Joseph G. Allen
John D. Macomber

Healthy Buildings

How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity A Fortune Magazine Best Book of the Year An AIA New York Book of the Year

A forensic investigator of “sick buildings” and director of Harvard’s Healthy Buildings program teams up with a CEO-turned–Harvard Business School professor to reveal the secrets of a healthy building — and unlock one of the greatest business opportunities of our time.

By the time you reach 80, you will have spent 72 years of your life indoors. Like it or not, humans have become an indoor species. This means that the people who design, build and maintain our buildings can have a major impact on our health.

Where to Buy

One of New York Times’ 8 Favorite Books in 2021 for Healthy Living

A Fortune Magazine Best Book of the Year

This exposé of the widespread under-ventilation and pollution inside modern buildings arrived just as shared indoor space became truly deadly. Though there’s now light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, these insights and guidelines for improving indoor air quality should play a huge role in post-pandemic reforms.

An AIA New York Book of the Year

Laura Raskin

We’ve known for years that our indoor environments, from offices to hospitals, can have a dramatic effect on our health, functioning, and mental wellbeing, and 2020 has proven the point… [Allen and Macomber] share insider tips and show how tracking what they call ‘health performance indicators’ with smart technology can boost a company’s performance and create economic value. A post-COVID handbook.

The New Yorker

Jill Lepore

Allen and Macomber want to establish national standards, and they make a series of precise and persuasive recommendations for everything from insulation and window shades to water filters and vacuum cleaners.

Lord Norman Foster


This book should be essential reading for all who commission, design, manage, and use buildings — indeed anyone who is interested in a healthy environment.

Nature Scientific Journal

We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us,’ said Winston Churchill in 1943. This is even truer now; people in the United States spend 90% of their time indoors, note health scientist Joseph Allen and business-school lecturer John Macomber. Yet we read little about indoor air pollution. […] Their detailed, important study is welcomed by architect Norman Foster. But it speaks to everyone.

Cristina Gamboa

CEO of the World Green Building Council

Healthy Buildings makes a great contribution by urging us to shift to a ‘healthfirst’ mindset in relation to our built environment. Its unique insights help close the knowledge gap around healthy buildings, reveal their important role in global sustainability, and provide practical guidance on the main factors we should all be on the lookout for in our homes, offices, and schools.

John Mandyck

Urban Green Council

Sustainability and health can no longer exist in separate domains. Healthy Buildings bridges the divide. It links health science and business science for a new way to think about buildings.

Harold Wimmer

National President and CEO, American Lung Association

Indoor air quality directly impacts our lungs and we have a responsibility to remove indoor air pollutants that are linked to asthma, lung cancer, and other serious diseases. Healthy Buildings lays out the simple steps we can all take to improve our health.

Rebecca Henderson

John and Natty McArthur University Professor, Harvard University

Healthy Buildings is both hugely important and a great read. By the end it not only completely persuaded me that improving the health of our buildings is a fabulous economic opportunity and something that could change the lives of millions of people — it gave me a very good sense of where to start. Highly recommended.

Christoph Reinhart

Director of MIT’s Building Technology Program and Head of the Sustainable Design Lab

The engaging conversational style of this comprehensive book makes it an ideal read for any busy building owner or executive who wants to learn about the new science of healthy buildings and to discover how following healthy building strategies may impact their (and society’s) bottom line.

Thomas R. Burton, III

Chair, Energy and Sustainability Practice, Mintz

In this new era of ESG responsibility, every CEO must consider our built environment to fully meet stakeholder expectations. Joe Allen and John Macomber’s multi-disciplinary, accessible approach unlocks the secret to future human health and productivity gains in the very buildings in which we live and work.

About the Authors

Joseph G. Allen

is an associate professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He began his career as a private investigator in New York City, conducting surveillance, doing undercover work and performing computer investigations. He then returned to graduate school to pursue his interest in scientific research.

After graduating with a master’s and doctoral degree, he worked in a private consultancy conducting forensic health investigations of sick buildings in several hundred buildings across a diverse range of industries, including healthcare, biotechnology, education, commercial office real estate and manufacturing.

At Harvard, Dr. Allen directs the Healthy Buildings program, where he created “The 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building,” and he is the faculty advisor to the Harvard Healthier Building Materials Academy.

He presents internationally on the topic of healthy buildings, and his work has been featured widely in the popular press, including the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, National Geographic, NPR, Newsweek, Washington Post and The New York Times.

Dr. Allen has published over 60 academic research articles related to Healthy Buildings, and he is an Associate Editor of the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology and the journal Indoor Air. He also serves as a Scientific Advisor to the American Lung Association. He earned his Doctor of Science (DSc) and Master of Public Health (MPH) degrees from the Boston University School of Public Health, and a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in Biology from Boston College. More information on his research can be found at:

Dr. Allen was born in New York and now lives just outside of Boston with his wife and three children. (He’s still a Yankees fan.)

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John D. Macomber

is a senior lecturer in the Finance unit at Harvard Business School. His professional background includes leadership of real estate, construction and information technology businesses as well as credit and risk committees of a regional bank. At HBS, Mr. Macomber’s work focuses on the urban impacts of private finance and delivery of public infrastructure projects in both the developed and emerging worlds. These include transportation, energy, water/sanitation and real estate investments that speed economic development, reduce environmental impacts (notably air and water pollution) and facilitate individual opportunity. His teaching combines infrastructure finance (including public-private partnerships), economic development and urban planning as well as the impact of new technologies.

Mr. Macomber is engaged in the Business and Environment Initiative and Social Enterprise Initiatives at HBS and is a member of the Executive Committee of the Harvard University Center for African Studies. He teaches Finance, Real Estate, Urbanization and Entrepreneurship courses in the elective curriculum and in Executive Education including the flagship Harvard Business.

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In The News

Employers Have Been Offering the Wrong Office Amenities

October, 2021

Workplaces need fresh air, not foosball tables and coffee bars.

The Atlantic

Healthy Buildings on the Horizon

April, 2020

From fighting Coronavirus to boosting cognitive performance, Joe Allen thinks clean buildings will be the next public health revolution.

Harvard Public Health

Is Staying In Safe?

September, 2020

Indoor life has its dangers, too, but building-design specialists have big plans for us.

The New Yorker

What Makes an Office Building “Healthy”

April, 2020

As employees return to offices, the authors suggest a framework companies can deploy to keep people safe without crippling their businesses and our economy, as well as a series of indicators to measure their progress.

Harvard Business Review

Is the healthiest building in the world worth the rent?

December, 2020

Healthy buildings and superior air quality are increasingly important as people spend 90% of their lives indoors. Harvard professors John Macomber and Joseph Allen discuss their case, “A Tower for the People: 425 Park Avenue,” their new book, “Healthy Buildings,” and how their learnings extend to a post-COVID world.

Harvard Business Review

Schools (and Children) Need a Fresh Air Fix

October, 2020

Classrooms have needed better ventilation for years. It took a pandemic to get us to pay attention. 


We spend 90% of our time inside—why don’t we care that indoor air is so polluted?

May, 2020

For all this time spent indoors, we tend to focus much more on outdoor air quality than on indoor air quality. Check any newspaper or news site on any given day and you are likely to see a story about the hazards of outdoor pollution, but how often do you see a story about building […]

Fast Company

We’ve Known How to Make Buildings Healthier for Decades

May, 2020

People in the United States spend upward of 90 percent of their time indoors — inside homes, apartment buildings, schools, and offices. With the threat of COVID-19 looming over every interaction, those indoor spaces (where the virus spreads more easily) can seem loaded with hidden threats.

The Verge

5 Surprising Ways Buildings Can Improve Our Health

February, 2017

Before he became a public health researcher at Harvard, Joseph Allen investigated hundreds of “sick buildings” as a consultant for owners who complained about illness in workers or residents from mold, dampness, and other unhealthy conditions. Sometimes the fixes were easy—increase ventilation—and sometimes they were harder—poor construction—but over time, Allen began to realize that considerable money and […]

National Geographic

Your building might be making you sick. Joe Allen can help.

February, 2018

On his first day as an assistant professor of exposure-assessment sciences at the Harvard Chan School, in 2014, Joe Allen was immediately put on the spot. “One of the deans asked me, ‘How will your research impact the world?’” Allen recalled on a recent afternoon in his office near Fenway Park. “I put that line up in […]

The Harvard Gazette

Harvard Business School Faculty and Climate Experts Talk Water and the Future of the City in Panel Discussion

October, 2019

Climate experts and Harvard Business School lecturers discussed the consequences of climate change on urban development and the world in a panel discussion sponsored by the HBS Global Initiative on Tuesday afternoon. The event was part of Harvard’s third annual Worldwide Week, an event held to highlight international research conducted by Harvard faculty and to […]

The Harvard Crimson

How healthy buildings can help us fight coronavirus

February, 2020

The 2003 Sars epidemic exploded when an infected healthcare worker, suffering from minor respiratory symptoms, went to Hong Kong for a friend’s wedding and checked into a ninth-floor room in the Metropole Hotel. He fell severely ill the next day, went to a hospital and died shortly thereafter — but not before transmitting Sars to […]

Financial Times

Your Building Can Make You Sick or Keep You Well

March, 2020

In 1974, a young girl with measles went to school in upstate New York. Even though 97 percent of her fellow students had been vaccinated, 28 ended up contracting the disease. The infected students were spread out across 14 classrooms, but the young girl, the index patient, spent time only in her own classroom. The […]

The New York Times

What makes a building “healthy”

May, 2020

In a typical year you will take two million breaths in your office. This, however, is not a typical year. The pandemic spawned by the novel coronavirus has forced a global reckoning with the awesome power of infectious diseases to grind economies to a halt. The forced lockdowns and retreat into home isolation has also […]

Harvard Business Review

Why COVID-19 Raises the Stakes for Healthy Buildings

December, 2020

Like it or not, humans have become an indoor species, so buildings have a major impact on our health. That’s why the Healthy Building Movement is gaining momentum, say John Macomber and Joseph Allen. Will you ever again step onto a crowded elevator without hesitation? Reach for a doorknob without concern (or gloves)? Easing social distancing restrictions might […]

Harvard Business School

Healthy Buildings as a Public Health Tool

May, 2020

The ways people use and interact in commercial buildings—particularly office spaces—will likely be changed significantly due to the COVID-19 crisis, with building and workplace health being a top concern, according to two healthy-building experts featured on an April 21 webinar hosted by ULI’s Building Healthy Places Initiative.

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