DPR’s Nashville Office First in Tennessee to Achieve WELL Platinum

Exterior front entrance of DPR's Nashville office.
DPR Construction's Nashville office opened in 2019 and is the first WELL Platinum building in the state of Tennessee. Courtesy of Attic Fire Photography

We spend 90% of our time indoors, so it makes sense that the places where we spend our days should promote health and well-being by way of improved air quality, water quality, lighting, and comfort, and operate for a healthier lifestyle. DPR Construction’s Nashville office embraced that mindset when it achieved WELL Platinum, the highest level of WELL Certification possible. With more than 120 buildings nation-wide WELL Certified to the Platinum level, the DPR Nashville office is the first in the state of Tennessee to earn the distinction.

“It really goes back to DPR’s philosophy of people first,” said John Vardaman, DPR’s business unit leader in Nashville. “WELL focuses on having a really healthy environment and healthier, happier people.”

Created by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), the WELL Building Standard (WELL) is grounded in a body of evidence-based research that explores the connection between the buildings where we spend our time, and the health and well-being impacts on the people inside these buildings.

“DPR demonstrates its commitment to invest in its people every day by being laser focused on employee well-being,” said Rachel Hodgdon, IWBI President and CEO. “This WELL Certification achievement is a great example of how DPR is enhancing employees’ lives by impacting where they work, ultimately making it a better experience.”

A New Home in Nashville

In 2019, DPR began looking for a new space to support its growing work in and around Nashville.

“We wanted to be somewhere that really felt like Nashville, not necessarily a brand-new office park out in the suburbs,” said Vardaman.

Ultimately, DPR found a space minutes from downtown previously occupied by a Habitat for Humanity ReStore. The adaptive re-use of the nearly 10,000-sq.-ft. building could provide not only office space, but storage and warehousing space to accommodate DPR’s self-perform capabilities in Nashville.

Interior of empty warehouse space before construction.
A former Habitat for Humanity ReStore offered enough space for offices, warehousing and storage for DPR's growing operations in Nashville. Courtesy of Britten Rush

Deciding to pursue WELL for the Nashville office came a little later in the planning process after it had already decided to pursue LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

“LEED came down first and then someone said, ‘can we fit WELL in there too?’” said Jordan Fay, project manager for ESa, the architect on the project. After conducting a feasibility survey, the team concluded that pursuing WELL was achievable for the workspace that would become the new Nashville office. “I think that speaks to the fact that the design was already in a good place, we really just needed to tweak a few things rather than holistically change the structure to achieve WELL.”

Deciding on what kind of wellness attributes to include was a team effort.

“We rented out a board room in a hotel, and we had everyone involved at DPR do their own design,” recalled Vardaman. ”We presented our design to our architects—we treated them like the owners—and they had to critique our design, but they were able to incorporate a lot of the elements that kept popping up as each group presented their designs.”

Company Beliefs that Meet WELL Standards

Health and wellness practices are already built into DPR’s workplace culture, so as the Nashville business unit began designing the new space, much of the decision-making process came down to following DPR’s own culture of creating an inviting environment for employees.

“We initially sat through a meeting with DPR, and a lot of the points [for WELL Certification] were already part of DPR best practices—like healthcare and mental well-being—that spoke to the wellness aspect,” said Fay.

“Just based on DPR’s culture and structure, we had the base level of points for WELL,” said Hannah Walter, building performance engineer with SSR and DPR’s WELL consultant on the project. “If we didn't have those, the project wouldn't have been Platinum.”

Building with Wellness in Mind

DPR Nashville’s new office earned WELL Platinum based on 10 categories of building performance—Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Movement, Thermal Comfort, Sound, Materials, Mind and Community—achieving the highest points possible in the Mind and Community categories. Eighty points are needed to earn WELL Platinum, but DPR’s efforts exceeded that threshold with 90 points.

“Like I said, DPR is truly committed to this work,” added Hodgdon. “And the team has added some tremendous features to their office in doing so, enhancing peoples’ experience, while changing mindsets.”

A portion of a naturally felled Redwood tree adorns the wall on the office lobby, providing a connection to the outdoors immediately upon entering the space. The office is designed as an open office, which flows naturally from seating areas to common areas to outdoor areas. A ceiling drywall feature, colloquially known as clouds, suspend from the ceiling, not only to offer an aesthetic appeal, but to dampen sound that reverberates off the steel and concrete walls. Individual desk fans are provided for personal comfort, as well as an interactive air quality monitoring system that anyone can access. When it comes to indoor air quality, the office uses a combination of MERV-13 and activated carbon filtration, which not only keep the air fresh and removes volatile organic compounds (VOCs), but also removes at least 85% and 90% of particulate matter known as PM2.5 and PM10, respectively.

Before and After shot of ceiling structure during construction and once complete.
Structures attached to the ceiling offer an aesthetic appeal, while also dampening sound from the concrete and steel walls and ceilings. Courtesy of Hannah Walter (L), Attic Fire Photography (R)

Standing desks, healthy snacks, wellness rooms and private spaces for new mothers are provided and available to all employees. The outdoor patio is a favorite of DPR employees, with a firepit and enough room to gather outdoors comfortably and safely.

Another office favorite—wobble boards.

“We got a wobble board. I'm thinking ‘that's just going to sit in the corner,’” mused Alex Henry, a project manager with DPR who is based in Nashville, thinking no one would actually use the board while working. “When we moved in, I had to buy three more. People love them so much.”

Living Labs

While many of these design aspects may be unique to standard office buildings, DPR believes it’s just best practices on how to build healthy, sustainable buildings. DPR is the sole occupant of the space, and did much of the remodeling using its own self-perform concrete and drywall teams. There is also a prefabricated bathroom pod on display in the warehouse so that customers can see first-hand one of the unique ways DPR builds.

DPR has a track record of creating workspaces where employees can feel physically and mentally healthy, and use its workspace to display construction best practices in the form of “living labs.” More than just offices, these buildings function as places that reflect trends in wellness and building sustainability where technologies are implemented and tested, and can be carried over into client projects. These living labs allow teams to think outside the box, discover new strategies and create intelligent, high-performing buildings for clients. DPR believes that if it is going to apply these trends on customer projects, it should also apply these trends to its own office spaces.

“Achieving building certifications needs to be driven by the owner,” said Eric Klotz, principal at ESa. “We can talk about best practices, we can talk about the program and what the benefits are for employees and when people are working in the space, but if the owner is not bought into the idea, or not committed to some of these programs, then the design part is secondary.”

Of its 30 DPR office locations around the world, the majority have received at least one of the WELL, LEED or Net Zero certifications. The Nashville office is among four that have fully achieved WELL Certification.

People working at desks in an open-office environment.
The office is designed as an open office, which flows naturally from seating areas to common areas to outdoor areas. Courtesy of Attic Fire Photography

DPR is in the business of building great things, but because one of DPR’s primary tenets is respect for the individual, to DPR, buildings are about more than just the brick and mortar and drywall and electrical systems.

“Other building certifications are about making sure the building functions in a certain way. But WELL is all about the people inside the building,” said Henry. “One of DPR’s major tenets is to respect the individual, so WELL fits in with that mindset.”

DPR Nashville’s office manager Stacey Nash says that the new office evokes a sense of place and community, a small space where you can still feel safe, but offers a quiet work environment to get your work done.

“It’s a very tight knit group,” said Nash. “There's a lot of support for each other here. I see that on a daily basis.”

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