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AIA Names 2009 Honor Awards
Grimshaw's Museo del Acero, in Monterey, Mexico, is one of nine winners in the architecture category.
Courtesy AIA

Today the AIA announced 25 outstanding projects in three categories—Architecture, Interiors, and Urban Planning—which exemplify the best work in the field to be celebrated by the 2009 Institute Honor Awards. Without further ado, here are the projects, grouped by category, along with the jury's thoughts as provided by the AIA.


The jury for the award was chair David Lake, Lake | Flato Architects; Carlton Brown, Full Spectrum of New York; Michael B. Lehrer, Lehrer Architects; James J. Malanaphy, III, The 160 Group, Ltd; Paul Mankins, Substance Architecture Interiors Design; Anna McCorvey, director, AIAStudents Northeast Quad; Anne Schopf, Mahlum Architects; Suman Sorg, Sorg and Associates; and Denise Thompson, Francis Cauffman.

Project: Basilica of the Assumption—Baltimore
Architect: John G. Waite Associates, Architects
Jury Comments:
The architects expanded the space while making it appear as if the envelope is virtually the same. The jury applauded the efforts of mending our ways to restore, respect, and give new life to buildings by significant architects who are so important to the profession.

Project: Cathedral of Christ the Light—Oakland
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Jury Comments: The project contains layers of symbolism. There is a sense of community and openness. The space shifts between heaviness and lightness. It is appropriately monumental but a reverie of light and shadow that is a gift to the City of Oakland.

Project: Charles Hostler Student Center – Beirut, Lebanon
Architect: VJAA
Jury Comments: This project uses elements in a thoughtful way to create a rich urban place. Smart use of its surfaces and resources and in keeping with the local conditions. The outdoor spaces are more comfortable because every piece of the building is leveraged to its best advantage. This could have been a monolithic program but instead the architects created an enlivened urban quarters connecting the campus to the water.

Project: The Gary Comer Youth Center—Chicago
Architect: John Ronan Architects
Jury Comments: A true landmark and beloved building. People want to be here and want it to be active all of the time. A new Modernism that uses timeless and topical ideas that look as if they will stand the test of time. Kudos to Gary Comer for giving back to his community and the architects for creating a tribute to his generosity and energy that benefits and uplifts this community.

Project: The Lavin-Bernick Center for University Life—New Orleans
Architect: VJAA
Jury Comments: This project is climate-responsive in six months out of the year in very clever ways. The architect was creative about the functions in the perimeter zones and how they interact with the campus. It changes the perception of what is the heart of the campus.

Project: Museo del Acero—Monterey, Mexico
Architect: Grimshaw
Jury Comments: This is a proud symbol and testament to the steel industry in Monterey, Mexico. The architect brought back the artistry of artifact that was industry and gave it new spirit—embracing steel being made, fabricated, and enlivened.

Project: The New York Times Building—New York
Architect: Renzo Piano Building Workshop
Jury Comments: There is an amazing serenity that emanates from the building in contrast to the chaos of its surroundings.  The building is welcoming to the human at the ground level and wears its transparency proudly. The jury liked the iconography of the building—it looks like lines of print and becomes like reading the Times.

Project: Plaza Apartments—San Francisco
Architect: Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects
Jury Comments: The architecture has become a seminal event in the residents’ lives—residents remember the date they were first allowed to move in. The architect created a series of “events” that happen in the lobby, courtyard, and in every hallway where there’s light—it’s really about optimism, hope, and change and the message that everyone is deserving of light, air, view, beauty, and proportion.

Project: Salt Point House—Salt Point, New York
Architect: Thomas Phifer and Partners
Jury Comments: I believe this house makes a statement to living in a simple and sustainable way. The owners wanted to connect with nature, tread lightly on the landscape, and be able to relax.

Interior Architecture

The jury for the award was chair Mark Sexton, Kruek & Sexton Architects; Joan Blumenfeld, Perkins + Will; Elizabeth Knibbe, Quinn Evans Architects; Arvind Manocha, Los Angeles Philharmonic Association; Kevin Sneed, OTJ Architects.

Project: Barclays Global Investors Headquarters—San Francisco
STUDIOS Architecture
Jury Comments:Very handsome, using wood and colored glass to great effect; the lighting is imaginative, and the relationship to the base building is resolved well. For a large office project, the architect showed an amazing amount of creativity and vibrancy. The lighting is frequently unexpected. The thinking about the use of light is out of the box and playful in what is not a playful project type.

Project: Chronicle Books – San Francisco
Architect:    Mark Cavagnero Associates
Jury Comments: Nice relationship to the existing structure. The jury applauded the sustainability efforts and the effort to bring light in. The reuse of the core structure space—concrete floors, etc.—is quite effective and was done in a very subtle way. On the ground floor, the building structure is revealed to great effect.

Project: The Heckscher Foundation for Children—New York City
Architect: Christoff:Finio architecture
Jury Comments: Without losing the original character of the building, this renovation transforms it. This is a difficult design problem solved elegantly. The narrow nature of the townhouse becomes a framework for beautifully composed public spaces that flow seamlessly. By linking them together the observer never has the feeling of being between the two long and dark party walls.

Project: IFAW World Headquarters—Yarmouth Port, Ma.
Architect: designLAB architects
Jury Comments: From the initial selection of a brownfield site through the design of the spaces to the selection of materials, this project is a successful example of sustainable design. The reference to wooden boat making and craftsmanship is particularly successful to the design inside and out.

Project: Jigsaw—Washington, D.C.
Architect: David Jameson Architect
Jury Comment: This project seems designed from the inside out with the users’ experience in mind. An enormous amount of thought was given to the individual users as to their experience inside the house. Natural light enters into each space in two to three different ways. Care was given to the optimal experience of moving from room to room.

Project: R.C. Hedreen—Seattle
Architect: NBBJ
Jury Comments: The richness of detailing juxtaposed against the heft of the historic concrete structure was gutsy and effective. Creating a corporate interior that has such a completely unique aesthetic is rare and wonderful.

Project: School of American Ballet—New York       
Architect: Diller Scofidio + Renfro
Jury Comments: This project floats like the dancers who use it. There is an ethereal quality of design and materials that relates directly to the users. The quality of light is wonderful. Muscular architecture; beautiful concept.

Project: Sheila C. Johnson Design Center—New York
Architect: Lyn Rice Architects
Jury Comments: The architect uses the design to display the students and their work to give the campus its identity. Nice respect of historic façade while giving the school a clearly contemporary identity.  Youthful, vibrant, dynamic! This project is hitting on all cylinders; it captures the energy of the student environment.

Tishman Speyer Corporate Headquarters—New York City
Architect: Lehman Smith McLeish
Jury Comments: The design was very well done. It pays respect to the historic design and created a Modern design that is respectful of the original space. The architecture doesn’t compete with art work; it respects it without being a white box.

Project: Town House—Washington, D.C.
Architect: Robert M. Gurney
Jury Comments: This is a terrific project! It takes the typology of town house and opens it up, creating wonderful spaces and vistas. The materials and aesthetic is new and fresh, using bold color and simple materials without being cartoonish. It is a unique and imaginative take on a well-known design problem. It is refreshing to see how a traditional town house can be transformed through bold moves by a very talented architect.

Urban Planning

The jury for the award was chair Jonathan Marvel, Rogers Marvel Architects; Samuel Assefa, Chicago Department of Planning and Development; Tim Love, Utile; Ivenue Love-Stanley, Stanley Love-Stanley; and Stephanie Reich, Glendale Planning Division.

Project: Between Neighborhood Watershed & Home—Fayetteville, Arkansas
University of Arkansas Community Design Center
Jury Comments: This greenfield development seems to fit in Fayetteville, particularly by Habitat in a scheme that truly employs innovative sustainable techniques in its management of all surfaces, integrated parking, circulation, and open space. The site plan configuration achieves a level of density balanced by usable and varied open space, and the buildings are more varied than a typical Habitat development.

Project: The Central Park of the New Radiant City—Guangming NewTown, China
Architect: Lee + Mundwiler Architects
Jury Comments: This project is beautiful and ingenious. Particularly, the attention to the existing landscape and topography as integral to the project by utilizing the existing hills as a structured landscape to return to nature, while the natural runoff becomes a body of water is a simple idea with a conceptual clarity to make it truly memorable.

Foshan Donghuali Master Plan – Guangdong, China
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Jury Comments: The plan shows a variety of uses, scales and densities and open spaces that will serve to integrate the district with the surrounding city fabric.  The proposal includes a set of guidelines for a variety of scales, heights and streetfront types that will enable implementation over time.

Project: Orange Country Great Park – Irvine, California
TEN Arquitectos
Jury Comments: The project utilizes the underlying axis of the former airport, and juxtaposed the new gorge with a sensible structure of circulation for cars and people and placement of buildings. The use of the former runway as an inspiration and opportunity as a supergraphic creates an urban poetic gesture at a larger scale.

Project: Southworks Lakeside Chicago Development—Chicago
Architect: Sasaki Associates, Inc.,  Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Jury Comments: A formidable effort and comprehensive plan for a new neighborhood with a variety of districts. These districts are composed of different grains and densities allowing for varied economies, housing types, and uses. The welcome irregularities in the plan resulting from well-considered view corridors and idiosyncrasies in surrounding fabric create a wide variety of experiences and places.

Project: Treasure Island Master Plan – San Francisco
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Jury Comments: An urban design strategy that is sustainable by its very nature.  The project employs an inventive use of solar and wind pattern that generated an urban plan with diagonal grid to protect public spaces from the inhospitable winds.  Other sustainable design strategies include an organic farm, wind turbines, location of open spaces as reconstructed wetlands.

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Making A Case For Innovation
The glass concentrator module of CASE's solar facade system.
Courtesy CASE

If the level of conversation about sustainability in architecture were a reasonable indicator of how green building practices are today, there would be every reason to feel confident that we are making a dent in the amount of energy our houses, offices, and schools consume each day. Architects and developers seeking LEED certification for a project have many more options—both material and technological—to draw on, and the standards themselves are getting more refined and nuanced. Being green isn’t enough to make news anymore, and for many, that’s real progress.

Familiarity can breed complacency, though, and for the architect and research scientist Anna Dyson, now is not the time to get comfortable. “If you accept the idea that we have ten or 15 years to turn around climate change before the effects become irreversible, then we’ve got to rethink everything about the way we build, including the idea of sustainability.” To that end, Dyson is leading the Center for Architecture Science and Ecology (CASE), a new venture of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The program’s goal is to develop a new generation of building systems and materials that can dramatically change a building’s performance. “To make a real difference, we need a paradigm shift. All bioclimatic resources, like wind load or solar gain, are just that—resources, not problems to be mitigated.” Dyson, her colleagues, and students believe that these forces can and should be captured and transformed in a way that makes them useable on the scale of an individual building. This approach sidesteps the problems currently faced by proposals for large wind farms in the West: Sure, you can harness the energy of wind in the Dakotas, but how do you get the electricity it generates to Chicago or Los Angeles where the demand is?

Several of the projects underway at CASE address this problem by looking at building enclosures, and ways that they can be exploited to capture and transform solar energy. One project uses small glass lenses and tiny PV cells within standard curtain wall assembly, while another is based on the idea that a fritted glass wall would be much more useful if the frit pattern could shift in density and design to accommodate changing environmental conditions. (Both are profiled below.)

The genesis of CASE was a desire to fully embed research into practice so that the architect’s practical experience could inform the kinds of questions that the researchers were asking, and vice versa. RPI did have a program in built ecology, but Dyson and the school wanted to push it further. In SOM’s Carl Galioto, they found a receptive ear. Galioto is the partner in charge of the firm’s technical group, which focuses on building science, digital design, and materials research, as well as construction documents and administration. He explained that his group is always looking for emerging applications—they were early supporters of Andrew Marsh, for example, whose analytical software was recently purchased by Autodesk and is now on the market as EcoTect—and that the collaboration is a natural one. “We don’t want to wait for the market to provide new solutions, or to work on a project-by-project basis,” he said. “We are also interested in things that aren’t yet products.” In CASE, SOM can help influence the development of these new technologies, and bring a distinctly architectural sensibility to the process. “One of the things we bring is the perspective of regular practice, and the aspirations of designers.” This squares with what Dyson and her colleague Jason Vollen believe, that if the material or product is too expensive or tough to install and maintain, it will never fly. “We want to ask questions from an architectural standpoint, not just a technical one,” said Dyson. Vollen added, “Some of these issues could be just material science problems, but they should be architectural ones, too.”

The research underway at CASE is varied in scope and level of development, but it all shares a dual desire to be firmly grounded in the realities of building while trying to push beyond the model of incremental mitigation. Dyson described three rough categories, ranging from a 5-to-10-year time frame from conception to application, all the way to the “science fiction” projects, which aren’t based on getting new products to market. Some, like the dynamic display facade system, are advanced enough that the research team has applied for preliminary patents and are working to incorporate protoypes into real projects. Even recently, the dynamic display system was scheduled to go into an upcoming SOM building in Midtown, but according to Galioto, the economic downturn has put that on hold. The recession will certainly put the brakes on a lot of projects in New York, but the researchers at CASE will use the down time well. The pace of academic research is naturally much slower than the kind that many firms practice on a building-by-building basis, so by the time that construction picks back up, CASE may have developed some tools to shift the paradigm in building ecology. It won’t be a moment too soon: “It is an absolutely critical moment for emerging economies to adopt different technologies,” said Dyson. “But those of the 21st century, not the 20th.”



all images courtesy case


Integrated Concentrating Solar Facade System

Scientists have been capturing solar energy for hundreds of years, and solar panels have been around for decades. With the advent of semiconductors and the development of photovoltaic (PV) cells, which transform captured solar energy into electricity, the race has been on to find ways to control solar energy at every level. Today, PV and Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) technologies are applied to provide electrical power, thermal energy, enhanced daylighting, and reduced solar gain technology. CASE researchers are working on a technology that will increase daylighting in a building’s interior while simultaneously reducing unwanted solar gain.

The Integrated Concentrating (IC) Solar Facade System is a completely new model with several advantages over existing daylighting systems, which have been unable to capture solar energy viably while providing diffuse daylight for interior spaces. By transferring the IC technology to a daylighting system within a “double-skin” facade, the system will remove unwanted solar gain from the building envelope before it is transmitted to the interior. 

The major technological advance that underlies the idea is the miniaturization of PV modules into what they call solar-cell concentrators, which are the modules that make up an IC Solar Facade System. The modules are placed within a glass facade or atrium roof and mounted on an accurate, but inexpensive, tracking mechanism. Because the cells are so much smaller, they must track the sun’s path; therefore, they are embedded with Fresnel-type lenses, which direct and concentrate sunlight onto a smaller PV cell. Furthermore, the system is compatible with existing structural components, encasements, and maintenance procedures.

CASE’s tracking IC Solar Facade System has been demonstrated in several “proof of concept” lab-scale prototypes with multiple cell types. Phase I of this project will include testing a full-scale prototype at a new building at the Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems in Syracuse. Postoccupancy testing of this prototype will provide critical data for assessing operating constraints and developing the future transfer into distributed building systems. SH




Eco-ceramic masonry units (top) provide a high- performance barrier modeled after the barrel cacti of Arizona. The units can be further tuned with drip irrigation for evaporative cooling and selective dark glazing (above).

High Performance Masonry Wall Systems

Scientists study the strategies that flora and fauna have developed to flourish in specific—and often dramatic—climatic conditions in an effort to glean information that might inform how we can better adapt to our own climates. After studying the active and passive thermal controls of barrel cacti and termite mounds, a group of CASE researchers led by Jason Vollen hope to use their findings as models for masonry-wall construction. Their proposition is that the structure of barrel cacti and the thermodynamic design of termite mounds offer models for climatically responsive building technology.

The barrel cactus of southern Arizona has one of the highest thermal tolerances of all plants and is capable of regulating its core temperature despite high diurnal temperature fluctuations. These desert succulents store water and operate as living cisterns. Stored water delivers nutrients and serves as a heat sink, absorbing and distributing thermal load. Furthermore, the barrel cactus also has an exterior layer with self-shading spines, a high surface area to circumference ratio, and a liquid thermal mass. Density, location, and the color of the spines also play a significant role in maintaining its thermal equilibrium.

Termites are not capable of regulating their internal temperatures, but they require an environment of 86º F and 80 percent humidity in order to thrive. They achieve this by building shelters, either cathedral or dome mounds, depending on where they’re located.

Cathedral mounds use convective cooling and heating in hot climates. In forests, where radiant heating is not a problem, termites build dome mounds with a thicker wall mass. Of particular interest is their ability to change mound shapes, if environmental circumstances change.

RPI researchers are developing high-performance masonry units that respond to climatic fluctuations in the same way that cacti and termite mounds do. For instance, in one case study, masonry tiles with articulated surfaces can be precisely formed for a given location so that they provide summer shade and allow winter solar gain in the same way that cactus spines do. In another study, tiles vary in thickness depending on where they’re located on the building’s exterior. Like the cathedral mounds, tiles exposed to the summer sun are thin, enabling the masonry to absorb and release heat quickly. In the dome mounds, the tile’s cone is thicker and serves as a heat sink.

Preliminary results suggest that the modulation of form, surface geometry, glazing, ventilation, and evaporative cooling can combine to maintain consistent interior temperatures. SH

The diagram shows how differing solar angles through the year hit the blocks, from December 21 at left to June 21 at right.  


Because the EDDS system creates a pattern that can continually respond to stimulus like sunlight (top) it presents an option for glazing that is both dynamic and can be highly attuned to its environment (above). 

Electropolymeric Dynamic Daylighting System for Windows

Glazing technology has come a long way since uninsulated, single-paned windows barely blocked the elements. Today, curtain-wall systems, especially those with glazing that is electrochromic, or responsive to an electric charge, operate with much greater energy efficiency. A limitation has always been that these systems are either on or off. Researchers at CASE are about to demonstrate how new energy display technology will provide opportunities to achieve even higher levels of geometric and spectral selectivity through Electropolymeric Dynamic Daylighting Systems (EDDS), the next generation of switchable daylighting. In short, imagine glazing in which the frit pattern can grow denser or lighter, or move to follow the angle of the sun.

The research team believes the best way to commercialize EDDS is to build a prototype multilayered, variably translucent, insulated glazing unit (IGU), which would be applicable for residential and commercial use. Prototype testing will determine to what degree the optimization of daylighting on a building’s interior will eliminate glare, reduce electricity use, and ultimately increase energy savings.

With regard to glare, existing shading devices generally can’t respond to constantly changing daylight conditions: Even though conventional louvers reduce glare, they also reduce daylight and thus increase the need for electric lighting. EDDS will provide a high level of user control over glare, while simultaneously offering up to 16 transparency options within a triple-glazed window unit. Sensors would control the level of transparency on different surfaces within the IGU, bringing a flood of diffuse sunlight into interiors, while intercepting the direct rays.

An equally important issue is heat gain. In an EDDS-based triple-glazed IGU, sensors could switch among the layers, allowing it to either shed heat gain or retain it passively. In the summer months, for instance, one polymeric layer could switch on to block infrared rays while maintaining visibility. In colder months, another layer would trap infrared rays in the window cavity to provide passive solar heating, while blocking glare.


A triple-glazed unit would contain several polymeric layers that would selectively filter or trap heat as needed.

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Up On the Roof
The urban wetland at the heart of Lehman College's new science building.
Courtesy Perkins+Will

Although Le Corbusier believed in hanging gardens for “reasons of comfort, sentiment, technique, and economy,” the consensus for much of the last 80 years, sadly, has been that terraced rooftops were neither so economical nor so technically feasible. That consensus, however, is changing.

With the accelerating enthusiasm for environmentally sound design, architects are turning their eyes upward. While green roofs are hardly widespread enough to measure their impact on an urban scale, it is already evident that a top layer of greenery can add energy savings along with aesthetic appeal to individual buildings. Thanks to recent advances in building technology, green roofs are proving as practical as they are attractive, as borne out by a brace of new projects in New York City.

The centerpiece of a $1 billion capital expansion, the proposed new Science Building for CUNY’s Lehman College in the Bronx will have a green roof that does double duty. Architects Perkins+Will intend to perch a greenhouse atop the L-shaped facility covering 50 percent of the roof’s surface, lining the remainder in solar thermal panels and a white Pyramic “cool roof” coating. “Plant science is a part of the school’s research,” explained Tony Alfieri, an associate principal at Perkins+Will, “and obviously the roof has the best exposure to the sun—so the green roof emerged out of the program.” But it was a programmatic feature that dovetailed perfectly with the goal of energy efficiency.

From top: Lehman College's Science Building; the rooftop greenhouse at St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s school; Adlai Stevenson high school’s green roof.  
Courtesy respective firms

Since roofs tend to leak substantial quantities of heat during the colder months, the Science Building’s greenhouse will act as an additional layer of insulation over much of the structure. The greenhouse itself, designed in consultation with the Ohio firm of Rough Brothers, will feature acrylic glazing rather than glass, allowing further gains in heat conservation. Meanwhile the solar thermal panels are expected to provide for as much as five percent of the building’s energy needs, a big help in Perkins+Will’s quest for LEED Gold certification. But for Alfieri, the roof’s greatest contribution is that there isn’t much of it. “We made the building footprint, and the roof, occupy as small a percentage of the site as possible,” leaving the grounds around it open for cultivation as an “urban wetland.”

In Manhattan’s Morningside Heights, Murphy Burnham & Buttrick have topped their renovation of St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s private school with another greenhouse, this one less LEED feature than learning tool. The ongoing refurbishment, underway for the last eight years, has been eco-minded from the start, incorporating reused and recycled building materials; but principal Mary Burnham puts this in the context, not just of the present green phenomenon, but of the school’s mission: “The sustainability aspect has become an educational tool. The greenhouse is the latest effort to create spaces that nurture an understanding of the environment.” Studying plant life in this simple, sunlit conservatory, featuring low-maintenance finishes and non-toxic materials, the children will develop a rapport with the natural world that will prepare them for the responsibility of environmental stewardship.

Innovation and collaboration are the hallmarks of Rafael Viñoly Architecture’s Adlai Stevenson High School. A coalition including the School Construction Authority, the nonprofit Salvadori Center, and New Visions for Public Schools have singled out the South Bronx school for an ambitious experiment in green design. A lightweight, modular roofing system devised by engineer/architect Joe Hagerman will be filled with the Gaia Institute’s GaiaSoil planting matrix. Hagerman’s invention is simple in section, but padded out with enough insulation to ensure water retention for the plant beds above while providing energy savings for the building below. A planting scheme from the City of New York’s Greenbelt Native Plant Center will stress local flora, as well as provide areas for student and teacher research. Viñoly and Hagerman have worked together in the past; but what makes the Stevenson project stand head and shoulders above previous green roofs is its sheer scale: at 70,000 square feet, it’s sure to make a mark, putting paid to all the barren flat roofs of architecture past and giving a touch of color to New York’s long-neglected roofscape.

Products: Eco-friendly Chairs

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Greening the O.C.
More than 3,800 of the El Toro property's 4,700 acres will be dedicated to open space, education, and other public uses, including the restored wildlife corridor, seen at center right, and the lower canyon's 26-acre lake, which will store recycled water for park irrigation.
All images courtesy Great Park Design Studio

Carving a two-mile-long canyon through the heart of Southern California might seem like apostasy in this age of low-impact land use. But the Orange County Great Park is no ordinary place. To build this winding canyon, excavating machines will move over five million cubic yards of earth to create a sluice of space up to 60 feet deep, with selective cuts framing views of the Santa Ana Mountains, all culminating in a new, 26-acre lake.

“The canyon is at once obvious and also unexpected,” said Ken Smith, principal of Ken Smith Landscape Architect, which won a competition in 2006 to become master designer for the 1,347-acre park. “The whole natural landscape in Southern California is composed of canyons. But this site is so flat and barren, the idea to create a feature of this scale is not something people had really thought of.” Moreover, the canyon proved a logical design move because it could be built fairly easily in a region where grading golf fairways is second nature to contractors. Besides restoring fast-depleting natural habitat, the space is so large that it will create its own microclimate: a cool respite for park visitors. As Smith observed, “It’s a big canvas.”

At almost twice the size of New York’s Central Park, the Great Park will be the core of a 4,700-acre community built virtually from scratch on the site of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Irvine, California. As the heart of this new chunk of Orange County, the park represents a complex and interlocking model of sustainable development for Southern California and beyond, where once-open vistas have been boxed in by suburban growth. Taking a macro-scale approach, the park will restore critical native plant and animal communities. By integrating with the densifying neighborhoods around it, the park promotes a walkable lifestyle in the land of sprawl. And it brings together diverse user groups to create for the county a sorely needed cultural heart.

The Great Park is an unusual partnership between the federal government, a private developer, and the city of Irvine. Following the air base’s closure in 1999, a voter initiative called for a park and nature preserve on the site. The entire property was purchased at auction by Miami-based developer Lennar Corporation, which transferred the Great Park parcel to the city of Irvine. The park is operated by a nonprofit corporation, whose directors consist largely of elected officials from the city of Irvine, along with other local stakeholders.

Now in the schematic design phase, the park’s parameters were laid out by Irvine planners, who set it upon a bare expanse of earth and concrete. “It came with quite a bit of the brownfields as well,” Smith said. Those include a chemical plume reaching 200 feet down into groundwater, which the U.S. Navy is obliged to clean up. As part of its development agreement, Lennar has put $400 million toward the park and related infrastructure, while another share of the park’s estimated $1.5 billion budget is expected to come from tax-increment bonding, as adjacent property values rise.

Designed by TEN Arquitectos, buildings in the park’s cultural zone include the Conservatory Bridge, spanning the restored Agua Chinon waterway and clad in a perforated skin to allow for natural ventilation. 

From the outset, Smith and his partners—including Los Angeles–based landscape architect Mia Lehrer and Enrique Norten of TEN Arquitectos—conceived of the park as a showplace of sustainability. The site’s environmental backbone is a series of ecological restorations that will renew the region’s vanishing natural diversity. Among the first sections to be built is a two-mile-long wildlife corridor: a missing link in a stretch of land reserves said to be the largest interconnected open space system in the country.

“It’s rare that an ecologist is asked to sit at the table when the basic ground plan is being determined,” said Steven Handel, president of New Jersey–based Green Shield Ecology, who has been part of the design team from the outset. “A lot of the basic plan grew out of ecological principles, not just design decisions.” The wildlife zone has been detailed to create habitats for birds, bobcats, and even a pack of coyotes, down to supplying rocks so the lizards have a place to warm up in the morning. “I’m rebuilding a whole world out of nothing,” Handel said.

Other worlds will be built here, too. “The most visited sites for people who live in Orange County are the shopping centers and the beaches,” said Lehrer, senior partner at Mia Lehrer+Associates. “There’s a real void in terms of a cultural center.” Institutions will cluster in the park’s “cultural terrace,” where buildings are being designed by TEN Arquitectos as earth-bermed structures cut into the canyon. Park leaders are evaluating a variety of programs—an amphitheater, museums, a public library—many of which are expected to be public-private partnerships. For example, the park has offered land at no cost to the National Archives, which hopes to build a regional facility on the site. The structure would be designed in cooperation with the Great Park design studio, and funded through both public and private support.

Top: Earth-bermed structures are cut into the canyon to house new cultural programs. Above: The streetcar-like fixed guideway system will connect to Irvine’s regional rail network.  

Sustainability factors into the park’s connection with its surrounding community, which Lennar has envisioned as more than just sprawl. The planned residential, retail, and commercial areas include a 378-acre transit-oriented development, as well as a “lifelong learning” district designed as a dense, academic neighborhood with a core of college campuses extending to the Great Park’s sports facilities. The design team has closely worked with the developer on “edge integration” issues, such as reinforcing park spaces along Lennar’s campus main street.

In another eco-conscious approach, parking lots will be placed at the perimeter, with a system of shuttles to all major facilities—a strategy adopted by none other than Disneyland. (“That’s one of the rare forms of public transportation that many Southern Californians use,” Smith said.) The shuttles will link to a streetcar system with stops in the park, to be constructed as part of Irvine’s planned urban rail network.

The most critical ingredient for any park is a strong constituency. To that end, designers have rolled out the 27-acre Preview Park, anchored by an orange helium balloon that has taken tens of thousands of visitors aloft on free flights. It has also hosted concerts, art exhibits, and kite-flying events around picnic areas and a five-acre meadow. Indeed, aggressive public outreach has drawn an outpouring from user groups eager to become a part of this grand experiment, from fly-fishing enthusiasts to model-airplane buffs. Almost 2,000 county residents have weighed in on their favorites among dozens of potential park programs.

It remains to be seen whether one park—however ambitious—can reinvent the Orange County suburbs. “You ask yourself whether the next phase of development for this area will come along with higher density,” Lehrer said. “Do people appreciate the opportunities and potential sacrifices of not having their own palace?”

Across America, smarter growth is increasingly a question not of if but when. As planners complete portions of the Great Park over the next five years—a full build-out is expected to take a decade—they will knit together a sustainable fabric of landscape and architecture, nature and culture. As a new Central Park for a much different time and place, it’s the best argument yet for Orange County’s greater, greener good.

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Stepping Up
One Bryant Park breaks new ground, as in the use of underfloor ventilation throughout the entire height of the structure.
Courtesy Cook+Fox

When 4 Times Square was completed in 1999, the project was touted as the harbinger of a new era of environmental responsibility in the design of tall buildings. But for a while longer, skyscrapers in New York City continued to be designed and constructed in more or less the traditional manner. The games of one-upmanship that would have indicated a dedicated consensus of green builders did not immediately materialize. “When we built 4 Times Square, we were creating a template of a way of building that people would have to follow,” Douglas Durst, president of The Durst Organization, developer of 4 Times Square, told AN. “Not many people did. It takes a while to see how successful and adaptable it is, for it to spread to other people’s projects.”

It took some time for the benefits of green design for tall buildings to be better understood, for the industry to accumulate hard data linking healthy, daylight-filled offices to higher worker productivity, and greater energy efficiency to lower electricity bills. But the green building boom didn’t begin in earnest until developers realized that they could charge higher rents for spaces that adhered to greater levels of sustainability. The trend first became apparent in the city when Larry Silverstein decided to seek LEED Gold for 7 World Trade Center, and Hearst did the same for its new tower. “It was disappointing that it took so long, but a lot of people in the industry thought it was a quacky idea,” said Bruce Fowle, partner of FXFowle, designer of 4 Times Square. “Now it’s a marketing tool.” The change in attitude can be seen quite clearly in the example of the New York Times Building. While the project took great strides in energy efficiency and usage of daylight, Forest City Ratner and the New York Times Company opted not to pursue LEED. “In 2004 when we had to make the decision [to pursue LEED], it was still a fairly new idea, and they didn’t feel that they had to put a label on it,” continued Fowle. “In my last pitch to them I told them they were going to spend the rest of their life explaining why they didn’t go for LEED rating. And that’s what’s happening.”

David Sundberg/Esto


Top: When 4 Times Square was completed in 1999, it was heralded as the first green skyscraper. Above: Ten years later, One Bryant Park will become the first LEED Platinum office building in New York City.

The LEED system was still under development when 4 Times Square was designed and built, so there is no reliable way to quantify just how it measures up to the certified office towers now up and running in the city. Some experts think, however, that most of the new green skyscrapers haven’t gone far enough in pushing the envelope on sustainable design. That honor has been reserved for Durst’s latest project, the Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park, which is currently nearing completion. Once finished, the building will seek a LEED Platinum rating. “It’s a pretty easy comparison to go from 4 Times Square to One Bryant,” Serge Appel of Cook + Fox, designer of One Bryant, told AN. “At One, Durst took what they learned at 4 and went on from there. In terms of green building, 4 might be at 25 on a scale of 1 to 100, while One’s a 75. There’s more infrastructure, more thinking. It’s the next generation.”

So what did they learn? What defines the next generation of green skyscrapers? First, One abandoned some of 4’s more showy energy-producing features, namely the building-integrated photovoltaics. In the final analysis, the solar cells generated very little energy, only about one percent of the base building needs. Even at the current state of the technology, photovoltaics did not prove feasible for a tall building that remains in shadow half of the day. Instead, the designers at One opted for a 4.5-megawatt, gas-fired cogeneration plant, which recycles waste heat from the engine for heating and to power absorption chillers for cooling. And while the plant will not cover the building’s overall energy usage, producing energy onsite is more efficient than pulling it off the grid, which is only about 50 percent efficient.

The interior’s environmental air quality was improved at One with a better filter. It removes 95 percent of particulates, while 4’s removed around 85 percent. Not a huge jump, but the real advance in this area is the usage of underfloor displacement ventilation, while 4 uses a traditional overhead delivery system. The underfloor method was used in the New York Times Building, but only in the newspaper’s half of the structure. One will be the first project to use it throughout. It keeps the interior healthier by creating successive air chimneys on each floor, which avoid mixing exhaust air, which rises to the ceiling, with fresh air. The method also requires less energy for air conditioning, since it only conditions from the floor to the tops of people’s heads, rather than all the way from the ceiling to the floor.

The building envelopes also differ. While 4 can boast of greater insulation values, as a large portion of its exterior is masonry, at One, the designers decided to go with an all-glass system. The loss in energy savings is balanced out by the fact that a completely transparent facade brings more daylight into the interior, which, when combined with daylight-dimming light fixtures, drastically cuts down on the power needed for lighting—the greatest energy consumer for buildings of this type. While 4 employed similar strategies, few if any tenants actually implemented daylight-dimming fixtures and many fitted out their spaces with perimeter walls, which cut down on daylight transmission.

In addition to the savings in lighting energy usage, the designers of One picked an all-glass system to create a more daylight-filled environment for the workers. And the glass curtain wall at One does go as far as current technology allows to insulate the building: It is a thermally broken system, which prevents heat exchange between exterior and interior mullions, and the low-e coating and ceramic fritting on the glass panels significantly cut down on heat loading from the sun.

One takes a definite lead in its conservation and reuse of water, employing systems that were not available at the time of 4. The entire building is outfitted with waterless urinals and systems for gray water recycling as well as rain and ground water collection. Overall, the building should save 55 percent of water usage over a traditional building, easing effluence into the sewer system.

Both projects distinguished themselves by adhering to green practices, though it is difficult to compare the two projects in this regard as no metric existed at the time of 4 to let the designers know just how green they were being. Materials were sourced locally even when a premium had to be paid. At One, countertops are made from Icestone, a recycled glass product manufactured in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which cost more than Italian marble. Construction components were reused on site. The big item in this regard at One was wire spools—contemporary office buildings have a lot of wiring. The construction teams were coached on green building practices and monitored by a third party.

But while it appears that One has exceeded 4 in just about every green check box on the list, it’s hard to regard it as the trailblazer that the previous building was. “There’s nothing in One that is experimental,” said Appel. “Everything has a legitimate payback period that a developer can justify.” Rather, it seems that the steps taken at One should be taken these days as a matter of course. The next generation of green skyscrapers, then, must lie elsewhere. “We need to be thinking beyond LEED,” said Fowle. “How can we do zero carbon and zero net energy buildings? Buildings that are not just better, but that have a positive effect on the environment, as opposed to a less negative effect.”

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Sedum City
Researchers at Columbia's Earth Institute used a thermal map developed by NASA to determine hot spots in New York's urban heat island. Areas of high temperature appear red, and cool zones, mostly parks, appear white and blue.
NASA Landsat

A roof fitted with solar panels signals that a building is equipped with technology at the leading edge of sustainable thinking, a hard-edged surface with easily quantifiable energy and financial dividends. Green roofs elicit a different response, more emotional and somewhat ambiguous. Their benefits, though diverse, are not so easily tallied. Green roofs provide numerous payoffs for individual buildings, but their impact at the scale of the city is only beginning to be studied. While some cities and states are developing requirements or incentive packages to promote vegetated roofs, more precise tools need to be developed to address urban-scale issues like the heat island effect or storm water runoff, a major contributor to water pollution. These issues take on greater urgency as architects and planners turn to sustainable design as a means to mitigate climate change and resource scarcity.

As most architects know, green roofs consist of a watertight barrier, a growing medium, and a layer of plants, typically sedum or other drought-resistant plants (referred to as extensive green roofs), though more elaborate designs can include grasses, food crops, or even trees (called intensive green roofs). Vegetated roofs lower energy costs by reducing surface temperature in the summer and providing insulation in the winter. They also last longer than conventional roofs by blocking ultraviolet rays and rapid temperature increases from degrading roofing materials. They reduce runoff during storms, which can reduce water pollution, though it would take very significant acreage concentrated in a single area in order to have an impact. In addition, advocates argue that widespread use of the technology could reduce urban heat islands, which would have broad-based implications for energy use and air quality, such as asthma rates.

According to a 2007 report by the Toronto-based trade group Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, the industry grew by 30 percent over 2006. Chicago led the way with 517,000 square feet constructed in 2007, more than double that of its nearest competitor, tiny Wilmington, Delaware, which planted an impressive 195,600 square feet. New York placed a meager third with 123,074 square feet. “New York is very far behind Chicago. Installation costs here are much higher,” said Sarah Wayland-Smith, a landscape designer at Balmori Associates who specializes in green roofs. Wayland-Smith cites high up-front costs and an underdeveloped network of suppliers and installers, as well as, until recently, a lack of government incentives as barriers to construction in New York.

An extensive green roof in Long Island City, designed by Balmori Associates, at one of the hot spots in the region. 
Courtesy Balmori Associates


Students at the Art Institute of Chicago’s architecture program mapped the dozens of green roofs dispersed across that city.
Art Institute of Chicago

New York City government has adopted a cautious approach to green roofs, according to Rohit T. Aggarwala, director of the Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability. Working with the state legislature, the mayor and the governor recently pushed through a $4.50-per-square-foot tax credit to encourage green roof construction. The mayor’s sustainability blueprint, PlaNYC, encourages green roofs but does not require them. Aggarwala, too, cites high up-front costs. “New York is already the greenest city in the United States,” he said. “We should not jeopardize the economic sustainability of the city with financially onerous requirements.” Aggarwala argues that reflective roofs can reduce cooling costs, and “blue roofs,” or simple gutter lips that slow runoff, can reduce sewage overflows, both at a fraction of the cost of green roofs. Still, he hopes the tax credits will encourage development and bring down costs. “We’ve got to get more experience. As they become better known, they become less threatening to landlords,” he said.

Since Chicago Mayor Richard Daly famously planted sedum and native grasses on City Hall in 2000, more than approximately two million square feet of green roofs on dozens of buildings have sprouted across that city. Following a brutal 1995 heat wave that killed hundreds during a blackout, the City Hall roof was conceived as a pilot project for mitigating Chicago’s urban heat island. This proliferation has been fostered by a number of incentives and requirements. Chicago’s program has also helped to bring construction costs down and increase the number of growers, suppliers, and installers in that region. While the surface temperature of City Hall and several other projects has been monitored, little research has been done on the effectiveness of green roofs at the urban scale in Chicago, according to Larry Meredith, spokesman for Chicago’s Department of Environment. Even with the impressive number of square feet planted, there may be limits to the effectiveness of the rollout, at least thus far. A map developed by architect Linda Keane and her students at the Art Institute of Chicago shows how the roofs are scattered across the city, and how modest the area of green roof coverage is at the urban scale.

The most extensive modeling of the urban-scale benefits of green roofs in the United States has been done in New York. A study by the Center for Climate Systems Research (CCSR) at Columbia University’s Earth Institute estimates that in New York, fully 50 percent of all roof space would need to be greened in order to have a significant impact on the city’s heat island. The multidisciplinary study group, which relied on data and expertise from Pennsylvania State, Michigan State, and Columbia University, settled on the 50 percent baseline after deciding that 75 percent coverage was an overly ambitious figure. Their modeling indicates that 50 percent coverage would shave 1.4 degrees off the city’s heat island, which ranges from 5 to 7 degrees. What accounts for the relatively small impact even at half coverage? Remarkably, in a city as densely built as New York, roof space accounts for only 19 percent of the city’s total area (when seen from above as a single plane). While the difference between a 93- and a 94-degree day may not feel significant, it can have a massive impact on energy use. According to estimates by CCSR for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, every degree of temperature increase outdoors triggers demand for an additional 60 gigawatt hours of energy per day.

CCSR relied on a thermal map of the city produced by NASA, an aerial satellite image that shows hotspots in the city. Vivid in its coloring, the map includes some surprises. Midtown and Lower Manhattan, the most densely built areas of the city, are cooler than lower-scale parts of Queens and Brooklyn. “The tall buildings of Midtown and Lower Manhattan prevent solar penetration at street level,” said Stuart Gaffin, an associate research scientist for CCSR and one of the authors of the report. “They act like trees, at least in terms of shading. Parking lots, low-scale buildings, large expanses of roof space and roadways create hotspots.” Massive hotspots occur in industrial areas and at the airports, and cool spots are clearly legible in Central and Prospect parks. The map suggests that targeting certain hotspots for green roof development might be a faster way of tackling heat islands, rather than an ad hoc approach of scattering green across the city. “I believe targeting could be very effective, though I’m not sure how it could be implemented,” Gaffin said. Balmori Associates has for some years advocated such an approach for Long Island City, one of the hotspots on the NASA map, which they estimate has a roof space area equal to half the size of Central Park.Working with business owners, they have completed two extensive green roof projects on industrial buildings in the neighborhood. “There are private benefits for building owners, as well as public benefits, but the public benefits are more difficult to quantify,” Gaffin said.

PlaNYC’s Aggarwala said that the city is aware of heat island hotspots. “We’ve thought about it and talked about targeting those areas, but we haven’t identified hotspots as an urgent public concern.” He argues that the city’s MillionTreesNYC program, which calls for intensive tree planting, addresses many of the same issues and will be easier and more cost effective to implement.

Green roofs appear to be more immediately effective in controlling storm water runoff. The CCSR study found that individual green roofs retain 80 percent of storm water, and slow the release of the remaining 20 percent. During rainstorms, runoff can overwhelm the sewer system, causing raw sewage to be discharged directly into waterways, a major source of water pollution. Using the same 50-percent-coverage model, CCSR estimated that ten percent of runoff would be cut, greatly reducing the number of sewage spills. “The benefits in terms of runoff are indisputable,” Gaffin said. “They are like rooftop holding tanks.”

Assuming CCSR’s goal is a desirable one, how does New York, so far behind Chicago, even inch toward 50 percent coverage? “I don’t think it’s an impossible goal if we keep hammering away at it,” Gaffin said. “Traditional roofs provide no additional benefits.” Given New York State’s recent passage of a tax rebate for green roof construction, and pending a recovery of the building industry, there is likely to be an increase in green roof construction in the region. Gaffin points out that roofs are replaced every 20 years or so. “Of all urban infrastructure, roofs are changed most frequently,” he said.

The data suggest that green roofs are an important and effective tool in addressing urban heat islands and storm water runoff, but alone, even in great numbers, they are not likely to fix these problems using a scattershot, incremental approach. Chicago’s example shows that incentives can dramatically increase square footage of green roofs built. Columbia’s modeling shows, however, that the living system of a green roof has a fine-grained impact in the urban landscape. Precise incentive packages and deeper study could increase their effectiveness within the greater organism of the city.

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Green XL
The Orange County Great Park.
Courtesy Great Park Design Studio

Greening the O.C.

In Orange County, the car-centric heart of the American dream, New York landscape architect Ken Smith is creating a complex, urban-scale public space that promotes ecological and social sustainability. Jeff Byles explores California's newest and largest public space.



Stepping Up

Refining the next generation of green skyscrapers: From 4 Times Square to One Bryant Park, The Durst Organization has profited from a growing awareness of the virtues of green design, along with great strides in energy-efficient technology. Aaron Seward talks to the major players.



Sedum City

Green roofs are easy to love but their urban-scale benefits can be difficult to quantify. Alan G. Brake looks into the current state of vegetated roofs and finds that while city and state incentives have made them more and more common, more precise tools need to be developed to assess their large-scale impacts.

Sachs on Sustainability
Jeffrey Sachs, the charismatic director of the Columbia University Earth Institute, gave a moving speech last night at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation on the environmental problems that are unique to our time. Sachs, free-market economist turned green evangelist and a special adviser to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, spoke on the objectives of the Institute: ending extreme poverty, maintaining the health of the ecosystem, promoting peace and shared prosperity, and advancing humanist aesthetics. Personally, it made me feel like we are at a point where each of our actions counts, especially in our role as architects, designers, and planners. Technology has allowed us to sew great damage, but it may also enable us to heal the planet. Much of Sachs’s talk dealt with what he calls “eco-tectonics,” that is the changing economic plates. The rise of Asia, or the “rise of the rest” as Fareed Zakaria calls it in The Post-American World, enabled by the new technological capacity of developing countries, is not only accelerating the human impact on the environment, but filling in power gaps. Using the current financial crisis as an example, Sachs explained how everything can go wrong in a world in which we don’t fully comprehend the interactions of the different mechanisms at play, were interconnectedness is playing a stronger role than ever, and chain reactions make local problems global. When he pointed out that the presidential campaign was focused on Middle Class voters, who were decisive to win the election, and poverty issues were hardly tackled, I couldn’t help but translate it to our profession: Architecture, like politics, is focused on those able to make the commissions, and not on those who really need of clever and groundbreaking ideas delivered on a low budget. In a profession that is crowded by battles of egos, and where formally adventurous buildings compete to stand out, there is a need for deeper thought and less aimless aesthetics. We are living in a time in which technology and communications make it possible for a designer in New York to extrude a nearly ready made skyscraper in the middle of Beijing, disregarding any possible impact that it may have not only to the immediate surroundings, but also on the environment. It is a time in which the architectural profession needs to re-examine how it applies global solutions to regional contexts, and in the same way be mindful about the local affecting the big picture. What does building green truly mean? Sustainability is not just about adding solar panels to old designs and using solvent-free paints. Truly green design requires understanding the intricate social, economical and political interactions as well as the physical conditions of our cities to prepare them for the overpopulation of the future. Even though we have learned from the disasters of tabula rasa projects of the 60s and 70s, it is not a matter of romanticizing existing conditions, which is often are unacceptable, but a question of sensitive political, cultural, and aesthetic action and interaction as an essential part of responsible practice.

What Recession?

Consumers may be relieved that energy prices have fallen in step with the wider markets, but cheap oil has many environmentalists worried that the hard fought gains of the recent “green revolution” could be wiped out. As companies and consumers alike feel the pinch, there have been reports that hybrid cars and LEED ratings could become luxuries we can no longer afford. Fortunately for architects, many in the building industry seem to be drawing the opposite conclusion.

“So far, we haven’t seen any slowdown,” said Michelle Moore, senior vice president for policy and public affairs at the U.S. Green Building Council. “Our green buildings numbers are really strong, our membership numbers remain strong. In fact, we’re at record levels across the board, from registrations and certifications of projects to the number of people taking the LEED AP test. They’re all way up.”

The council is not the only one continuing to see growth in the face of a cooling construction market. In interviews with a number of architecture, development, and construction principals, the story was the same: There is no turning back. In fact, sustainability might be the industry’s salvation.

“Just because the credit is hard to find, you’re not going to build a bad building,” developer Douglas Durst said. “You’re not going to leave out an efficient HVAC system or a co-gen elevator. You’re still going to build that in because that is now what the market demands.”

As the man who was a driving force in bringing sustainable design to the city’s office market at 4 Times Square, Durst should know. He said that in this day and age, all the top tenants demand green projects, a fact the banks know, making financing such projects easier, not harder. With credit so difficult to come by, a few sustainable features or a LEED application may be the deciding factors on that eight-figure loan.

The same is true of housing, especially mixed-income and affordable housing projects. Jonathan Rose, president of the Jonathan Rose Companies, one of the city’s largest affordable housing developers, said that many financiers not only favor sustainable projects but often award more money to them, such as James Rouse’s Enterprise Community Partners. He also pointed to the special tax credits that are available. Rose said that because publicly funded housing is less susceptible to market swings, it will see continued investment, which translates to continued green growth.

Besides falling demand, the other complaint about green design is that it costs more, at least up front, an intolerable burden during a downturn. But just as demand has risen in recent years, so have costs fallen. “Green is still a good play, even in this market, because we have gotten the so-called cost burdens down to one or two percent, which is negligible,” said Michael Dean, chief sustainability officer at Turner Construction. Bruce Fowle, principal at FXFowle, said that a slowdown can give architects the time they need to devise new, cheaper, and smarter sustainable solutions that do not raise costs.

The one area where there could be some decline is on the bleeding edge of the industry, where cost still drives innovation. “You might not see as many photovoltaics or integrated wind turbines or other bells and whistles,” Durst said, “but that doesn’t mean the projects will be any less green.” He predicted any lag in technical development would last no longer than the recession itself, and might subside sooner.

One area where such high-level design could see a boost is from Washington. President-elect Barack Obama trumpeted “green collar” jobs on the campaign trail as a way to revive the country’s moribund industrial sector, a commitment that could feed into more R&D for sustainable building technology and construction methods. “You can’t outsource this stuff,” Dean said.

In many respects, the Feds have fallen behind state and local governments, which have begun to find creative ways to require projects, and particularly those drawing public money, to go green. New York, California, and Washington are among a number of states requiring all government buildings to achieve some level of green certification, usually LEED Silver.

New York City now makes the same requirement of any cultural institution using more than $2 million in city funds. Schools have also taken up the banner because of the desire to provide healthy environments for children.

Lately, the U.S. Green Building Council has put its weight behind rehabilitation work, something it sees as especially viable during a recession. “This is an incredible opportunity for the industry to turn its focus to existing buildings,” she said. “In any given year, new construction makes up only 10 percent of the overall building stock. But now, there will be fewer people building but just as many people wanting sustainable living or working environments. We hope architects will respond accordingly.”

As they should, Rose said, since sustainable work can help insulate companies from future downturns. He cited the Vance Building, a green office renovation his firm undertook in Seattle, which raised its occupancy rate from 68 to 96 percent, even with a significant rent increase.

Between traditional and sustainable work, architects involved with both said that those projects boasting green features seemed to be doing better at the moment, too. George Miller, president-elect for the AIA, said he had heard as much from a number of his colleagues; it is also the case at his firm Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, where nearly every project has some sustainable feature. “Everyone’s looking for it, and they will continue to do so, no matter what,” he said.

And deep down, the name says it all. “One hopes this isn’t a movement tied to boom and bust cycles,” said Colin Cathcart of Kiss+Cathcart, Architects. “One hopes that sustainability actually promotes sustainability.”

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Majoring in Green
SOM and Fernau & Hartman's wedge-shaped library and information technology building serves as the center of student life on the UC Merced campus.
Tim Griffith

In 1898 architect Bernard Maybeck—in his role as manager of the design competition for the University of California Berkeley masterplan—called for a college campus design for the 20th century. Above all, Maybeck felt the new campus should be beautiful and evoke a strong sense of institutional permanence. “There will be no more necessity of remodeling its broad outlines a thousand years hence,” he continued, “than there would be of remodeling the Parthenon, had it come down to us complete and uninjured.” It had to be beautiful, forever. That was all.

Fast forward to the mid-1990s when, for the eleventh time in its 117-year history, the Regents of the University of California made a priority of designing a college campus from scratch. This new campus, the first since the Regents opened UC campuses in Irvine, San Diego, and Santa Barbara in the mid-1960s, would be built on a greenfield site near the Central Valley town of Merced. The first phase, a core of four academic buildings, would replace a golf course. The full campus, which will include clusters of student housing, academic buildings, and open space organized around a central main street, is expected to take 20 to 25 years. Constructed in four phases, it will cover 910 acres and accommodate 25,000 students by the year 2030. The stakes are high: UC Merced is the first entirely new research university to open its doors in the U.S. in the 21st century.

UC Merced fills a major gap in the distribution of UC campuses across the state. According to UC Merced’s long-range development plan, the San Joaquin Valley—a region marked by a booming agricultural industry and predominantly immigrant workforce—had the state’s highest concentration of residents living more than 50 miles from a UC campus. Locating the new campus in Merced extended the geographic reach of one of the state’s two higher education systems to meet the needs of a generally underserved population.

Christopher Grubbs

Tim Griffith 

The complete masterplan (top) includes clusters of student housing, academic buildings, and open spaces organized around a central main street. The new library (above) is v-shaped in plan and has three- and four-story wings connected by a taller glassy core at its center.  

Yet building on a rural site—situated 130 miles from the nearest metropolis—meant upping the ante when it came to minimizing its carbon footprint. With the first phase of build-out now complete, it’s clear that the architectural vision for UC Merced is not very concerned with Maybeck’s notions of “architectural art” or striving toward a lofty ideal of everlasting beauty. Instead, it has everything to do with sustainability.

The campus architecture and planning reflects an engagement in that tricky balancing act known as “smart growth.” Could the UC Merced campus accommodate new development while also mitigating its impact on the environment? Could it be the first LEED-certified, even carbon neutral, college campus in the U.S.? In light of these performative 21st-century goals, the campus—which opened in August for its third academic year—operates with machine-like efficiency.

“There was a real mandate from the university that this campus would be 20 percent more energy efficient than the rest of the UC campuses,” said Michael Duncan, associate partner in the San Francisco office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill—and the architect of the campus’ masterplan and two other buildings in the campus core. All of the buildings are required to meet a minimum of LEED Silver, or 20 percent below California’s Title 24 requirements and at or below 80 percent of the energy-demand benchmarks for existing UC buildings.

The greenest aspect of the campus might very well be its plan. SOM oriented the underlying grid about 30 degrees off the true north-south axis, which greatly simplifies the task of siting individual buildings in the most energy-efficient way possible—or with respect to the rising and setting sun. It also takes wind into account: The grid runs parallel to the path of cooling breezes coming off the surface of Lake Yosemite.

The grid orientation also outlines perimeter blocks, where buildings are arranged along the edges of streets or major walking paths (like most college campuses, the plan for UC Merced maintains a car-free academic core). In this context, where you can actually see the horizon, it seems barely relevant to call this a good urban design strategy. Yet it’s an important move that anticipates a time, 30 years from now, when 30,000 students will buzz from quadrangle to quadrangle, back and forth along the campus’ main drag. Here, SOM has imported a bit of big-city thinking into a small Central Valley town: a grid of efficient, tightly-knit development to serve as a counterpoint to the more usual pattern of suburban and exurban sprawl.

Yet Duncan is quick to point out the plan’s more innate qualities. “It’s a scheme based on Central Valley towns built around a Main Street—rather than something like a University of Virginia or Stanford that makes a first grand gesture and has to design all the buildings to support it, which can’t really result in a pattern of natural growth.”

And already some buildings within this still-developing scheme have earned kudos. Wedged between two irrigation canals, the school’s 120,000-square-foot, $36 million library and information technology center—the largest building on campus—achieved a LEED Gold rating soon after it welcomed UC Merced’s first crop of 970 students in September 2005. Designed by SOM, in collaboration with Berkeley-based Fernau & Hartman, the UC Merced Library serves as the main hub and all-in-one center for student life. “It’s the campus living room,” said Duncan, where students study, register for classes, buy books, join clubs, and hang out.

The library is V-shaped in plan with three- and four-story wings connected by a taller glassy core at its center. The core contains two double-height spaces—an atrium and a reading room—stacked on top of one another. The reading room connects to the periodicals lounge, another double-height space that cantilevers over the outdoor courtyard and creates a pleasantly shady space that draws students in toward the main entrance. Orienting the building north-south allowed the architects to take a straightforward approach to shading the interiors. Rows of horizontal glass louvers stripe the south-facing facades while strategically placed oak panels let in generous amounts of diffused northern daylight.

If the library makes the campus work on a social level, the central plant complex simply makes the campus work. The superefficient, 41,000-square-foot power plant designed by SOM, in collaboration with Arup and the California Institute for Energy Efficiency, is a three-building, $26 million complex that includes a main mechanical building and a separate telecommunications hub wrapped in a unified system of horizontal stainless steel panels. The main mechanical workhorse, however, is the two-million-gallon thermal energy storage tank—a tall cylinder clad in a vertical pattern of corrugated steel “shingles.” The materials and form are loose references to semi-trucks and grain silos, both common sights in the Central Valley’s agricultural-industrial landscape. “When we first started this job, there was just the clarity of these objects in this vast landscape,” said Duncan, who designed the building’s skin and interiors. “We wanted to make them iconically simple.”

The tank is described as “thermal,” in the sense that it acts like a giant thermos: It stores and chills all of the campus’ water. The water is cooled overnight, when lower temperatures allow the electric chillers to run more efficiently. This also saves money, since using electricity during off-peak hours costs about one-third of what it does during the day. Cold water is then pumped from the bottom of the tank, through 12-foot-high tunnels to each of the campus’ four buildings—while graywater and stormwater are pumped back and stored at the top of the tank. The central plant also earned LEED Gold certification, largely because of its recycled metal shell.

The 93,000-square-foot classroom building and 100,000-square-foot science and engineering building, designed respectively by Portland-based Thomas Hacker Architects and San Francisco–based EHDD Architecture, are also on target to meet LEED Silver standards.

How will it all come together? Ironically, for this hyper-sustainable campus, it may boil down to aesthetics. “The glass sunscreens became more thematic as a unifier than we’d initially intended,” Duncan commented. Glass fins as the next red tile roofs? With all due respect to Maybeck and the principles of his time, we will cross our fingers and see.

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No Building Left Behind
Michael Maltzan Architecture's Inner-City Arts.
Iwan Baan

Inner-City Arts
Los Angeles, California
Michael Maltzan Architecture

Inner-City Arts was founded in 1994 to supplement arts and cultural education for downtown Los Angeles students at schools where such programming had been cut. The final phase of its new campus opened on October 2 with a parade of pinwheel-waving kids led by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Located on a one-acre site in the heart of Skid Row, one of the city’s most economically depressed neighborhoods, Inner-City Arts represents a 15-year collaboration between Michael Maltzan Architecture, landscape designers at Nancy Goslee Power and Associates, and environmental designers at Ph.D, who each donated their time over 15 years to the continuously-evolving project.

Iwan Baan

The first phase, completed in conjunction with Marmol Radziner + Associates in 1994, included an adaptive reuse of a 10,000-square-foot abandoned auto body shop. The most recent additions—which include the Rosenthal Theater, a state-of-the-art black-box performance space, a ceramics studio, and a DreamWorks-sponsored animation studio—are raw spaces that employ inexpensive materials like stucco, wood, and concrete, and are painted defiantly and completely white with abstract orange lettering by Ph.D. The angular, low-lying buildings are arranged into a unique indoor-outdoor layout that “cracks open,” according to Michael Maltzan, along the perimeter. Students catch glimpses into the outlying neighborhood, and locals can see in, said Maltzan, so “it doesn’t feel like an isolated incident in the middle of Skid Row.”

The indigenous gardens within the courtyard include elements like a tiled fountain, a dry creek bed planted like a local arroyo, a teaching garden, and a labyrinth, all inspired by drawings the students made when asked to sketch their visions of the new school. The completed design of Inner-City Arts creates a place for serious art making, said Maltzan, but is also an example of how an optimistic environment can impact a depressed area. “We’ve tried to make an entire campus which can be seen as a microcosm for a transformative experience,” he said.

Alissa Walker


AF Payne Photographic 

Bioscience School
Phoenix, Arizona
Orcutt/Winslow Partnership 

Under the design leadership of local firm Orcutt/Winslow Partnership, with input from science specialists and the local community, the Phoenix Union High School District recently opened their new comprehensive Bioscience High School in the heart of downtown Phoenix. Orcutt/Winslow’s design is strategically located within the Biomedical Research Campus, including the Translational Genomic Institute, where students participate in internships. The school’s pedagogical and physical organization models itself after these research laboratories, encouraging collaboration, team teaching, independent learning, and a “rigorous and relevant” science and math focused curriculum. It also integrates a historic one-room school house that now serves as the school’s administration center.

AF Payne Photographic

Seven laboratories (six indoors and one on the roof deck) are the focal point of the campus, and around these are clustered the student “studios” (not unlike architecture studios), teacher work areas, and, at the extremities on two levels, naturally illuminated, flexible-dimension classrooms. A multi-level space called Town Hall is the heart of the school—serving as the locus for presentations, the cafeteria, and a link to the desert courtyard.

In support of scientific understanding, the open-web structure and mechanical systems are laid bare to the eye. Desert-specific environmental strategies include solar heated water, east and west facing tilt-up concrete “fossil” walls, and provisions for a photovoltaic array.

Beth Weinstein


Gary Wilson Photo/Graphic 

Rosa Parks Elementary School
Portland, Oregon
Dull Olson Weekes Architects 

Since it opened in 2006, Rosa Parks Elementary in Portland has been a community magnet. Part of the broader New Columbia neighborhood, a large and formerly run-down affordable housing enclave that has become the largest redevelopment project in Oregon history, the 66,863-square-foot, LEED Gold–rated K–6 school is also host to a Boys & Girls Club that opens when classes end and is available to other organizations in the evenings.

The school, designed by Portland’s Dull Olson Weekes Architects (DOWA), is oriented around a series of existing legacy trees. As a result, said DOWA’s lead designer Karina Ruiz, “It doesn’t take the shape of a traditional double loaded corridor building.”

The classroom wing is divided into what are called “neighborhoods,” two per floor, with five classrooms, a resource room, and a shared common area. The glass-enclosed west side of the building also opens out onto the trees with a small park-like green space and a bioswale. The configuration allows classrooms to receive natural light on both sides.

The school’s sustainable features include a stormwater management system that keeps all water on site, an array of photovoltaic solar panels, displacement ventilation, and extensive daylighting. Designed to be 25 percent more energy efficient than code and in actuality performing 30 to 35 percent better, Rosa Parks is the most efficient building in the Portland Public Schools system. “It’s not just to save energy, but to connect students to their world,” Ruiz said.

Brian Libby

Tim Griffith

Trinity School
Menlo Park, California
Mark Cavagnero Associates 

Mark Cavagnero Associates designed a 1,200-square-foot expansion for one of the K–5 school’s existing 1960s Bay style buildings, as well as a new 4,800-square-foot Enrichment Center containing classrooms for music, science, and the arts.

The project, pointed out Cavagnero, creates a much-needed connection between the school and its lush new yard and play areas, which are separated by a steep slope. A dramatic, canopied stair between the existing and new buildings has become the center of campus life. Large landings on either side of the stair as well as weaving terraces serve as perfect places to rest or eat lunch, and also function as places to sit for assemblies.

Tim Griffith

The glazed, rectilinear addition to the existing building—which provides a much-needed extra classroom—edges into the hill and abuts the left side of the stair. Meanwhile the new building, clad in stained cedar with copious glazing, welcomes plenty of light and cross breezes thanks to its narrow floorplate and its orientation perpendicular to prevailing ocean breezes. Building this structure against the hill, said Cavagnero, was meant to make it feel as if it were “floating out from the hill and reaching out to trees.” None of the new construction uses air conditioning, and heating is by means of an underfloor system.

Sam Lubell

David Wakely 

The Nueva School Hillside Learning Complex
Hillsborough, California
Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects

With this 27,000-square-foot addition to an independent pre-K–8 school, Leddy Maytum Stacy has created a multifaceted environment that encourages learning and curiosity. Guided by the school’s mission to instill “a passion for lifelong learning” and a commitment to the environment, the design takes every opportunity to engage students with the world around them.

“Our goal was to create a great educational environment,” said William Leddy, design principal. “Sustainability was a crucial element, but to succeed, we needed a more layered design response that considered the role that day-to-day experience plays in education.”

David Wakely

The new complex expresses a strong connection to the 33-acre campus landscape and community. The three program elements—classrooms, library, and student center—occupy separate buildings, arranged around a plaza to form a hub of student life that stitches the 40-year-old campus together. The open, single-loaded buildings benefit from natural light, and living roofs totaling 10,000 square feet provide new habitats for native species, including an endangered butterfly. “X-ray” windows expose the building systems within, and a man-made “arroyo” activates the plaza during rainstorms. Finally, the LEED Gold complex teaches by example, using 65 percent less energy and 50 percent less water than a typical new school in the U.S., and generating 21 percent of its electricity needs through a 30kw photovoltaic array. Resource-efficient materials, 36 percent sourced locally, include non-native cypress trees removed from the site and milled for the building’s benches, screens, and decks.

Yosh Asato