By John W. Szerdi
With the dramatic increase in U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED® certified projects in Florida, A&E teams have had to work together very closely, especially across all disciplines.
There are more than 45 LEED® certified projects in Florida with more than 880 projects registered per current USGBC statistics. If you are reading this and don’t know about LEED®, you are behind the curve.
But that’s okay, you can start by checking out www.usgbc.org, which has great information and links. USGBC LEED® statistics report minimal cost impact from Certification levels of about two to six percent. A&E teams can achieve basic LEED® certification levels for high performance projects, but have to cross pollinate to reach higher LEED® levels and beyond.
Here are some examples of green strategies that demanded more communication within our A&E team than focusing on simply energy or water conservation. It’s rare to have a master plan include green infrastructure systems. Destiny Florida is a proposed eco-sustainable city with planned green infrastructure that will make building and living sustainable, seamless. ARUP’s A&E team is applying innovative de-centralized alternative energy, water and multi-modal transportation systems that will be both conducive and economical to building “green on green.” The challenge is how do we build green buildings on a site with non-green infrastructure?
On a site by site basis, projects can create a distinctive and recognizable greener solution beyond LEED® certification. One strategy is based on the occupants of the building being an essential part of the building project’s ecosystem. If we consider the building project as an ecosystem, then we look for a balance between the needs and outputs of occupant actions and the integrative design capacity of the building systems. This holistic strategy can spawn creative solutions that blend architecture and engineering through the integration of natural systems and human behavior. The use of “naturalized” systems such as Living Machines™ can be placed inside atrium-like Biolariums™ or outside in Florida environments.
In Florida, we can link many opportunities of “greening” a project to water. With the almost overuse of the word green, we might call this a “naturalizing” of the project. Is it desirable to try and enhance the occupant’s experience with a connection to nature. The solutions are not to emulate nature, but to be inspired by it and remind us how important are our natural resources.
In naturalized green design, the traditional design drivers seem to be inverted. Typically highest and best use dictates the balance between maximum buildable space per local ordinances and the restraints of parking and open space requirements. At this point in the owner’s project requirements (OPR), the resourceful green design team can explore how the projected human actions may contribute towards the project’s environmental balance within its context. Larger scale projects can open up opportunities and challenges over smaller projects.
In Fort Lauderdale, Fla, the Cooper Carry, Inc., DC office is proposing the South Andrews Avenue Tower. The green 37-story mixed use office and hotel project will incorporate stacked atrium-like 4 story Biolariums™ and a working green roof or “river of grass” on its parking structure to treat rainwater and grey water.
The Biolarium™ is perhaps one of the project’s most distinctive sustainable design features, says David Kitchens, managing and design principal. By creating a “breathing building,” as it were, with gardens high above the street, with systems that collect and reuse water, that harness the abundant sunlight and perhaps even the wind blowing around the building, the design team has created a superior working environment in which employees and hotel guests will know deep down that the building itself is “doing the right thing.”
What if a resort improved its natural habitat? What if an atrium needed people to help it work as the lungs of the building? What if the thermal comfort of the individual spaces responded to the path of the sun not on a floor by floor basis? What if an office plaza became a beautiful water garden and part of the local hydrological cycle.
The A&E team can integrate the site’s storm water capture with the irrigation demand by balancing the types, amounts, and quantity of landscape area required for the green space. The civil engineer sizes a retention pond for impervious surface drainage, but can he also work with the mechanical engineer to determine if the water body has enough capacity to absorb the cooling loads from the project?
We now have to understand how to balance the relationships between the amount of rainfall in an area, the water demand from occupants’ business or hygiene demands, the size of the roof surface and cisterns. The harvesting of rainwater is not new to Florida, but it is finding its application in other building types on different scales. Rainwater can supplement other uses to reduce the potable consumption of the project and minimize its impact on the potable water infrastructure.
A 24,000 gallon cistern system for the 100,000 sf EcoPlex ( seeking LEED® Silver) in West Palm Beach was designed into the plaza that features a Living Machine™ storm water system. It treats the two-acre pond’s water to a quality acceptable for the ground level cooling tower’s make-up water and is a prominent feature in the project’s favorite lunch spot while saving two million gallons annually.
“This project was designed to integrate a natural water filtration system combined with a storage lake and cistern to supplement the water required for the HVAC heat pumps and grey water system. This process required extra communication between the design team to efficiently implement the design. Placement of cooling towers was critical to eliminate noise in the building while saving on energy and piping.” – Art Kamm, PE, CEO, KAMM Consulting.
This may sound funny coming from an architect, but a project may not be about the building as much as it is about the synergistic opportunities from the energy, water, and ventilation cycles related to the users. This results in the A&E team creating a basis of design (BOD) that is proactive to the OPR rather than reactive. It requires all disciplines to look at their respective areas of expertise for their potential to contribute to the solutions or even restructure the BOD. The green A&E team can solicit innovative collaboration for the unique answers that differentiate that project from many others and create greater value in plain view.
The four story EcoCentre, The Living Building, in Lake Worth, seeking LEED® Gold, delivers fresh air though the floor of the Biolarium™ and is mixed with the return air from the surrounding offices acting as the “lungs of the building.” It contains planted water treatment systems, Living Machines™ that help improve the building’s indoor air quality and recycle greywater. The project uses 1750sf of green roof to treat the 8,000 gallon cistern rainwater to reduce impact on storm water infrastructure and cool the building.
Projects like the EcoCentre in Lake Worth help push the boundaries of ecological design by bringing together a diverse team of design professionals and allowing them latitude to experiment with novel integrated solutions for water treatment, reuse and display. Even within a small footprint this project stands out for blurring the boundaries between infrastructure/ecology and art/engineering. For the building occupant there is no clear distinction between where the building systems end and where the landscape and green amenities begin – a didactic tool for highlighting a new approach to building in South Florida says Eric Lohan, Project Manager of Worrell Water Technologies /Living Machines.
The project MEP engineers, Xnth of Orlando, had to balance energy consumption and natural light for the Biolarium™ that provides views for an equitable work environment that features a waterfall using the condensate water in the lobby’s fish pond and to irrigate the interior landscape.
“The EcoCentre is almost a net water producer, it can actually collect more water than it uses. This would not be possible without collaboration amongst disciplines that usually don’t communicate. The mechanical engineers had to determine condensate collection, the plumbing engineers had to determine toilet water usage, the landscape and living machine designers had to set irrigation budgets, and all had to look together at rainwater and greywater collection models and water balances to determine an integrated sustainable water approach.”- Mike Hess, PE, LEED AP | X-nth Principal.
The EcoCentre was presented as a case study at the 2009 FES State Convention at The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach. Speaking during the “vine cutting” ceremony at the EcoCentre at the request of Governor Crist and Secretary Thomas Pellum, Steven C. Bassett, PE,F.NSPE,LEED®AP of REP Associates, Inc. said, “EcoCentre will be a showcase for other Floridians to understand what can be done when design team members, owners, contractors, engineers, etc., put their heads together at a project’s inception and work from the beginning with energy and water efficiency, occupant comfort and environmental stewardship as objectives. “
Naturalizing projects reduce impact in redevelopment and new development as “green infrastructure,” while strengthening the talents and respect within the A&E team.