Page D1.2 . 07 April 2010                     
ArchitectureWeek - Design Department
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Green Gas Station?


An overall, triangulated prefabricated steel panel structure was used to cover all of the functions of the construction, making use of what the architects call "mass-customization" of the building elements. All, potentially contaminated runoff water from the site is collected and placed in an underground cistern, filtered and used to water plants. Ninety solar panels on the canopy roof "provide approximately 15,000 kilowatt-hours of energy to the station — enough electricity to power two to three typical American homes for a year."

Energy-efficient lights are used and the canopy was designed to reflect light, reducing electricity consumption by 16 percent as compared to conventional stations. Sensors further optimize the use of artificial light through a 24-hour cycle. Recycled materials were used wherever possible, and the project is LEED-certified. Energy-related videos are visible for customers.

Office dA

Nader Tehrani was born in England in 1963 and is of Iranian descent. He received a B.A. in fine arts (1985) and a B.Arch (1986) from the Rhode Island School of Design, and an M.Arch in urban design from the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1991. He teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as an associate professor of architecture, and has taught at the Harvard GSD, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and Georgia Institute of Technology, where he served as the Thomas W. Ventulett III Distinguished Chair in Architectural Design.

Monica Ponce de Leon was born in 1965 in Venezuela. She received a B.A. from the University of Miami in 1989, followed by an M.Arch in urban design from the Harvard GSD in 1991. Ponce de Leon is a professor at the Harvard GSD and became the dean of the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan in the fall of 2008.

They formed their partnership in 1991 in Boston. In 2006, Office dA designed the main library for RISD in Providence. In addition, Office dA won the first place award in the Villa Moda Competition for a mixed-use building in Kuwait, which includes housing, retail, multiplex, convention area, and sport facilities.

Office dA designed the first LEED-certified multi-housing building in Boston (with Burt Hill), the Macallen Building, with over 140 environmentally sensitive condominium units. It was named one of the Top Ten Green Projects for 2008 by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Committee on the Environment. Helios House, the first LEED-rated gas station, was completed in 2007.

War in the Asphalt Jungle

Green is the name of the game, no doubt about it. There has never been so much interest in the ecological impact of buildings as there is today. In the United States alone, the value of green building construction was projected to increase to $60 billion by 2010 (McGraw-Hill Construction SmartMarket Report, Key Trends in the European and U.S. Construction Marketplace, 2008).

Nor is this a negligible fact in the struggle to control pollution and in the search for responsible "sustainable" methods of construction. Buildings are one of the heaviest consumers of natural resources and account for a significant portion of the greenhouse gas emissions that affect climate change. In the United States, buildings account for 38 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions (Assumptions to the Annual Energy Outlook 2008, U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy). Buildings use 40 percent of raw materials globally (Lenssen and Roodman, Worldwatch Paper 124: A Building Revolution: How Ecology and Health Concerns are Transforming Construction, Worldwatch Institute, 1995).

The difficulty is that green is so fashionable that everyone is jumping on the bandwagon, claiming astonishing sustainability or remarkably low energy consumption. One effective response to the uncertainty surrounding the complex question of the environmental impact of architecture has been LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the U.S. Green Building Council's accepted benchmark system for the design, construction and operation of green buildings.

According to the USGBC, "LEED promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality."

The USGBC certifies not only buildings but also building professionals. More than 46,000 building professionals from all areas of practice have become LEED Accredited Professionals (LEED APs) since the professional accreditation program was launched in the United States in 2001.

The USGBC system takes into account the various professions that participate in construction, and not only architects. This broad-based rating organization is undoubtedly much closer to the goal of encouraging real sustainability in architecture than would be individual architects claiming that their structure is greener than the next.

It may even be asked, with global warming now a significant international political issue, if architecture itself is not on the brink of very significant changes, where style and matters of aesthetics are placed in a secondary position behind issues of sustainability. At a certain time, "green" buildings were almost obliged to show their colors as it were — ugly and complicated affairs, usually multicolored as though an entire rainbow in one building might be sufficient to prove a concern for ecology.

Technology certainly assists architects by giving them environmentally "correct" materials that are also attractive. Thermal glass, as used by designers such as the German Werner Sobek, allows a glazed house to be as environmentally friendly as one covered in larch (tamarack) shingles.

Photovoltaic cells are becoming more efficient as well, though they are not yet often able to provide more than a relatively small percentage of the energy consumption of a building. This of course depends on climate, with gray skies less propitious to photovoltaic panels than desert sun, of course.

As it is, some sustainability methods, be they passive or active, are hardly visible. Turning a building the right way or organizing its cladding properly to avoid solar gain may have little or no effect on its overall aesthetics. So, too, photovoltaic panels are usually safely tucked away on the roof, unless architects are still trying to make a statement with their patchwork sun-seeking technology.

Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

Philip Jodidio studied art history and economics at Harvard, and edited Connaissance des Arts for over 20 years. His books include Taschen's Architecture Now! series, Building a New Millennium, and monographs on Tadao Ando, Norman Foster, Richard Meier, Jean Nouvel, Zaha Hadid.

This article is excerpted from Green Architecture Now! by Philip Jodidio, copyright © 2009, with permission of the publisher, Taschen.

The references cited here were noted in "Green Building Facts," published by the U.S. Green Building Council, June 2008 (available from the USGBC as a Word file).

Project Credits

Project: Helios House (Los Angeles, California)
Client: BP Corporation of North America
Design Architect: Office dA
Architect of Record: Johnston Marklee
Creative and Design Firm: BIG at Ogilvy & Mather


ArchWeek Image

The irregular shape of the pump canopy structure at Helios House is composed of triangulated prefabricated steel panels.
Photo: © Eric Staudenmaier Extra Large Image

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The service attendant's booth is contained within an enlarged version of the tapered columns that support the canopy.
Photo: © Eric Staudenmaier Extra Large Image

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Helios House floor-plan drawing.
Extra Large Image

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The steel surface of Helios House is somewhat reflective, allowing perception of the building to change with time of day and angle of view.
Photo: © Eric Staudenmaier Extra Large Image

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Helios House replaced a 1970s gas station on the same site at the intersection of Robertson and Olympic Boulevards in Los Angeles.
Photo: © Eric Staudenmaier Extra Large Image

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A screen of vertical wood members covers the front of the bathroom structure at Helios House.
Photo: © Eric Staudenmaier Extra Large Image

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A photovoltaic array on the roof of Helios House supplies a portion of the gas station's energy needs.
Photo: © Eric Staudenmaier Extra Large Image

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Green Architecture Now! by Philip Jodidio.
Image: Taschen Extra Large Image


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