What happens when you combine a leading sustainably-minded architecture firm with an historic building and Paladino’s expertise in sustainability and wellness?

You get the new LEED Platinum and WELL Gold certified COOKFOX headquarters on the 17th floor of 250 West 57th Street in New York.

Being a leader in the highly competitive New York City market can take on many forms. COOKFOX became one of the best architecture firms in the city by infusing amazing work environments with sustainability and wellness experiences that stand out from the crowd.

And how does a knowledge-worker business like COOKFOX maintain its position at the top? By attracting and retaining the best talent. And we have learned time and again that the office environment is a number one recruiting tool.

So the stakes were high when COOKFOX decided to expand and relocate their corporate operations.

The average large Midtown South commercial building is 92 years old. According to a study of New York’s commercial buildings by CBRE, 55% of buildings in Midtown, 93.7% of buildings in Midtown South, and 55.5% of buildings in Downtown are more than fifty years old. And CookFox’s new 13,000 sf design studio would take its place in a 96 year old corporate office tower in the heart of New York.

This new space would be their most tangible calling card, signaling their vision for the ideal workplace to every employee and potential client that crosses the threshold. It was their chance to strengthen their competitive edge – because the future is all about talent.

Being part of this work was a personal and professional honor. I was excited to work with COOKFOX to provide LEED consulting services in the team’s pursuit of LEED Platinum CI certification. And I was just as excited to put my WELL accreditation to use by supporting the COOKFOX team’s pursuit of a healthy workplace design (as verified by a WELL Gold certification). At COOKFOX and Paladino, we each value learning-by-doing and collaborating in a working environment. By using LEED and WELL as back-checks on the design program, we were able to guide the LEED and WELL targets and bias strategies towards the story COOKFOX wanted to tell its clients and employees.

Green building innovation is in the DNA of COOKFOX, so the decision to go for LEED Platinum was a given from the start. The WELL certification was new and interesting, but required a bit more investigation. The WELL concept and intention had obvious alignment with the COOKFOX ethos, though – so the team was motivated to go after it.

Here are three things that COOKFOX did particularly well as the firm progressed from concept through to hanging their plaques.

  1. Designed for their users

In this case, COOKFOX wasn’t designing for a client – they were designing for themselves. And when you have 80+ industry-leading architects weighing in on what their ideal work experience is like, you’d better listen – because you will see them Monday morning (and every morning after that!).

The great thing about combining LEED and WELL is that LEED handles the systems, and WELL focuses on the people who use those systems.

For example, the WELL certification required a certain number of standing desks – but the goal isn’t to have standing desks; the goal is to help people to be active in their workplace. So while some companies might assign their standing desks to computer work stations, at COOKFOX it made better sense to use standing areas for collaboration and review spaces. So COOKFOX assigned standing-height tables for redlining and drafting, which was more advantageous to their workstyle.

And lucky for COOKFOX, their users include bee keepers, landscape architects, and biophiliacs (yes, that’s a real word!). So the firm is able to offer and support beehives, lush terraces, and vegetable gardens, which bring joy to the workplace while also making everyone healthier and more productive.

  1. Gave themselves the time and flexibility to learn new things

Quality LEED best practices are baked into the COOKFOX approach to design and architecture – that was clear from the start. But WELL was an unknown. While the spirt of WELL naturally dovetailed into the design team’s program, the documentation was a new part of the experience. It was fun digging into the regulations – and the project timeline made room for the group to learn together.

One of the advantages of being an early adopter of WELL is that IWBI was extra supportive and made went above and beyond the norm to help the team manage the WELL certification process. IWBI was a great help, and being early on the WELL train gave us a leg up compared to teams that will pursue WELL after it becomes a more standard practice worldwide.

  1. Managed their risk tolerance

One of the biggest differences between LEED and WELL is that WELL has a different rigor around its testing methods. While there are many things that can be pre-tested, there are others that you have to do your diligence for, and then wait for the results.

The COOKFOX team meticulously tracked the WELL implications for every material chosen to the extent that was possible, which mitigated nagging anxieties about VOC implications for an antique rug without a documented materials backstory, for example (it all worked out just fine!). By doing everything possible to put the certification odds in their favor, the intensity of that final performance verification from IWBI went down.

COOKFOX is exceptionally committed to the user experience in the spaces that the firm designs. The COOKFOX design process made sustainability and wellness a tangible part of the employee experience. The new space will undoubtedly be the firm’s premier calling card when recruiting talent and asserting their continued leadership.

This project was a true collaboration, and we were proud to support COOKFOX every step of the way!

The firm celebrated with Rick Fedrizzi of IWBI and Mahesh Ramanujam of USGBC on May 18 at an open house and plaque ceremony. The COOKFOX LEED Platinum and WELL Gold office is a living example of what’s possible – bee keeper suits are optional!

Do you want to learn more about sustainability for existing buildings? Read on!

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