. Nationally renowned Studios Architecture won the bid. “The principal partner said it was the first time he’d seen an RFP about the occupancy quality—and that they all should be that way,” Orfield says.
But on the whole, architects don’t want Orfield Labs involved in their projects, he says: “Architects hire us to do small jobs, to do very modest analysis, and to fix things.” To change that, Orfield and Chapman are approaching architects with the goal of setting up contractual agreements to work with Orfield Labs on a given number of jobs per year.
“Some of them will do it because they think it has marketing value,” Orfield says. “Hopefully, most of them will do it because they believe it will produce better buildings.” Still, he argues that “architects don’t want performance standards on their projects.” They don’t want to have to agree to meet standards. Orfield’s retort is that it doesn’t cost the client any more to have the architects meet performance standards, and it greatly improves the quality of the work, and the comfort of the buildings’ occupants. But the architects who do want such standards “absolutely love” the idea of a partnership, he adds.
So far, 15 architecture firms have expressed serious interest in Orfield’s “Architecture Research Consortium.” He expects to make agreements with 50 by next year—and to triple his staff in the next year or two. “Pretty soon, we expect to have about $50 million of stuff under construction,” he says.
Another boost could come from Olmsted County, if its leaders decide that Orfield’s Architectural Dynamics product will fit into the budget for their new human-services building. Orfield would love another Guinness entry: “World’s First Architecturally Dynamic Building.”