BNIM - AIA Firm of the Year
Almost 30 years after completion of the the Mast Advertising & Publishing Building, McDowell remarks, "It's one that really adhered to the fundamentals well. Putting an overhang on an office building was fairly unusual at the time, but it shaded the upper three floors like the trees did for the lower floors."
"It was slender, about 90 feet [27 meters] wide, so daylight penetration worked really well," he continues. "And we used a fairly innovative mechanical system. It feels very much of its region and place."
Located at the Kansas City Zoo, the Deramus Education Pavilion (1995) was created partly as an emblem of the zoo's major 1990s expansion and modification project, emphasizing education and animal welfare along with entertainment. The building was selected for the 1999 AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Projects list.
With a program including a 400-seat IMAX theater, administrative offices, and open spaces for public functions, the 74,500-square-foot (6,920-square-meter) pavilion was oriented with solar access in mind, part of a larger strategy to incorporate daylight and reduce energy use.
The building's south facade is largely glazed, enclosing a large foyer, which serves the theater, and an entry/ circulation space that connects the main building to a smaller, circular pavilion housing exhibits. Thanks to operable windows on its east, west, and south facades, the building can be naturally ventilated.
The structure was built using 100-percent salvaged wood or wood from sustainably managed forests, a green building practice much rarer in 1995 than now. The copper roof consists of 80 percent post-consumer waste, and even the marble floors are made from "waste" marble rejected for other purposes.
Houston Nursing School
Another major project for BNIM was the School of Nursing and Student Community Center (2004) at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, located in the Texas Medical Center. Designed in collaboration with Lake/Flato Architects, the eight-story, 195,000-square-foot (18,100-square-meter) facility contains classrooms, offices, a 200-seat auditorium, a research laboratory, a bookstore, and a cafe and dining room.
Steve McDowell describes the design process for the LEED Gold-certified building as both intuitive and scientific. "We designed it with the idea of five facades — the east, west, north, south, and the roof — according to exposures of each," he says.
"The site was tiny, it was oriented the wrong direction and there were terrible climatic conditions," McDowell continues. "But [the building] performs really well. Graduations are up and research funds are way up. They feel that pedagogically it improves their teaching and learning."
The energy-efficiency strategies have also provided the university with a quantifiable return on investment: the annual purchased utilities cost for the School of Nursing is approximately 60 percent lower than that of comparable buildings on campus.
In addition, rainwater storage tanks capture approximately 826,000 gallons (3.13 million liters) of rainwater per year, which is used onsite for toilet flushing and irrigation. Reclaimed bricks and recycled-content aluminum cladding were among the materials used in construction.
The building was discussed in ArchitectureWeek No. 289 after it was named to the 2006 AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Projects list.
Sustainable Waste Treatment
The Omega Center for Sustainable Living (2009) — the LEED Platinum-certified project that met the strictures of the Cascadia Green Building Council's Living Building Challenge in late 2010 — is located on the 195-acre (79-hectare) campus of the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies campus in Rhinebeck, New York. Also an honoree of the AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Projects list, in 2010, the project was discussed in ArchitectureWeek No. 472.
The program called for a facility to provide sustainable wastewater treatment for 119 buildings on the campus, along with a public educational component. The 6,200-square-foot (580-square-meter) building houses a biological wastewater treatment system, using plants and other organisms, which it puts on display to visitors.
McDowell reports that the project was a lesson in flexibility. "We were going down the road with one design, and we realized the daylight experience we were creating inside the space was not going to be adequate to grow the plants in the lagoon," he recalls. "We ended up reversing the form of the roof and adding more southern glass. It was counterintuitive to what we were thinking, but it was much nicer."
"It was a great learning process," he adds.
The Living Building Challenge is primarily performance-based, so the Omega Center had to demonstrate its qualifications during 12 months of continued operation prior to certification.
Yet another of BNIM's buildings named to the AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Projects list, for 2011, is the Kiowa County Schools building, discussed in ArchitectureWeek No. 515.
The school district's K-12 grades are housed in a single LEED Platinum-targeting facility in the small town of Greensburg, Kansas. The project is part of a green rebuilding process initiated after a 2007 tornado wiped out most of the town's buildings.
Berkebile points out that the new school building is not just environmentally sound, but is also expected to improve student performance, referring to studies by the Heschong Mahone Group that found improved average test scores among students in naturally lit spaces.
"I think we can prove that visual acuity will increase, which will increase cognitive capacity," he explains. "The students can learn faster, their test scores will increase, noise levels will come down, trips to the principal's office will go down, and the operations will come down in cost. But I think that's the tip of the iceberg."
BNIM had previously prepared the first phase of the comprehensive master plan that provides a framework for Greensburg's rebuilding. The firm also designed the Greensburg City Hall and served as LEED consultant for the Greensburg BTI John Deere Dealership and the Greensburg Business Incubator.
Looking to the Future
Bob Berkebile is forward-looking and forward-thinking. "One of my professors, Bucky Fuller, always said the only way to predict the future is to design it," Berkebile says.
"I'm getting to see that now," he continues. "We are seeing and participating in an increasing capacity for change, to move towards things that are more regenerative. I have a real sense of urgency, particularly in North America, about creating buildings and communities that are worthy of replication elsewhere on the planet. We're starting to see more and more of that capacity. That's exciting. I love the engagement of it."
Although 2030 is the target year for the 2030 Challenge from Architecture 2030 and for other carbon-emissions-reduction goals, Berkebile prefers to look toward a closer target: the end of this decade. "Twenty-twenty is close enough that we need to be more careful about what we're forecasting and in making it happen."
"By then I think we'll have not only living buildings, but regenerative buildings that give something back — regenerative in the sense of adding to the social and economic vitality simultaneously," Berkebile predicts. "And I think we'll see more integration of biomimicking materials. It's conceivable we'll have building materials that are self-healing, self-cleaning, can adjust their thermal value, and can generate electricity. Today there are crystal photovoltaic cells we make energy from. I believe by 2020 we'll create a fabric that is a lot cheaper and doesn't have to be applied over the skin of the building."
BNIM continues to push the sustainable boundaries of architecture, and Berkebile continues advocating his pioneering vision for sustainability. BNIM's close, influential relationship with the USGBC continues today as the firm weighs in on how to move LEED beyond its current highest Platinum standard.
"I was the first one standing in front of the [AIA] board saying, 'We need to do this,'" Berkebile recalls. "But when we accept the [AIA Firm] award, we'll be standing on the shoulders of thousands of people all over the planet. If it moves us one step closer to that 2020 vision, it's all worth it."
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