Bio-Hacking the Office Environment: “Safe Haven”   Leave a comment

Bio-Hacking the office environment:   Safe Haven

When the mind connects with some visceral feeling from the outdoor experience, it excites the brain.  Sending positive  messages from inside a building that stimulate the brain is bio-hacking and believed to be a powerful counterpoint to both the old vanilla office interior and the new trendy, but sometimes equally ineffective, splashes of color,  unnecessary creature comforts and uncoordinated sensory blitz.  Dennis Kowal Architects designs WELL buildings that intentionally interact with the human spirit. 

An example of a good  bio-hack is the bio-entrained  concept of a “safe haven”.  Wolves love a den and us humans experience some of that same feeling of safety  when we are contained on three sides, preventing someone from sneaking up behind us.  Much like a childhood memory of lying in a tent and watching the rain through open flaps, a similar enclosed refuge inside a building taps into that native and pleasant instinct of a haven.

A three-sided alcove appeals to our memories of caves, dens and protected porches.

The “Safe Haven” creates security and safety, much like comfort-food brings familiarity at mealtime.  When properly designed, it is almost impossible to not be drawn into this lair and sit for a meet or just relax for some solo thinking.

The Dennis Kowal Architect’s interiors department created this wood-trimmed alcove to accept almost any furniture arrangement.  The same alcove was treated differently in various locations around the building and has proven to be a successful spontaneous collaboration avenue.   Some contain work tables, white boards and tete-a-tete seating while other alcoves offer lounging furniture and a place to charge a tablet or cell phone.

We dare you to walk by and not want to “try it out”.  Once seated, the next person arrives and ‘voila’, you have the beginnings of collaboration, discussion or new connections.

Bio-hacking the Office Environment: Lighting   Leave a comment

Bio-Hacking the office environment:   Lighting

Dennis Kowal Architects designs WELL buildings meant to improve productivity and health by resonating with biological systems in a positive way…much like nature.  Bio-Hacking is feeding helpful messages, like, “it is the peak of daytime and a good time to work”, to the brain.   Circadian lighting is one such hack that mimics the 480 nm blue light wavelength of the bright blue sky and helps the body to set a diurnal rhythm.   Office interior lighting that synchronizes with natural light patterns reinforces a schedule through entrainment.   By contrast, recent studies from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine have shown working in odd-colored lighting or windowless offices reduces the quality of nighttime sleeping; the equivalent of losing 45 minutes of sleep each night.

This new office design, by Dennis Kowal Architects, incorporates carefully designed light fixtures and lamps that produce even lighting that reaches the worker’s retina at precise minimums.  Newly discovered intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (in addition to rods and cones in our eye) respond to certain wavelengths of light and set our body’s bio-rhythms.    The light is measured in melanopic lux and reinforces the messages that daylight sends to the body.  Wrong wavelengths at the wrong time can trigger melatonin in the body which starts the sleep cycle.

Sending the right messages via lighting improves office productivity, creativity and engagement. The Institute of Medicine reports that as many as 70 million adults in the United States have a chronic sleep or wakefulness disorder.    Such disorders and chronic sleep deprivation are associated with increased risk of certain morbidities including diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, hypertension and stroke.

Dennis Kowal Architects designs buildings that focus on occupant health and well-being.  This requires a blend of art and science along with a comprehensive understanding of bio-feedback, architecture and the human systems.   

Reviving your Library   1 comment

Reviving your Library.   “Mommy, please take me to the Library” has been a consistent comment about our renovations of the windowless basement of the Plainfield Public Library.  Exposed pipes?  No problem, let’s reinvent them into jungle vines.  A hole in the floor from an old story pit?  No problem, let’s make it a reading pond and put a wooden bridge over it.  No room or privacy for the teens?  No problem, let’s bring in a fireproof explorer’s tent custom made into the “Young Adult Room”.

The response to the Rainforest themed design has been amazing.  Dennis Kowal Architects provided both the architectural transformation and the interior design integrity which makes this stunning transformation possible.  Old tables were covered in jungle themed photos and old stools were reupholstered into “mushroom stools”.  The new children’s circulation desk is a series of cargo boxes and shipping cages (complete with stuffed animals) and the computers encircle a bamboo wall.

The American Library Association featured this remarkable Dennis Kowal Architect’s transformation in their magazine as one of the best modest-cost renovations in America.

NEW LIBRARY TRASHED?   Leave a comment

NEW LIBRARY TRASHED?  Well, not really.  When the Library Director walked in on the Holi Hindu Colour Celebration conducted in the newly renovated Hoboken Library,  she wondered if the bursts of paint and chalk would ruin the brand new finishes.   DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS designed the Library with the latest technology and materials to withstand flooding from the Hudson River but these choices also made for a durable Program Room that could withstand unanticipated uses!  Kowal commented “It turns out these resilient materials are as useful  for preventing water damage as they are for preventing staining from  festival enthusiasm and craft spills.”                                   library trashed color

The same room after the Holi Festival ready for maker-space use is pictured below.  Note the abundant data and power outlets that surround the perimeter and the overhead broadcast cameras and power outlets.  Latest library design trends include adaptable spaces that quickly convert from tables and chairs to open plan.  The barrel vaults, windows and columns are all original to this historic building which now includes wide-screen cinema projection, video conferencing and multiple lighting scenarios.

program room 2(Above) The space being  used for child motor skill and creativity development;  note the  comfortable floor materials and surroundings.   The acoustics, lighting and sight lines were all designed by DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS to be perfect for concerts, TV broadcasting,  programs and speaker presentations.

Dennis Kowal AIA is a library design specialist and frequent speaker on the topic of library design and trends.  The renovations at the Hoboken Library combine wonderful library service with beautifully conceived spaces to achieve a great patron experience, yet providing flexibility to adapt to new and changing services and delivery.

Posted January 8, 2019 by Dennis Kowal Architects in Historic Preservation, Library

Excitement mounts as New Jersey Libraries prepare to dig themselves into a hole!   1 comment

Excitement mounts as New Jersey Libraries prepare to dig themselves into a hole!

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                                                                               Kowal atop a crane observing the hole for a library expansion

A quarter of a billion dollars will be spent on updating New Jersey Public Libraries during the next few years and firms like DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS will be there to help repair, renovate and expand them.   During the last grant round, DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS wrote the grant applications for seven libraries and was awarded all of them which resulted in the most combined-library  dollars of any grant writer.

DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS are public library design specialists and prepares the need assessment, building program, library design, cost estimates and grant proposals.  Seen above is the hole that would become the new Livingston Public Library, one of the busiest libraries in the State.

Library design requires extensive investigation of Community Needs because each locale has its own unique population, library borrowing patterns and special requirements.  Focus groups over a period of weeks combined with surveys and interviews are ways to draw out the special requirements and desires of the Community.  Children (below) were asked to draw their favorite part of the library.  Children wanted a dedicated cinema, large murals on the wall and indoor playground furniture in addition to the books and media.

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                                       DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS interviews young library patrons to get design ideas

Saving an Old Lady   Leave a comment

Saving an Old Lady

This 30 foot stained glass and lead dome was restored by Dennis Kowal Architects in concert with the entire building restoration.

The lead and glass dome was in such poor condition, the Owner had installed a plywood ceiling to catch the falling glass and to protect the public.  Dennis Kowal Architects (DKA) saved the dome from an uncertain fate with a full historic restoration plan.  The dome constructed in 1910 is located at the center of Winchester, Virginia; a city that changed hands 70 times during the Civil War.

Years of neglect resulted in bird, dust and pollution deposits on the back of the dome rendering the dome a dark, streaked mess.

Scaffolding was erected above to clean, replace, repair and reinforce the high vaulting dome.  Over 5,000 individual panes were inspected, identified and restored per instructions specific to each condition.  Many of the panes were missing or cracked.

Painstaking restoration under the direction of DKA repaired the cracked glass pieces, re-set the fallen pieces, replaced the missing pieces and fortified the entire structure with new supports and clips.

Apart from physical impact, the glass in a leaded glass installation is relatively long-lasting.  It is the deterioration of the skeleton structure that is the most common threat. Here the structure was reinforced before final cleaning of the repaired dome commenced. Federal preservation standards note that in many cases “minor cracks, sagging and oxidation are part of the character of historic leaded glass and require no treatment.” However, in this case, the dome was failing; needing reinforcement, new glass panes and repair to broken panes.

The entire dome was surveyed and treated on a pane by pane basis.  Note the replacement glass (in the prior photo) evidenced by the slightly different color which is not noticeable from below.

The Handley Regional Library is considered the finest example of Beaux Arts Architecture in the state of Virginia because it carries the proportions, materials and unique elements like the leaded glass dome and iron and glass floors.  Dennis Kowal Architects researched the insignias placed at the four compass points of the dome.  Each represents a printers mark.  A “printer’s mark” is a symbol used as a trademark by early printers starting in the 15th century.  Here the dolphin and anchor are the 16th century trademark of Aldus Pius Manutius, a Venetian publisher who is know as the inventor of the italic typeface.

The final result is a spectacular leaded glass dome with brilliant colors which were highlighted by placing an electric light above the dome.  Originally, the dome was only lit by natural light from eight circular windows above; which never quite reached the peak and left an overly dark, colorless center.  Kowal reported “Seeing the dome restored and backlit for the first time since it was installed in 1910 was breathtaking.  Details which were not apparent because of the dim previous lighting were now fully revealed.

Dennis Kowal Architects preserves the past.



All the Comforts of Home a new Skilled Nursing Facility   2 comments

All the Comforts of Home – a new Skilled Nursing Facility


New premium rooms at the Eastern Star Skilled Nursing Facility are designed with a home-like interior.  Deep sills for plants and gifts, valances for drapes and blinds, and super-insulated walls for comfort provide a cozy environment for residents. 

“We want beautiful new rooms for our patients.” The priorities of this non-profit were clear.   Dennis Kowal Architects created a masterplan for expansion, designs for new living areas, and three new wings for occupancy.  Many studies were developed until the perfect dimensions, finishes and proportions were found for the bedrooms.   Sunlight for health, window seats for views and easy to clean fabrics to soften the walls, all combine to create the beauty and privacy desired.

The next challenge of the project was to meet zoning and building regulations for this site bounded by single family residences.  Traffic, utilities, land acquisition and zoning restrictions were all adeptly addressed and the project was built with no variances.  DKA also helped with the fund raising presentations, neighborhood relations, and cost estimating to provide a construction ready package for the design-build construction firm.

Renovated rooms, new rooms, and common areas blend into an integrated facilty.

The wings were designed for maximum exposure to views and conformance to the hilltop site.  Outdoor plazas, gardens and walking areas flow seamlessly into the one story facility.

DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS is changing the face of Healthcare!