Healthier People in Healthier Buildings at the CDC

July 28, 2004

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a clear vision for the 21st Century: Healthy People in a Healthy World--Through Prevention. The CDC, within the Department of Health and Human Services, is demonstrating its commitment to this vision in many ways, including redesigning its buildings and campuses to help improve its own employees' health.

The CDC is moving toward healthier buildings at its Atlanta headquarters and in regional offices throughout the United States. The agency has incorporated principles from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEE™ rating system and the government's Whole Building Design Guide into guidelines and standards for the design, construction, and maintenance of CDC facilities. Three new building projects, among several planned, are now registered with the U.S. Green Building Council and on track to obtain LEED certification.

The first is a new, five-story laboratory with interstitial space on each floor; this refers dedicated floors for mechanical and electrical equipment located between occupied floors. The lab is being constructed for the CDC's National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH). Measuring approximately 225,974 square feet and scheduled for completion in 2005, the building is on target to receive a Silver LEED rating for features like these:

  • a design that consumes approximately 43 percent less energy than required by model energy codes,
  • energy-use zoning (lab areas served by a separate mechanical system),
  • adjustable sash fume hoods with occupancy sensors,
  • heat recovery using a runaround loop,
  • variable speed pumping,
  • humidification systems and controls,
  • interstitial floors,
  • daylight views for 90 percent of the occupants, including energy efficient lighting with daylighting controls and occupancy sensors,
  • emphasis on low-emission materials,
  • a rain garden to retain and absorb storm water after the water has been channeled through cisterns and rills to reduce velocity, and
  • native plant landscaping, minimizing the need for irrigation and fertilizer.

The second building, also scheduled for completion in 2005, is a new laboratory tower for the National Centers for Infectious Disease. This building will include Biohazard Safety Level (BSL) 3 and 4 laboratories. Because researchers in BSL 3 and 4 labs handle the most hazardous biological agents, the buildings require many special design considerations to maintain safety. The building is on target for a LEED-certified rating.

The third is a 12-story office building with a basement (see the March/April 2003 issue of FEMP Focus). This building contains about 364,000 gross square feet and is scheduled for completion in 2006. It is on target for a LEED-certified rating. In fact, the CDC would like all its future office buildings to receive LEED certification.

In response to President Bush's Healthier US Initiative, the CDC has also formed a Healthier Worksite Advisory Committee to head up its Healthier Worksite initiatives. The agency is taking the lead in making its own workplaces into ones that encourage the health of employees. Many of these initiatives are intertwined with principles of sustainable design.

For example, in the past year, the CDC created a walking trail through nearby woods, completed upgrades to stairwells to encourage indoor walking, and made architectural improvements to a cafeteria (while adding nutritious food selections). The agency also began "walkability" studies on all campuses to help implement the recommendation that people walk 10,000 steps per day. The CDC's new buildings will have inviting, safe, day-lit stairways near entrances and signs that encourage people to use the stairs.

The CDC is also telling us more about how buildings affect all of us. Dr. Richard Jackson, former Senior Advisor to the Director of the CDC, initiated the agency's involvement in the issue of the impact of the built environment on the health of Americans.

In a December 2003 AIA Journal of Architecture article, "Physical Spaces, Physical Health," Dr. Jackson notes, "The implications for architects of just these two diseases (obesity and Type 2 diabetes) related to inactivity become clear. Attractive, naturalized settings encourage engagement, mental refreshment, and exercise. Buildings can be designed to provide light, clean air, and opportunities for physical activity. Communities can be designed with pleasing, safe public places to enhance social contact." (For more, please see

Using principles of sustainable design and health prevention, the CDC looks to improve its own communities, as well as ours, by showing us how to build healthy places for healthy people.

For more information, please contact Julia Chlarson at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FPMO, at 404-498-2645.