Conservation of limited resources is good, but it is possible to create beautiful buildings that generate more energy than they use and actually improve the health of
Money isn't All You're Saving
their environments. Rather than simply cutting down on the damage buildings do to the environment, which results in designs that do less—but still some—damage, some designs have a net positive effect. Instead of suffering with a showerhead that limits the flow to an unsatisfactory minimum stream, for example, you can take a guilt-free long, hot shower, as long as the water is solar heated and returns to the system cleaner than it started. Buildings can model the abundance of nature, creating more and more riches safely, and generating delight in the process.
Such work is already being done, thanks to pioneers like William McDonough of William McDonough + Partners and McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry, LLC, and Dr. David Orr, Chairman of the Oberlin Environmental Studies Program. Their designs employ a myriad of techniques for efficient design. A photovoltaic array on the roof that turns sunlight into electric energy uses net metering to connect to the local utility's power grid, and sells excess energy back to the utility. Photovoltaic cells are connected to fuel cells that use hydrogen and oxygen to make more energy. Buildings process their own waste by passing wastewater through a man-made marsh within the building. The landscaping for the site selects plants native to the area before European settlement, bringing back habitats for birds and animals. Daylighting adds beauty and saves energy, as in a Michigan building where worker productivity increased, and workers who had left for higher wages returned because, as they said, they couldn't work in the dark. Contractors welcome low-toxicity building materials that don't have odors from volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and that avoid the need to wear respirators or masks while working.
William McDonough has been working on the Ford River Rouge automobile plant in Oregon to restore the local river as a healthy, safe biological resource. This 20-year project includes a new 55,740 square meter (600,000 square ft) automobile assembly plant featuring the largest planted living roof, with one-half million square feet of soil and plants that provide storm water management. The site supports habitat restoration and is mostly unpaved and replanted with native species. The interiors are open and airy, with skylights providing daylighting and safe walkways allowing circulation away from machinery. Ford has made a commitment to share what they learn from this building for free, and is working with McDonough on changes to products that may lead to cars that actually help clean the air.
The Lewis Center for Environmental Studies at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, represents a collab oration between William McDonough and David Orr. Completed in January 2000, the Lewis Center consists of a main building with classrooms, faculty offices, and a two-story atrium, and a connected structure with a 100-seat auditorium and a solarium. Interior walls stop short of the exposed curved ceiling, creating open space above for daylight.
One of the project's primary goals was to produce more energy than it needs to operate while maintaining acceptable comfort levels and a healthy interior environment. The building is oriented on an east-west axis to take advantage of daylight and solar heat gain, with the major classrooms situated along the southern exposure to maximize daylight, so that the lighting is often unnecessary. The roof is covered with 344 square meters (3700 square ft) of photovoltaic panels, which are expected to generate more than 75,000 kilowatt-hours (kW-h) of energy annually. Advanced design features include geothermal wells for heating and cooling, passive solar design, daylighting and fresh air delivery throughout. The thermal mass of the building's concrete floors and exposed masonry walls helps to retain and reradiate heat. Overhanging eaves and a vinecovered trellis on the south elevation shade the building, and an earth berm along the north wall further insulates the wall. The atrium's glass curtain wall uses low-emissivity (low-e) glass.
Operable windows supplement conditioned air supplied through the HVAC system. A natural wastewater treatment facility on site includes a created wetland for natural storm water management and a landscape that provides social spaces, instructional cultivation, and habitat restoration.
Interior materials support the building's goals, including sustainably harvested wood; paints, adhesives, and carpets with low VOC emissions; and materials with recycled contents such as structural steel, brick, aluminum curtain-wall framing, ceramic tile, and toilet partitions. Materials were selected for durability, low maintenance, and ecological sensitivity.
The Herman Miller SQA building in Holland, Michigan, which remanufactures Herman Miller office furniture, enhances human psychological and behavioral experience by increasing contact with natural processes, incorporating nature into the building, and reducing the use of hazardous materials and chemicals, as reported in the July/August 2000 issue of Environmental Design & Construction by Judith Heerwagen, Ph.D. Drawing on research from a variety of studies in the United States and Europe, Dr. Heerwagen identifies links between physical, psychosocial, and neurological-cognitive well-being and green building design features.
Designed by William McDonough + Partners, the 26,941 square meter (290,000 square ft) building houses a manufacturing plant and office/showroom. About 700 people work in the manufacturing plant and offices, which contain a fitness center with basketball court and exercise machines overlooking a country landscape, and convenient break areas. Key green building features include good energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and daylighting. The site features a restored wetlands and prairie landscape.
Although most organizations take weeks to months to regain lost efficiency after a move, lowering produc tivity by around 30 percent, Herman Miller's performance evaluation showed a slight overall increase in productivity in the nine-month period after their move. On-time delivery and product quality also increased. This occurred even though performance bonuses to employees decreased, with the money going instead to help pay for the new building. This initial study of the effects of green design on worker satisfaction and productivity will be augmented by the "human factors commissioning" of all of the City of Seattle's new and renovated municipal buildings, which will be designed to meet or exceed the LEED Silver level.
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