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Grand Rapids resident to be honored with prestigious Athena Award from U of M

Lorissa MacAllister, president and founder of Enviah consulting and research in Cascade, will honored with an Athena Award for leading in health and wellness design.
Lorissa MacAllister

Lorissa MacAllister /Courtesy of Lorissa MacAllister

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Understanding the impacts of buildings on daily lives

"The work that we're doing is really helping designers and others understand the impacts of space on their work and in their daily lives," says MacAllister. 

Mary Free Bed new building under construction

Mary Free Bed new building under construction /Eric Tank

Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center

Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center /Eric Tank

Lorissa MacAllister, president and founder of Enviah consulting and research firm in Cascade township will be honored with the 2014 Athena Award on Saturday, March 29 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. 

MacAllister is being recognized for pioneering new and innovative designs for health care environments. Some of the projects that she's been involved with include Spectrum Health Blodgett hospital's new patient wing, relocation of Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center and the remodeling and addition to Mary Free Bed.

MacAllister is looked to as a leader in her field. Four years ago she founded Enviah, a consulting firm focusing on environments for health. The firm is rooted in the threefold approach of research, development and design. Enviah works with hospitals to transform physical spaces into behavior affecting environments. 

MacAllister sees physical spaces as a catalyst for changing people's behaviors. She explains hospital design in terms of multiple factors, including evaluating what an organization has to offer, such as services or experiences, and then understanding how it currently functions. For example, the Mary Free Bed (MFB) project needed to be evaluated in terms of fostering community. MacAllister considers MFB a vital part of the Grand Rapids community and says that "maintaining that component has been critical in the success of that organization." 

"As part of the design, we're really trying to continue that evolution of working together, having a team work with you, having the families be supported in that community. And also, not just building a building in isolation but connected with the greater community around it," says MacAllister.

Although Enviah primarily works with healthcare organizations, the scope of practice includes a more holistic approach to wellness. 

"The work that we've been doing is very much focused in health care but it's very much translated to other things. We are living beings that spend over 90% of our time inside. And so we are impacted on a daily basis by the environments that we inhabit, whether it's the air we're breathing, whether it's the way we're sitting in our spaces or the lack of ability to see outside or get access to natural light," says MacAllister. 

According to MacAllister, in the past architects were unable to penetrate the core of an organization in order to glean the necessary insight into the culture and rhythm of life in order to design space with the proper intent. Design was typically based on opinions or certain philosophies and would often not, or couldn't, take into consideration important factors. What Enviah has done is created a tool in which to quantify institutional data, based on facts and figures in order to formulate the most effective and healthy approach to creating space. 

"The essence of what Enviah is trying to do is align environments with how people work and live," says MacAllister. 

She points out the pathogenetically based model that is currently the standard in healthcare design. The metric for creating healthy spaces simply doesn't exist yet. She notes that even green space development such as LEED certification and sustainability often still function under a reactionary model and argues for a holistic approach. 

"Even with the sustainability movement, we're still not at that mark yet. We're still just looking at one component versus the other and I think that within the healing spaces framework it has to be holistic. It has to be looked at holistically. You can't just say that you have a recycling program and you have a healthy food program. That's really going to manifest into something that is going to be healing. It has to be whole person healing," says MacAllister. "You have to look at the whole picture. You have to look at the behavioral component. You have to look at that psychological component. You have to look at the relational component -how you're engaging in your community- how people are helping you and all those other pieces." 

The Athena Award is an honorary recognition of women who have achieved a high level of accomplishment in their profession or men who have contributed to the empowerment of women. The award was founded in 1982 and has since been presented to over 6,500 individuals in more than 500 communities worldwide.

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