I wrote this essay for my Sustainable Design in the Built Environment Class. In it, I pretend to be an architect writing a letter to a potential client, explaining to him how green building works and why he or she should choose me, a green architectA letter to John Mench Schnook”Here are my rules: what can be done with one substance must never be done with another. No two materials are alike. No two sites on earth are alike. No two buildings have the same purpose. The purpose, the site, the material determine the shape.
Nothing can be reasonable or beautiful unless its made by one central idea, and the idea sets every detail. “–Howard Roark, the Fountainhead, by Ayn RandDear Mr. Schnook,I am writing you with respect to your search for an architect to design and build an office building for your company’s headquarters in downtown Providence, Rhode Island. At first glance I might appear to be an unusual choice for the project; after all, I have thus far specialized in the design of environmental science centers as well as various demonstration projects. In those cases cost has been much less of an issue than the goal of experimenting with new techniques as well as proving to the public that high-performance buildings are possible, can be beautiful and have many other benefits. I am especially interested in your project because I believe we can show that a high-performance building, built for the corporate sector, can meet the budget while providing numerous benefits. Rather than giving you specific design plans, I want to go through the green building process with you because the kind of building I hope to design requires a different kind of thinking about the built environment.First of all, you may be wondering why an internet technology company should be interested in a high-performance building for its headquarters. In 2006, Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) published a report entitled “A Three-Pronged Approach to Corporate Climate Strategy” which stated thatThe scope of climate change leaves many within corporations asking why they shouldact, not to mention how. What can one company possibly do? But the option of notacting is less attractive given emerging regulatory action, growing recognition of business risks and the benefits of action, such as brand impacts and early mover advantages. (BSR, pg. 12)In other words, given that the issue of global warming is not going away, and given that regulatory action (namely a price on carbon) is inevitable, those companies that act now will save money, gain market share and benefit from positive public relations. Furthermore, the 2006 report “Stern Review: the Economics of Climate Change,” which garnered a lot of attention because it used economics to analyze the cost of inaction on global warming, came to “a simple conclusion: the benefits of strong, early action considerably outweigh the costs.” (Stern Review, pg. 2) Lastly, buildings are important contributors of greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, according to a UNEP report titled “Building and Climate Change: Status, Challenges and Opportunities,” in Europe “more rigorous energy efficiency standards there could result in a reduction of one-fifth of the continent’s energy use.” (buildinggreen.com) In the U.S., commercial buildings account for 17% of total energy consumption. (http://www.eere.energy.gov)The next question you probably have is, “what is a high-performance building?” The U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has a simple definition: “a high-performance building is a building with energy, economic and environmental performance that is substantially better than standard practice.” (http://www.eere.energy.gov) The concept is closely linked to the term sustainable development, which the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development defined as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meettheir own needs.” (http://www.un.org) When dealing specifically with buildings the terms sustainable design, green design and eco-effectiveness are used interchangeably to refer to “a design philosophy that seeks to maximize the quality of the built environment, while minimizing or eliminating negative impact to the natural environment” (McLennan, Jason pg. 9)With all these lofty goals in mind it might seem difficult to quantify whatever potential successes our project might achieve. That is why I propose we use LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) as both a way of inspiring our design and measuring and quantifying the results. LEED looks at sustainability in five focal areas: 1)sustainable site development, 2) water savings, 3) energy efficiency, 4) materials selection, and 5) indoor environmental quality. (http://www.usgbc.org) Depending on the amount of points earned, a building can be rated anywhere from LEED Platinum (highest), or simply LEED Certified (lowest). A great example of a LEED Platinum building similar in size and use to the one you intend to build is the Alberici Corporate Headquarters in Overland, MO. The Alberici building was 73% new construction and 27% percent renovation. One of the key renovation projects was to add a “‘saw-tooth’ patterned wall of offices [which] in effect re-oriented the building due south and provided ample glazing while blocking western sunlight with masonry walls.” (http://www.buildinggreen.com) A south-facing building, with a properly angled roof or use of external sunscreens, can allow low-angle winter sunlight into the building, while preventing unwanted solar gain in the summer.Sustainable Design “has its own order of operation in order to be effective.” (McLennan, Jason pgs 210-211) The four steps are 1) Understand Climate and Place; 2) Reduce Loads; 3) Use Free Energy ; and 4) Use the Most Efficient Technology Possible1)Providence has warm, humid summers and cold winters. The prevailing winds come from the southwest. The particular location for the building is downtown; an analysis of wind flow and rainfall patterns, as well as noise and air pollution nearby will have to be done. It is not enough to simply look at weather patterns taken at T.F. Green airport. No two sites are alike. For instance, thermal massing in the hot, dry southwest is an effective means of temperature control that will not work as well in New England. Also, the amount of sunlight hitting the roof during peak hours will affect the performance of a photovoltaic system. The money spent on a more detailed initial site-analysis will inform a much better design and result in more LEED points earned.2)Proper insulation, windows with high R-values and good building orientation will reduce the heating and cooling load of the building. The mechanical systems should then be sized according to the needs of the well-designed building. In other words, as part of the integrated design process, the engineers must communicate early and often with the architect and champion, to ensure that the efficiency gains in design are not lost in a larger-than-needed HVAC system.3)Using free energy means taking advantage of passive heating and cooling. In the winter south-facing windows can allow heat into the building, while in the summer a large glass atrium with a waterfall can help increase natural ventilation for cooling.4)Whatever comfort cannot be afforded using the previous methods should be provided via the most efficient boilers, HVAC systems and lights available.An issue that always comes up with respect to green buildings is cost. One of the reasons for the misconception that green is expensive, according to “
The Cost of Green Revisited,” by Davis Langdon, is that green design, rather than being considered an integral part of the design process, is often viewed as “something that gets added to the project” (pg. 3) and therefore has an added cost associated with it. However, the study concluded that “there is no significant difference in average cost for green buildings as compared to non-green buildings.” (pg. 3) That is due to several factors: an efficient design process and the fact that many green projects look to reduce costs in as many areas as possible; unfortunately, that often means not going after the most aggressive reduction in energy consumption.One way to get around the potential for added cost when going after profound improvements in efficiency is to do a Life-Cycle Cost Analysis (LCCA). In the traditional design process an architect provides a client with two differently priced options and, if the quality is the same, the client will choose the lower-priced option. An LCCA, however, recognizes that “the long-term cost implications of building projects range far beyond initial design and construction expenses.” (Guidelines For LCCA, pg. 4) The LCCA enables a client to look at the cost of a building over its entire life, including maintenance, utilities, replacements and service. Green features such as extremely efficient windows, photovoltaics, and better insulation will add initial cost to a project but will, over the life of the building, result in significant savings. An LCCA enables a client to quantify and understand those savings.Schnook Inc. has a unique opportunity to save money in the long run; gain market share and positive publicity; protect against higher energy prices and future regulations; make a statement that will inspire others; and improve worker productivity (by up 20%)(http://www.eere.energy.gov). By achieving LEED certification Schnook Inc. can ensure that others can quickly and easily verify the green claims it makes about its new headquarters (this being especially important in our age of “green-wash”). What I have described is feasible, but requires that you make a determination from the outset that you want to build green.I hope you can see the many benefits of green building I have outlined,Sincerely,Andy Posner, ArchitectSources:1)http://www.bookrags.com/notes/fou/QUO.htm , Quote 1; Accessed 10/1/072)Business for Social Responsibility report, “A Corporate Climate Strategy,”http://www.bsr.org/reports/BSR_Climate-Change-Report.pdf prepared October, 20063)Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/independent_reviews/stern_review_economics_climate_change/sternreview_summary.cfm, 20064)News Brief From Environmental Building News, http://www.buildinggreen.com/auth/article.cfm?fileName=160508a.xml Accessed 10/1/075)Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development 11/11/1987http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/42/ares42-187.htm, Accessed 10/1/076)The Philosophy of Sustainable Design, McLennan, Jason, Copyright 2004 Jason F. McLennan, Published by Ecotone LLC7)Design Approach http://www.eere.energy.gov/buildings/highperformance/design_approach.htmlAccessed 10/1/078)Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design http://www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CategoryID=19 Accessed 10/1/079)Alberici Corporate Headquarters http://www.buildinggreen.com/hpb/overview.cfm?projectId=662Accessed 10/1/0710) The Cost of Green Revisited, Langdon, Davis, 200711) Life Cycle Cost Analysis; Stanford University Land and Buildings, October 2005