Design for Well-being: HALL Arts Residences Bring Healthier Living to Downtown Dallas

Design for Well-being: HALL Arts Residences Bring Healthier Living to Downtown Dallas


During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, more than half of Americans spent upwards of 18 hours a day at home. While humans have been indoors for the majority of our time for decades — up to 90% in recent years — the shift to all of that time being spent in our own homes was a swift one.

As we continue to use our dwellings for more diverse activities, architects are developing new ideas for how homes can better sustain overall human well-being. HALL Arts Residences in Downtown Dallas — designed by HKS — exemplifies how design can support healthy lifestyles.

Due in large part to COVID-19, health and wellness have surged to the forefront of architecture and design, building on an industry-wide focus on sustainability. One of 10 measures outlined in the AIA’s Framework for Design Excellence, “Design for Well-being” concentrates on the experiences and livelihood of building occupants.

During a recent webinar about the Design for Well-being measure, HKS researchers and designers discussed the importance of viewing well-being holistically as something that spans human health, comfort and connection.

“When we begin to understand what true well-being is, then we flip the paradigm of what it means to design spaces,” HKS Health Research Lead, Deborah Wingler, said during the webinar. She added that she believes it is essential to design for the well-being of every person who enters a building.

Well-being for Everyone

The Design for Well-being measure outlines comfort, happiness and inclusion as design priorities. In addition to providing design features that improve air and water quality or provide access to nature and natural light, the built environment can empower individuals to behave in ways that enhance their overall wellness and ability to enjoy life. HKS designers speaking at the webinar underscored these important metrics, emphasizing that designing for well-being extends beyond the walls of a single building.

“We need to create designs that put occupants into a position to make healthy decisions,” said HKS Senior Interior Designer Deanne Teeter. “When people are happier, it increases the well-being of their community.”

“We need to create designs that put occupants into a position to make healthy decisions.”

A place where community members experience socially connected, healthy experiences, Dallas’ HALL Arts Development exemplifies every aspect of the Design for Well-being measure.

As far back as the 1980s, developer Craig Hall of HALL Group sought to build a set of properties that maintained an authentic relationship with its neighborhood, the historic Dallas Arts District. People were always at the heart of Hall’s vision and the design approach, according to HKS Principal and Design Director Eddie Abeyta.

“In terms of sustainability and what it meant to the project, the biggest driver was its relationship to the community,” Abeyta said.

Located in the 70-acre Dallas Arts District, the largest contiguous urban arts district in the United States the HALL Arts Development encompasses public plazas featuring local art, a hotel and the 26-story multifamily condominium tower, HALL Arts Residences — the first residential project in Texas to register for the WELL multifamily certification pilot program.

A Healthy, Healing Residence

HKS architect Brian Wolfe, the project’s sustainable design manager, believes that working towards WELL Gold and LEED Gold certifications helped achieve the client’s “goal and vision of a healthy, healing residence” for homeowners who want to live in an urban setting while still enjoying a relaxing atmosphere.

Meeting WELL and LEED’s aggressive sustainability goals required a multifaceted collaborative design approach, Wolfe said. The HKS team, along with contractors and interior designers ensured the building could meet both programs’ conditions for energy and water consumption, landscaping, and healthy materials.

Wolfe says the team went “a standard above what was required at the time” when the project kicked off in 2014 and though many LEED-oriented design strategies have since become standard, WELL-oriented measures are still cutting-edge, particularly on large residential projects. Designed as a place where homeowners could breathe, sleep and live better, HALL Arts Residences opened in 2020, meeting pre-certification standards for each of WELL’s seven categories: air, water, comfort, nourishment, light, fitness and mind.

Creating a physically healthy atmosphere, the design team incorporated healthy materials free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) —contaminants often responsible for releasing potentially harmful chemicals into the environment — throughout the building’s common spaces and in each of its 44 residences. Reducing allergens and helping residents breathe easier, multilevel air filtration systems capture particles including VOCs and pollen while energy-saving outdoor air systems circulate freshly ventilated air and limit the transfer of pollutants inside.

Wellness-oriented features in the building and entire development, which is on track to be LEED Gold certified, illustrate that design excellence and sustainability are not mutually exclusive. Each unit has 11-foot windows that provide residents with views of Downtown Dallas and allow natural light, complemented by interior palette options designed by Emily Summers that maximize comfort and reflect light. To limit sound disturbances and enhance acoustical comfort, the design includes an advanced wooden flooring system with a VOC-compliant membrane and demising walls with sound batt insulation. Rounding out the well-being ethos of HALL Arts Residences, fitness centers, common spaces with healthy snack options and access to natural spaces all support physical and mental wellness.

Pushing Well-being to New Heights

The design and delivery process for an ambitious one-of-a-kind residential building wasn’t always seamless. The WELL pilot program’s requirement for operable windows caused the team some initial concern. Wolfe and Abeyta said the client assessed that a large quantity of operable windows, many of which could be accidentally left open for long periods of time, may have negative operational effects on the mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems — side effects that could impact other wellness metrics building-wide. In workshops with representatives from the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), the company that issues WELL certifications, they made the case that the balcony doors in each unit would meet wellness objectives.

Abeyta said the client and project team were able to convey to IWBI “that because we had an operable wall in the living room, that would technically meet the requirements of access to natural ventilation and light.”

Working closely with a WELL coach, Wolfe navigated other challenges of designing a building to meet the pilot program’s requirements. The team had to determine, for instance, how to obtain appropriate health and wellness-oriented sustainability credits in a condo building, where units are owned by individuals as opposed to a central landlord as is the case with apartments.

“What we had to do was create a palette [of design solutions] that would be acceptable that met the intent of the various credits we were pursuing and take it from there,” Wolfe said, adding that when COVID-19 came about, he worked to understand and communicate how the WELL standard’s design steps help mitigate the spread of communicable diseases and infections.

The residential tower, currently in the final stages of becoming WELL Gold certified, shows the successful teamwork of HKS, HALL Group, Emily Summers, a host of contractors and consultants, and IWBI. The property manager, First Services Residential, will conduct on-site reassessments and record data annually and for the building to maintain the lofty WELL designation, re-certification evaluations will take place every three years.

Moving forward, the responsibility to ensure wellness standards are met at HALL Arts Residences will be shared by the property manager and each of the building’s homeowners, all of whom will benefit from Design for Well-being strategies HKS implemented and the HALL Group’s vision of a healthy residential environment.

“This project created a place that honors that philosophy, which is valuable to the people that live here and will become valuable to people who choose to live here,” Abeyta said.