Green Builders Convene
As architectural clients, developers are highly sensitive to first costs, so this example suggests there's a market for the quality of architecture that sustainability provides.
Furthermore, at $56 per square foot ($603 per square meter), EcoWorks demonstrates that green can be affordable. "Everything had to be market-driven," said Kevin Harden, principal with Gastinger Walker Harden Architects. The firm led the design team for client Zimmer Companies of Kansas City.
Two of the project's six buildings have been completed so far, with a substantial green investment in every aspect of design including low-flow toilets, daylighting, and recycled materials. And because it's a developer-driven project with a strict attention to budget, it was important that EcoWorks achieve a five- to seven-year payback.
High Design, High Sustainability
Also presenting at the conference were participants in the Seattle Central Library project, designed by Rem Koolhaas, with LMN Architects. The City of Seattle requires all new public buildings to achieve at least a LEED rating of "silver." Comprising 11 stories and 400,000 square feet (37,000 square meters), the $165 million project, currently under construction, is already the buzz in architecture circles.
Inspired by the idea of a continuous card catalog, the building is made of a series of large platforms around which is encased a glass skin, with metal mesh embedded inside the glass panels. The mesh helps the glass act as a series of louvers that reduce glare and unwanted heat gain.
"You can have a different level of light at different places of the building," says Meghan Corwin of Koolhaas' Office of Metropolitan Architecture, "and when you look at it from the outside it's rather opaque."
The library also includes a variety of sustainable features: chillers and cooling towers, an under-floor ventilation system, reuse of stormwater, and a 90-percent construction waste recycling rate.
Nevertheless, recalls Sam Miller, an engineer with the consulting firm Arup, "this was not conceived of as a sustainable building. But I think that's a strength of LEED, that it can be applied to a building with this kind of innovation to squeeze out more sustainability without compromising the design."
What Value Green?
In another presentation entitled "Life Cycle Green," Vivian Loftness, head of Carnegie Mellon University's School of Architecture, presented a new software system that helps architects, engineers, and builders — and more importantly, their clients — see the greater value and quality inherent in green buildings.
"If you asked someone to tell you the difference in quality between a $10,000 and a $30,000 car, or between a $1,000 and a $3,000 computer, they'd be able to tell you what you're getting for the extra money," Loftness noted. "But when it comes to buildings, most people can't do it. We're in trouble as a profession. We're not identifying what sets our buildings apart."
In cooperation with the Advanced Building Systems Integration Consortium, a group of international building industries and federal agencies, Loftness has helped create the Building Investment Decision Support tool, or "BIDS," which outlines the economic value added by installation of high-quality building systems.
BIDS measures the advantages in terms of energy conservation, operation and maintenance, individual and organizational productivity, organizational and technical churn, and health, attraction, and retention of employees, as well as waste reduction and broader environmental impacts.
Rather than selling the concept of green building as a whole, BIDS uses over 90 published case studies in enumerating specific evidence — based on user-provided criteria — that people are healthier and more productive in green buildings.
Value Beyond Dollars
For virtually any sustainable project, the biggest hurdle remains budget: not just meeting one, but convincing the client to consider more than first costs. Thus, much discussion at the conference, like Loftness' talk, was devoted to promoting values besides monetary ones.
Jerry Yudelson of Interface Engineering in Portland, Oregon explained: "The first question out of pretty much every client's mouth is, 'what's it going to cost me?' But you have to sell the benefit [of green buildings] before cost. Otherwise you'll drive everyone out of the room."
Indeed, despite growth of sustainable building as a proportion of the market, and despite the evidence showing happier, more efficient employees in green buildings, it is still a challenge to stop people from throwing up four thin walls and a cheap roof.
And even if green building became the norm, as critics like Robert Campbell of the Boston Globe have pointed out, sustainable building per se can only go so far to solve potentially catastrophic environmental problems. To make a substantial difference, architects and builders also need to push for limiting the reach of our settlement patterns and protecting the biodiversity beyond and among us.
But that could mean standing against some conventional approaches to profitable development. Furthermore, projects like Koolhaas' Seattle Central Library notwithstanding, too many architects and clients seem to think they cannot have both green design and inspiring architecture. No one can dispute that LEED is helpful, but we need to go beyond just following the guidelines.
This conference was never intended to solve these dilemmas unequivocally, but surely coming together to compare notes is an important step for a movement that is gaining momentum.
Brian Libby is a Portland, Oregon-based freelance writer who has also published in Metropolis, The New York Times, and Christian Science Monitor.
The EcoWorks development by Gastinger Walker Harden Architects.
Photo: Gastinger Walker Harden Architects
Entry to one of the EcoWorks office buildings.
Photo: © 2002 Mike Sinclair
Seattle Central Library by Rem Koolhaas and LMN Architects.
Image: © Ron Lloyd & Associates. Courtesy of Rem Koolhaas of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in joint venture with LMN Architects
The Building Investment Decision Support tool developed by Vivian Loftness, with colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University.
Image: CMU School of Architecture/ Advanced Building Systems Integration Consortium
One Waterfront Place in Portland, Oregon by BOORA Architects, is expected to become the first LEED gold-rated spec office building.
Image: BOORA Architects
The Environmental Studies Center at Oberlin College by William McDonough + Partners demonstrates "value beyond dollars."
Photo: © Barney Taxel, 2001. Photomontage by William McDonough + Partners.
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