The Healthy Materials Lab (HML) at Parsons is at work on a number of demonstration projects to illustrate the positive impact that minor interior renovations can have on residents. Our demonstration projects prototype the installation and performance of healthier building materials in a range of spaces and offer material alternatives for the affordable housing sector. Within our demonstration projects, the specification and installation of healthier, affordable interior products place human health at the core of materials decisions. We believe these demonstrations will provide concrete evidence that healthier products can positively impact human health. We consider that this process will help trigger a change in the way industry leaders and professionals specify, install and maintain building products.
In addition to serving hundreds of thousands of low- and moderate-income New York City residents by providing access to secure, affordable housing NYCHA also oversees 400 child care centers. A team from HML is working directly with NYCHA personnel, local community leaders, and community members to develop minor renovations for three of NYCHA’s early childhood education centers beginning with East Tremont Child Care Center in the Bronx, New York.
New York City data shows that youth and children living in the Bronx suffer from staggering rates of asthma hospitalization. The rate of emergency room visits for children ages 0-17 in the Bronx was 444.2 per 10,000 – nearly twice the overall city rate for the same age group. In the zip code where the East Tremont Children’s Center is located this number rises to 557.7. According to a 2009 NYU-Wagner Graduate School study, the rates of death from asthma in the Bronx are three times as high here as they are in the United States as a whole, and hospitalization rates are almost five times as high. This is a health crisis for New York City. Reducing indoor air pollution by choosing healthier building products is a critical step towards reducing the alarming rates of childhood asthma in the city.
The HML team’s collaborative approach to the project involves providing help with the identification and specification of healthier products. Installation of healthier products will have a direct effect on children's health and the quality of interior spaces. In this particular project, a collaboration with NYCHA, HML is helping to specify better paint products for the renovation of the child care centers. Instead of using a typically used higher VOC interior paint for this project, the team selected a variety of low or no VOC paints that would minimize the introduction of unnecessary chemicals into the children’s classrooms. The Lab is also involved in comprehensive research and application of color and light theories and their impacts on early childhood learning. This research impacted the choice of paint palettes and ultimately supports the educational mission of the center.
“Using better, healthier building products in minor building renovations can make a big impact on the lives of residents and provide concrete evidence for change.”
—Alison Mears, Director of HML
In HML’s approach to community engagement and outreach, the impetus is to engage people through discussions about color, light, and health at the project site and beyond; and to transform the way renovations are seen at all of NYCHA operated buildings and into the future. For the first site visit to the children’s center, the HML team brought large color palettes to enable the colors to come to life in the Center. This approach allowed the faculty and administrator team, to visualize the colors in the space and help them to make an informed color palette selection. The ultimate goal of the project is twofold. First, to demonstrate that small changes in material choices can have a profound impact on human health, and second, to reveal the overall positive effect of color and light on mental, physical and emotional health. Design has the potential to inspire learning and foster a commitment to healthier building practice.
The project was made possible with the help of Sherwin Williams paints who donated their Sherwin Williams ProMar 200 Zero VOC Interior Latex paint for the project and NYCHA who organized the paint crew and oversaw the painting. Upcoming, we hope to work on two other NYCHA child care centers using other paint products with a range of paint choices. The partnership between the Healthy Materials Lab (HML) and New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is an example how small, incremental change, like choosing an alternate paint product, can lead to substantial change over time. This demonstration provides NYCHA with healthier paint options and paint palettes for all of their renovations, not only the childhood education centers but also all of the apartments they maintain.