Like my colleague Patrice, I have been traveling around the country the past 6 months discussing our Sustainability Initiative and showing those same scary slides she referenced in her blog posting – “Is There Any Hope For Us?” At the Green Life Fashion Show at Lyndhurst last week, several people came up to me and said, “I had no idea that buildings were responsible for 48% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the US. That was sobering.” Like Patrice, I am convinced that we can save the world if we all work hard and start making better choices and we use our voice to impact the political will. What I tell everyone in my presentations is that in 25 years of being an architect, I’ve never experienced such an exciting challenge and such a scary time too. I’ve never felt before like I do today - what I’m doing every day can make so much difference.
Talking About Global Warming in Seattle
I was invited to participate in a 2 day Symposium/Workshop in Seattle April 14-15. Called “New Pathways – Historic Preservation & Sustainability”, it was sponsored by the Washington State Historic Preservation Office, the Northwest Region of GSA, the City of Seattle and the Washington Association of Building Officials. Now I admit I’m biased (I lived in Seattle for 3 years before moving to DC, and loved every minute of it), but this was one of the most informed and productive sustainability events I have had the fortune to participate in. And beyond just expressing my admiration to the organizers, I wanted to report on many of the things I learned here – some of which I am sure can help you in your work or personal lives.
First, I want to think the organizers for giving me an hour to pontificate on global warming, the impact on buildings and buildings’ impact on climate change, and why preservation needs to be part of any discussion on how to solve and halt it. I won’t report on my talk (you can my read my previous blogs, especially those about our work with the USGBC and the revisions to LEED, and the Trust’s Sustainability webpage), but I will share the information that my learned Northwest colleagues presented. After I gave the keynote, I spent the first day taking notes so I could be the rapporteur (and provocateur) at the end of the day.
Professional Perspectives: LEED, Building Codes & Demolition Permits
Don Horn (Director, Sustainable Design Program, GSA) reminded us that LEED is an incentive-based approach, and that the USGBC’s initial objective almost 10 years ago now was to transform the building market. Improving buildings is the quickest way to impact global warming. I had never thought about it so simply, and of course if buildings are the biggest cause of green house gas emissions, than improving them will have the biggest and quickest impact. In LEED, each credit has a specific intent, not unlike the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards. And finally, while historic preservation can be considered nothing more than good maintenance, sustainable design is just good design.
John Neff (Washington State Building Code Council & City of Lacy, WA) made us laugh when he told us, “Buildings traditionally worked well (for example, operable windows, transoms, high ceilings) until the Code Nerds got in the way." When we opened our windows and transoms, energy costs were less and the buildings were more usable. A lot of codes today imply that the building designs of the past were bad or wrong. But what’s happened is that we’ve forgotten how to live in our buildings and our climates. While many people erroneously call LEED a code (it’s a third party rating system run by USGBC, a nonprofit), there is no official “green building code”. ASHRAE Standard 189 will probably be the closest we come to a national green building code. The ICC (International Codes Council) is working with USGBC to develop a residential green building standard.
Michael Sullivan (Principal, Artifacts Consulting, Tacoma, WA) related the development of the sustainability movement to the fate of the lowly water fountain. We built most of our buildings in the earlier part of the 20th century with drinking water fountains. By the 1950s, fountains started to disappear, and we installed water coolers instead. Today there are almost no more water fountains in buildings and we carry our own water bottles. But now we once again need a place to refill our water bottles. The cycle has come full circle… Michael lives and works in Tacoma, a city with some very innovative green initiatives. Tacoma is an 85% pre-World War II city. Their Mayor has said that their city is basically built. They’ve developed an intriguing disincentive to demolition – a “disincentive fee”. When a builder or developer goes to the City for a building permit, they are now required to pay the entire landfill cost up front, based on mass and volume. This requirement is working as a retardant to teardowns. And when a building does get demolished, the income stream from the demolition permits is channeled into deconstruction and salvaging.
A Rehab Case Study
Michael Wishkoski (a principal at GGLO Architects) discussed the rehabilitation of the historic Cobb Building, a Silver LEED project. Michael took us through the development of the adaptive use of this significant historic commercial building in downtown Seattle (built 1910) and exclusively designed at that time for dental and medical offices. The client transformed the building into high-end rental housing and came to the architects with LEED certification as a goal. The building was originally designed with an eye to its climate – large operable windows; access to outdoors; narrow, flexible floor plates; shared district and tenant resources. And all of these elements served it well in meeting various sustainability concepts.
It was a complicated project involving the need for seismic reinforcement; maintaining the continuous operation of the bank on the ground floor, committing to both LEED benchmarks and investment tax credits. Restoring original roof gardens went a long way to achieving a variety of LEED points and improving the living environment. The seismic reinforcement was one of the most challenging of the programmatic items and the resolution was to build a new external concrete core in a courtyard which not only stabilized the building but provided additional rentable area and space for new electrical and mechanical.
Many sustainable features have been incorporated into the renovation of the Cobb easily and without compromise to its historic qualities.
The project included:
• Restoration of the original windows, exterior brick and terra cotta. Low-e film was applied to the window glazing to improve thermal insulation.
• Cleaner indoor air, through the use of a heat system that limits the spread of allergens, and low VOC carpets, adhesives, sealants, paint and composite wood.
• Waste reduction through a recycling program for residents, as well as the reuse of many items during construction, and recycling 95 percent of construction waste.
• Environmentally friendly outdoor gardens, with plantings designed to provide habitat for birds and butterflies.
• Garden space converted from rooftops, which will reduce water runoff by 38%
• Reduced water usage by 30 percent and sewage by 40 percent through dual flush toilets, lavatory fixtures and Energy Star appliances.
• Noise reduction and better air quality through a hybrid cooling/heating heat pump system.
• Use of recycled products in construction including metals, wallboard, insulation, concrete and acoustical ceiling tile.
Michael expressed some concern that he felt that LEED 2.0 did not adequately acknowledge the existing building. So he was pleased to hear about the plans for revising LEED.
If this posting and case study interested you, read Part Two later this week - more stories about achieving LEED in historic buildings in Seattle.