Page E1.2 . 20 February 2002                     
ArchitectureWeek - Environment Department
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    Sustainability Workshop


    "There is not a more important, more relevant issue to rally around than sustainable design," said Steve Worthington, design director of HOK San Francisco. "We need to take the necessary steps to wholly embrace sustainable design as a core value coming from our hearts and minds."

    In a series of lectures and discussions, workshop participants set out to address a variety of questions. How serious is HOK about sustainability? How can we integrate sustainable design into our processes? How can we align our goal for sustainability with our clients' needs for strong business results? What makes a product green? How do we establish a productive, healthy interior environment?

    Over the three days, participants saw instructive videos, listened to expert speakers, and heard a keynote address by Dr. Peter Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Garden. They toured three green buildings in the St. Louis area, saw several presentations of project case studies, and browsed a materials fair with displays and information about a wide range of energy-efficient and environmentally responsible building materials.

    They also engaged in hands-on implementation exercises using the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system.

    Looking at the Big Picture

    Key to integrating sustainability, participants learned, is the active role of the architect. They were encouraged to use innovative planning, design, and construction techniques not only to abate, but ultimately to reverse, problems of consumption and waste.

    "How do you eat an elephant?" asked William Odell, AIA, sustainable design principal of HOK St. Louis. "One bit at a time. That's a good way to attack our world's environmental problems. Focusing on LEED as an organizing principle in the design process helps break this effort down into accessible, bite-sized chunks."

    There was also an awareness that good design intentions can go only so far unless the business interests of the client are satisfied. On the other hand, said Sandra Mendler, AIA, sustainable design principal of HOK San Francisco, it's still possible to make smart economic planning prevail over a desire for short-term results.

    Mendler said: "We need to get a handle on a client's economic situation. What is the cost and availability of capital? Is this client group being judged over a two-year business cycle or through the life of a 10-year lease? What's their hurdle rate, their criterion for return on investment? A public or institutional client will have very different criteria than a corporation or a speculative investor. Once we know this context, we can add value to their processes and outcomes by looking at all the things that affect their choices."

    A New Focus on Site

    One of the workshops focused on the relationship between site design and water efficiency. During the session, Katrin Scholz-Barth, director of sustainable design for the HOK Planning Group in Washington, D.C. emphasized the direct link between the impervious surfaces architects build and stream degradation.

    She explained: "As land is replaced with buildings and roads and sealed with concrete and asphalt, water can no longer infiltrate the ground. So stormwater runoff is carrying non-point-source pollution agents like nitrogen and phosphorous into our watersheds."

    Moreover, solid pavements and roofs absorb and store energy from the sun during the day and reflect it at night. The resulting urban "heat island" alters weather patterns and harms greenery in cities.

    Scholz-Barth offered strategies for creating bioretention areas including the use of porous pavement, vegetated filter strips, grassy swales, filtration basins, infiltration basins and trenches, and green roofs. She said: "These strategies are both aesthetic and cost-effective."

    Toward Building "Green"

    One of the guest speakers at the workshop was Nadav Malin, vice president of BuildingGreen, Inc. and editor of Environmental Building News. He spoke of the importance of using "green" products and materials whenever possible, taking into consideration both how they were produced and how they will eventually be discarded.

    He emphasized the importance of ensuring that green materials contribute to the optimal performance of the building. "You can use the greenest products in the world," Malin said, "but you need to use them intelligently, install them the right way, and put them in a well-designed building."

    And despite the importance of green resources, he said, energy use and indoor air quality should be an architect's primary focus in most cases. He explained: "While buildings use a huge amount of material, these materials only go in once. If you create a building that uses a lot of energy year after year or that has poor indoor air quality, that will result in an ongoing penalty."

    Toward an Industry Standard

    In a workshop session focusing on the LEED rating system, Mendler described this North American standard as rapidly developing popularity. By 2003, she said, every U.S. General Services Administration project will be aiming for LEED certification, and many other federal agencies, states, and universities are adopting the standard.

    Similarly, the BREEAM tool (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) is popular in the United Kingdom and other parts of the world.

    Mendler pointed out: "LEED provides us with specific sustainable metrics for new construction and major renovation projects. It uses existing, proven technologies. It recognizes performance in accepted green design categories like sustainable site planning, energy efficiency, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, water, and the integrated design process.

    "The LEED system is a great tool," she continued. "Many of our design teams and clients are using it as a guide to make sure they are thinking of the right things throughout the project."

    Of course, "thinking of the right things," though necessary, is not by itself sufficient. In the words of HOK Group President William Valentine, AIA, the results should be visible one year from now.

    By then, he said, "All of our projects should create better environments, use fewer resources, incorporate more natural light and ventilation, drive down automobile use, and integrate more [public] transit. It comes down to the individual actions that we all take every day, on every aspect of every project we are working on."

    Branching Out

    Despite the workshop's focus on education within the firm, and despite the competitive nature of the profession, HOK is not keeping its expertise to itself. The firm has made a conscious decision to share its knowledge with the rest of the design industry.

    Said Mendler: "We made a decision in the early 1990s not to be proprietary about our sustainable information. By doing so, we have entered into a dialogue with an exceptional group of people that are working to find sustainable solutions. We have contributed, and we have learned a lot as well."

    This collegial approach was the impetus behind The HOK Guidebook to Sustainable Design, co-authored by Mendler and Odell and currently in its third printing by John Wiley & Sons. Additional information is available from the HOK Sustainable Design electronic newsletter.

    B.J. Novitski is managing editor of ArchitectureWeek.



    ArchWeek Image

    At HOK's National Wildlife Federation Headquarters Office Building in Reston, Virginia, a "green trellis" forms a screen wall in front of the building's south elevation.
    Photo: Hedrich-Blessing

    ArchWeek Image

    The goal for the National Wildlife Federation facility was to create an inspiring, healthy workplace in contact with wildlife habitats.
    Photo: Hedrich-Blessing

    ArchWeek Image

    A materials fair at the three-day workshop featured displays and information about a wide range of energy-efficient and environmentally responsible building materials.
    Photo: Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum

    ArchWeek Image

    The new Nature Conservancy headquarters building in Arlington, Virginia demonstrates that environmental improvements are possible even within the market constraints of speculative office development.
    Photo: Alan Karchmer

    ArchWeek Image

    The Nature Conservancy building offers an alternative to the typical suburban development model through improved energy efficiency and a pleasant indoor environment at no additional first cost.
    Photo: Alan Karchmer

    ArchWeek Image

    The HOK-designed Nidus Center for Scientific Enterprise in St. Louis, a not-for-profit plant and life sciences business incubator, was one of the first LEED-certified buildings.
    Photo: Steve Hall, Hedrich-Blessing

    ArchWeek Image

    All of the interior materials at The Nidus Center are low in volatile organic compounds, including the paint, adhesives, and finishes.
    Photo: Steve Hall, Hedrich-Blessing

    ArchWeek Image

    At The Nidus Center, a single HVAC system serves both lab and office spaces, resulting in better air quality, decreased initial cost, simplified operations, and reduced future maintenance requirements.
    Photo: Steve Hall, Hedrich-Blessing


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