Architecture & Design Backgrounder
Buildings produce roughly a third of carbon dioxide emissions and other emissions that harm air quality. Additionally, buildings generate waste during construction and operation; can have poor indoor air quality, affecting worker health; and often don’t consider the impact made on the community through increased transportation, sprawl, and cultural and historical impact. By integrating natural resource, human health, and community concerns into building design and construction, architects and designers can create buildings that are cleaner, healthier for occupants and the environment, and which deplete fewer resources.
Because traditional buildings consume large amounts of energy and other natural resources and can harm the environment around them, there’s a swelling interest in building more eco-sensitive structures. And sustainable design strategies and measures are constantly evolving and improving. New technologies are continually introduced to the marketplace and up-to-date scientific research influences building design strategies.
Getting Down to Business
Some green building practices need to be part of a building from the ground up. Other practices fit nicely into renovation and building upgrades. The varying options mean that most any business can build green. Examples include:
* Lockheed Missile and Space Company’s building in Sunnyvale, Calif., was designed to be energy efficient by using daylighting, sloped ceilings (which bring daylight deep into the building), an inner floor-to-ceiling atrium, and exterior “light shelves” on the outside of the south façade of the building, which reflect light onto the interior ceilings. Daylighting has saved Lockheed approximately 75% on its electric bill. The energy-efficient improvements added about $2 million to the cost of the $50 million building; energy savings are nearly $500,000 per year, providing a four-year payback.
* International Netherlands Group bank’s 540,000-square-foot headquarters in Amsterdam integrates passive solar heating and ventilation, cogeneration and waste heat capture, daylit office space and interior cores, water-efficient landscaping and rainwater cisterns, and is close to most employees’ homes. Benefits realized include 92% reduction in primary energy use compared to conventional building of similar size, employee absenteeism reduced by 15%, and an estimated energy savings of $2.9 million.
* Café Flora, in Seattle, Washington, recycled an existing on-site building to build its restaurant, using recycled paint and recycled concrete in the retaining wall and as a base course. The cafe also has window glazing that conserves energy, low-toxicity paints and finishes, formaldehyde-free fiberboard, and a variety of other energy-efficient measures. The building uses 21% less energy than code requires. Savings are achieved through heat recovery from the refrigeration system, special lighting installations, daylighting, efficient fans, and efficient space heating.
* Designers and architects recognize a niche in green building and are quickly gaining expertise in the area.
* Retailers of energy-efficient and environmental products are developing and selling products that are easier on the environment than traditional products. From low-toxic paints to recycled carpet, most building material retailers sell products through catalogs, online, and in select retail outlets.
* Financial savings resulting from wiser use of resources. Material costs can be lower if reusing materials. Waste disposal costs also may be lower, both during construction and operation.
* Tax incentives offered by some cities, counties, and states for green building.
* Reduced environmental impact from using fewer resources and producing less waste.
* Improved worker productivity and health from more efficient lighting, improved air quality, less-toxic chemicals, and improved employee satisfaction and well-being.
* Higher building value from lower operating costs, reduced turnover, and increased property value.
* Increased sales and customers if the facility is a more pleasant place to shop or if customers choose to do business with an environmentally conscious company.
Innovative building strategies have variable first costs and operating costs, depending on the degree of complexity, materials incorporated, and the novelty of the building approach. Initial costs can range from free to prohibitively expensive. A short-term building occupant may not see any payback, as savings generally match the original investment in three to five years. In addition, the design and construction process can take longer than in traditional building as the participants become familiar with and implement green building practices.
There are hundreds of specific building techniques and products to integrate into a green building. The most important consideration is balancing economic input with environmental benefit.
Some general steps:
* Gather a multi-disciplinary project team.
* Compose a vision statement that focuses on goals. Establish a code that builders must follow (non-degradation of site, containment of stormwater runoff, etc.).
* Set a budget and schedule.
* Research applicable laws, codes, and regulations governing renovation or building.
* Assess building site characteristics (light, water/drainage/soil, air flow, and natural environment).
* Choose materials — investigate the cradle-to-grave environmental performance of proposed materials.
* Construct with minimum impact and waste.
* Have the building commissioned — assesses whether systems perform as they should and looks for deficiencies in the building and its systems before and after occupancy.
Specific green building ideas:
* Choose a building site with access to natural light and shade.
* Implement daylighting, sloped ceilings, inner windows/atriums, and other passive solar techniques.
* Use recycled-content products.
* Reduce dependence on air conditioning and heating systems by using natural light and shade as well as building features to store heat and cold.
* Avoid building materials with volatile organic compounds.
* Pay attention to the culture and history of the community as well as past uses of the building (if it is a renovation).
* Research financial incentives and regulations that facilitate green design.
* U.S. Green Building CouncilStrives to accelerate the adoption of green building practices, technologies, policies, and standards through market-based solutions.
* Green Design InitiativePromotes environmentally conscious engineering, design, manufacturing, and architecture.
* Green Design/Sustainable Architecture: Information Sources A visit to this Web site will yield a good green-building reading list.
* Sustainable Design Information Center Section of the American Society of Interior Designers’ Web site devoted to sustainable design and green building.
* Sun, Wind, and Light: Architectural Design StrategiesAn easy-to-follow primer on the way in which wind and sun patterns affect a building’s energy performance.
* BuildingGreen.comProducts reviews, news, articles, and more on green building for architects, designers, and planners.
* Whole Building Design GuidePortal to a wide range of federal and private-sector building-related guidance, criteria, and technology.
* High-Performance Buildings DatabaseDetailed profiles of green-building projects to inform and inspire architects, designers, and builders.
* Sustainable Building ToolboxProvides educational information and resources on sustainable design and construction specific to Washington state, though some ideas are applicable nationally.
* Sustainable Building Technical ManualGuidelines on implementing green strategies during pre-design, design, construction, operations, and management.
“Green” buildings typically are healthy buildings. They also often are profitable buildings, boasting reduced energy and maintenance costs. However, constructing or renovating buildings in an environmentally responsible manner requires a great deal of planning, as well as educating and prodding architects and contractors to seek greener materials and construction techniques. While their resistance at times may seem formidable, many companies have worked successfully with construction professionals to reduce the impact of their buildings.