Page N3.2 . 30 May 2001                     
ArchitectureWeek - News Department
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    Best Practices in Sustainability


    In the master plan for the Ford Plant at Rouge River, Michigan, McDonough helped envision a greener future for the site, which bears the scars of the first industrial revolution. With stormwater mitigation, constructed wetlands, and green roofs, the site will once again be a place of life.

    This design also makes economic sense. Tim O'Brien, director of the environmental quality office at Ford Motor Company, noted that this $13 million investment in stormwater management will save the company $50 million in water quality compliance fees.

    The strategy of maximizing instead of reducing was also important to McDonough in his design for the Gap headquarters. By maximizing daylight and fresh air, he was able to create a healthy and enjoyable workplace, which also happens to use much less energy than a more "conventional" office building.

    He laughed at a Wall Street Journal headline, referring to this building, Windows That Open Are the Latest Office Amenity. What kind of place have we come to, he asked, that allowing fresh air into our workplace is worthy of front-page news?

    Greenpeace Headquarters

    Kendall P. Wilson, AIA, principal of Envision Design, and Bill Richardson, national administration coordinator for Greenpeace, presented a case study of the design, construction, and post-occupancy evaluation of the Greenpeace USA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

    The goal was to project an image of a unique, nontraditional office space, that would reflect the Greenpeace mission. Bicycle accessibility and proximity to other groups and public transportation were client requirements.

    A group of five renovated turn-of-the-last-century masonry buildings served as the site. Reusing existing buildings fits within the criteria established by the project team.

    The architects established an open plan, maximizing worker access to daylight and reducing the needed materials from those in a more traditional office plan. They used the energy of the sun in the most direct ways: emphasizing daylight, fitting electric lights with sensors and automatic dimmers, and placing photovoltaic panels and water heating panels on the roof.

    They made great efforts to eliminate polyvinyl chloride (PVC) from the building, down to the wiring. Alternatives to PVC for building materials can now be found on the Greenpeace Web site.

    The architects also specified low volatile-organic-compound (VOC) adhesives and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood. They used formaldehyde-free wheatboard and particleboard in the doors and built-in furniture. They chose countertops, tiles, and flooring with high-recycled content.

    In the office reception area, a quote from Gandhi is inscribed on a glass panel: "If you want to change the world, be that change." Greenpeace is staying true to their mission in the construction of their new office.

    Puget Sound Environmental Learning Center

    Bert Gregory, AIA, principal of Mithun Architects + Designers + Planners, presented a case study of the Puget Sound Environmental Learning Center. Seventy thousand square feet (6500 square meters) of construction are being placed on the 255-acre (103-hectare) site, in 23 buildings and 16 site structures.

    Located on Bainbridge Island, across the sound from Seattle, this project will deliver outdoor field experiences to young students, to foster environmental stewardship for the future.

    Mithun is using the U.S. Green Building Council LEED rating system to maximize energy efficiency, minimize square footage, keep material out of the waste stream, use materials efficiently, and maximize recycled content. They project that the main structures will qualify for a gold rating.

    Mithun approached the project with the vision that the real clients of the project are the kids who will come to learn and the site itself. The site encompasses an entire watershed and thus provides a unique educational opportunity. The design intent is to enable the children to experience the entire site.

    The architects identified potential building areas with maps showing logged areas, wetlands, steep slopes, and suitable soils. By overlaying these into a composite map that also considered experiential features, they managed to limit vehicle access, cluster the structures, and affect less then three percent of the site.

    The buildings' design features will provide educational opportunities for the students. Water use efficiency is expressed with such things as a Living Machine, constructed wetlands, and composting toilets with a viewing room.

    Through passive solar heating and cooling, the structures will minimize their reliance on fossil fuels. Solar panels will satisfy domestic hot water needs. Computer monitoring of these systems and accessible readout panels will provide yet another educational opportunity.

    The wood used in construction is a combination of material from the site, FSC-certified wood, and reused timbers. The structure is exposed to demonstrate that less is more. The concrete contains 50 percent fly ash in the cement to reduce the use of carbon-dioxide-producing Portland cement.


    The last event of the conference was an inspiring presentation by Janine Benyus, the author of Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. She spoke on "Echoing Nature: Biomimicry and the Art of Well Adapted Design."

    Other attendees had mentioned looking to nature for lessons on how to improve our world. Benyus drew on her background as a biologist to take this one step further. Natural processes work without waste, so the phrase "waste = food" serves as a goal as we design things, buildings, and the human world.

    She said: "We feel our biological vulnerability. How can we remain here without destroying that which keeps us here?" Biomimicry looks to nature to inspire innovation, which should help answer this question.

    We could start by studying nature's chemistry instead of synthetic chemistry. A slug can crawl over the edge of a razor without cutting itself. It secretes a lubricant, which supports 1500 times its body weight. A Gecko can support the equivalent of 90 pounds (40 kilograms) while hanging upside down.

    These two creatures could teach us to eliminate the need for petrochemical-based lubricants and adhesives. They learned their tricks through natural selection. Biomimicry is the conscious emulation of life's genius.

    But mimicking form alone is not sustainable. For example the Concord jet imitates the motion of a swan when landing. To be sustainable, biomimicry must also consider how something is made (nature only uses a few elements) and how it fits into a living system.

    The African termite lives in tall mounds so strong that humans use dynamite to remove them when they are in the way. Relative to a termite's size, these mounds are equivalent to a mile-high skyscraper housing the population of New York.

    The genius of these mounds is that they naturally cool the interior to maintain 87 degrees Fahrenheit (31 degrees Celsius) to keep a continual harvest of fungus alive.

    The Pearce Partnership and Arup looked to this example and created a passively cooled midrise office building in Zimbabwe with a section diagram and cooling function identical to that of a termite mound.

    Benyus posed other questions and observations that should affect our designs: How do spiders make fiber? It is five times stronger than steel and assembled in the body of the spider. The abalone shell is twice as tough as our high-tech ceramics.

    How do Mussels adhere underwater with an adhesive that sticks to any surface? How does photosynthesis power plants? Could we replicate this process to produce energy?

    Taking these ideas a step further, she discusses mimicking whole systems. How does nature conduct business? Concluding the conference, Benyus suggested that a biologist is necessary at every design table.

    Ross A. Leventhal is a designer at NBBJ in Seattle, Washington.



    ArchWeek Photo

    A conference room in the new Greenpeace USA Headquarters, designed by Envision Design.
    Photo: Michael Moran

    ArchWeek Photo

    Section through open offices in Greenpeace USA Headquarters.
    Image: Envision Design

    ArchWeek Photo

    Birds-eye view of the Puget Sound Environmental Learning Center (PSELC).
    Image: Mithun Architects + Designers + Planners

    ArchWeek Photo

    East section through the PSELC.
    Image: Mithun Architects + Designers + Planners

    ArchWeek Photo

    Wetlands mapped on the PSELC site.
    Image: Mithun Architects + Designers + Planners

    ArchWeek Photo

    Steep slopes mapped on the PSELC site.
    Image: Mithun Architects + Designers + Planners

    ArchWeek Photo

    A composite PSELC site plan overlaying various factors to arrive at areas suitable for building.
    Image: Mithun Architects + Designers + Planners

    ArchWeek Photo

    Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature by Janine Benyus.
    Image: William Morrow & Co.


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