Green Week 2020: The Carrot Awards

April 23, 2020
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Since 2013, Ayers Saint Gross has hosted an annual Green Week to elevate sustainability literacy within our staff, advance high-performance designs for our clients, reflect on sustainability achievements, and plan for the year ahead. Our firm continues to energetically advance the diverse interests of our clients and communities. It feels particularly important to celebrate Green Week this year, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

The global scientific community agrees that preserving our way of life requires keeping global warming below 2°C. Past 2°C, climate change will accelerate and become irreversible – the planet will warm until humans can no longer survive. The scientific community has established a carbon budget of 500 GtCO2e. This is the total amount of carbon human activities can emit from this day forward and stay below 2°C. Annual CO2 emissions today are approximately 40 GtCO2 per year. If we maintain the status quo on annual carbon emissions, in about 12 years global warming will accelerate. The time to act is now and as practitioners in the built environment, we play a critical role.

The AEC industry’s discussion of sustainability has historically focused on operational carbon emissions from building operations. Keeping buildings at appropriate temperature and humidity, electric lighting, and powering our plug-in devices are responsible for approximately 30% of annual carbon emissions. Missing from this dialogue, however, has been an appreciation for the embodied carbon of the actual materials from which the built environment is constructed. Industrial activity is responsible for approximately 40% of annual carbon emissions, of which half is tied to the production of concrete, steel, and aluminum alone. Concrete, steel, and aluminum are significant components of our built work as an interdisciplinary design firm, and we need to aggressively reduce the amounts of those materials we design in developing our clients’ built environments.

This week, we’ve been hosting teleconference meetings across our organization to share information that will help us in our quest to reduce embodied and operational carbon emissions from our design portfolio 50% by 2030.

These sessions included Baltimore City’s Sustainability Director, Lisa McNeilly, highlighting the creation of the Baltimore Sustainability Plan and how it’s been implemented and tracked. The Plan is framed to lead with equity and when plans, programs, and policies are implemented at the intersection of equity, economy, and the environment, outcomes are often more relevant, impactful, and longer lasting. FSi Engineers’ Ben Roush broke down the basic concepts and principles behind net-zero buildings and spoke on lessons learned over many net-zero projects. A trio of professionals from Thornton Tomasetti – Alexandra Davis, Christopher Williams, and Paul Becker – addressed why embodied carbon matters, how to identify carbon “hot spots” in a building, whether wood is truly good, and what questions architects should be asking structural engineers from the start to influence positive change and drive progress toward the AIA 2030 Commitment’s goals.

We reflect on our AIA 2030 Commitment results, the predicted energy use intensity of our whole building projects, and the lighting power density of our interiors projects. We’ve recorded this data since 2011, which enables us to recognize and reward the most energy efficient of these projects from the previous calendar year with our annual Carrot Awards to inspire other projects to strive for greater energy efficiency.

We believe sustainable design and great design are the same. Our highest performing projects under design in 2019 illustrate strategies every project in our firm aspires to achieve.

We’re pleased to announce this year’s Carrot Award winners are the Elon University Engineering and Physics Building and the Denison University Residence Hall Renovations. Congratulations to the design teams of these projects!

Elon University, Engineering and Physics Building
Elon University, Engineering and Physics Building

In collaboration with Walter Robbs Callahan & Pierce Architects, Ayers Saint Gross is designing a new Engineering and Physics Building for Elon University that will incorporate design fabrication space, prototyping equipment, and project assembly areas for the program’s engineering students. The project will expand the engineering program’s offerings and create a campus edge that will complete the quadrangle expansion between Moseley Hall and the existing Elon Elementary School. The building is composed of two parts: a three-story building that reflects the Greek Revival style of Elon University’s campus context and a two-story wing with a more modern aesthetic. Associated outdoor spaces will support community-building.

The Denison University Residence Hall Interior Renovations refresh existing residences for primarily first year students. Smith Hall, Shorney Hall, Curtis Hall, and Crawford Hall offer double and triple room options, but had limited space for community-building. For all of the halls, the entry sequence and ground floor common areas are being upgraded to provide a more open and welcoming experience. The renovations provide necessary outside the unit social spaces for residents and meet the needs of contemporary students. The new interior lighting design will reduce lighting power density by 77%, more than three times the current AIA 2030 reduction target for interior spaces, through daylighting and LED lighting.

Be on the lookout for more sustainability-focused projects from our firm. For more on how Ayers Saint Gross approaches sustainable design, see our firm’s sustainability strategy, Take Action.

Green Week 2019: The Carrot Awards

April 17, 2019
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Ayers Saint Gross hosts an internal Green Week every year to advance sustainability literacy within our staff so we can provide better high-performance designs to our clients, reflect on our sustainability achievements to date, and plan for the year ahead.

Over the course of next week, we’re sharing information we’ve learned through project (or projects’) certifications, professional certifications, and conference attendance, as well as bringing in invited guests. We’re pleased to host Dr. Christine Sheppard of the American Bird Conservancy who will be speaking to our entire firm about Bird-Friendly Building Design. Anne Greenstone from Steelcase will be teaching our Baltimore office about the Fitwel certification and office wellness, and a representative from CMTA will teach our DC office more about design considerations for net-zero buildings.

Since 2011, we have annually reported the predicted energy use intensity of our whole building projects and the lighting power density of our interiors projects using the AIA 2030 Commitment. This data allows us to recognize and reward the most energy efficient of these projects from the previous calendar year with our annual Carrot Awards to inspire other projects to strive for greater energy efficiency.

We believe sustainable design and great design are the same. Our highest performing projects under design in 2018 illustrate strategies every project in our firm aspires to achieve.

We’re pleased to announce this year’s Carrot Award winners are the Hayden Library Reinvention at Arizona State University and the Brown Advisory Bond Street Office Third Floor Tenant Improvements. Congratulations to the design teams of these projects!

Hayden Library, originally built in 1966, is representative of a design and construction era that was limited by available technology and prioritized considerations for a library differently than today’s campus conditions require. The HVAC, lighting, plumbing, and architectural upgrades included as part of the library’s reinvention result in a significantly more resource-efficient building than the existing construction. The project is predicted to have an energy demand of 55% less than baseline and will offset a portion of its electricity load with a rooftop photovoltaic array. This work would not be possible without the collaboration of an engaged client and our team at Affiliated Engineers.

The Brown Advisory Headquarters Tenant Improvements provides commercial office space in Baltimore for a privately owned investment management company. The space we designed for them reduces lighting power density by 56%, more than twice the current AIA 2030 reduction target for interior spaces, through daylighting and LED lighting.

Be on the lookout for more sustainability-focused projects from our firm. For more on how Ayers Saint Gross approaches sustainable design, see our firm’s sustainability strategy, Take Action.

Ayers Saint Gross Completes JUST Disclosure

March 4, 2019
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We’re excited to announce that our firm’s JUST Disclosure went live this week, check it out online here.

JUST is a voluntary reporting tool developed by the International Living Future Institute for organizations to describe operational, social, and financial actions that contribute to what equity looks like at that organization. The program includes 21 different social justice and equity indicators within six categories. Each indicator has three levels of achievement and reporting that must be updated at regular intervals to maintain a JUST Disclosure. Participants in JUST must disclose information on at least 18 of the 21 indicators and can only opt out of at most one indicator per category.

Our firm’s definition of sustainability has always recognized the careful balance between the unique needs of people and ecological systems with the economic realities inherent in each of our projects. Today we advance our commitment to sustainability by sharing more quantitative data about the social equity and justice issues embedded in who we are and how we practice design. We hope that our transparency will inspire others to engage in critical discourse about equity in design as well as how these issues manifest in the built environment.

Ayers Saint Gross’s culture has always valued social, educational, and cultural engagement that aligns with social sustainability. We actively engage with the United Way of Central Maryland and Valley of the Sun United Way; our staff serve as mentors and board members for the ACE Mentor Program of America across the country; we finance scholarship opportunities at a number of institutions to support students in attaining the education that will advance them in the design professions; we staff a Careers in Design exploration program to inspire fifth graders at Beechfield Elementary School in West Baltimore; and this spring we are hosting our first Jim Wheeler Day of Service in honor of our firm’s former president.

We believe in an equitable community. Our firm has already invested a lot in supporting equity, diversity, and inclusion in our professions and within the communities where we live and work, but we have often followed our instincts rather than evaluating against benchmarks. This JUST Disclosure helps us make and track measurable commitments and is the next step in our commitment to social sustainability. We look forward to advancing our discussion about equity, diversity, and inclusion in quantitative ways in addition to the activities we already qualitatively discuss across our practice.

Making our JUST Disclosure also supports our clients and projects. Third-party certifications for high performance buildings, including the Living Building Challenge and LEED, recognize the importance of social equity. Our JUST Disclosure will support the Living Building Challenge Petal Certification of Semans-Griswold Environment Hall and allow every one of our LEED projects to access LEED’s Pilot Credit for Social Equity within the Project Team. We are encouraged that third-party rating systems are increasingly engaging in dialogue on social sustainability and are enthusiastic to be a part of that conversation.

Our JUST Disclosure helps us walk the walk when it comes to social equity and we hope our colleagues in other organizations will join us in advancing this dialogue.

Ayers Saint Gross at the University of Texas at Austin Energy Week

February 1, 2019
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If you’re in Austin this coming week, I hope you’ll join me on Tuesday, February 5 for a panel discussion on building energy efficiency.

The Future of Building Energy Efficiency: Smart Building or Building Smart?

Buildings account for 40% of energy consumption in the United States. In the growing age of ‘smart’ technologies and sustainable design, how do these market drivers influence energy usage in commercial buildings? This panel will assess current design and technology-based solutions for their energy saving capabilities in existing and new commercial buildings and project the future of the industry. Discussion will also touch on the following questions: What does ‘smart building’ look like now, and in the future? What are barriers to adoption and challenges to implement tech-based solutions? How will standards and certifications (e.g., AEGB, ASHRAE, LEED, WELL, Living Building) evolve to make way for these changes?

Presenters
Zoltan Nagy, Assistant Professor, Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering, UT Austin (Moderator)
Michael Sweeney, Associate Principal, Arup
Sarah Talkington, Project Manager, Austin Energy – Commercial Green Building
Allison Wilson, Sustainability Director, Ayers Saint Gross

Details
Tuesday, February 5, 2019
10:30 – 11:30 AM
Etter-Harbin Alumni Center
2110 San Jacinto Blvd, Austin, TX 78712

WELL 101: Creating Healthy Places

July 23, 2018
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For many people in the AEC industry, sustainability is synonymous with LEED, the world’s most widely used green building rating system.

At Ayers Saint Gross, however, we define sustainability as balancing the unique needs of people and ecological systems with the economic realities inherent in each project. That definition recognizes that there are multiple ways to measure success in sustainability. It also supports the triple bottom line of people, planet, and payback, and acknowledges that LEED may not always be the most appropriate yardstick with which to measure sustainability on every project.

One of the latest green building rating systems to take the AEC industry by storm is the WELL Building Standard. WELL poses a people-centric, rather than planet-centric, question: How can a building support better health, happiness, and well-being for its occupants?

I was inspired to become the first WELL AP at Ayers Saint Gross, earning my certification in June 2018, because we often design buildings for the education of health care professionals, such as our recently completed Howard Community College Science, Engineering, and Technology Building and the University of Pikeville Health Professions Education Building. It’s important to me that these projects more directly support occupants’ well-being and put the environmental factors that influence health outcomes on display. The WELL system was developed over a six-year period and formally launched in October 2014. Now administered by GBCI, WELL provides a pathway for measuring, certifying, and monitoring how buildings support human health and well-being.

Every WELL Precondition or Optimization is substantiated by medical, scientific, or industry research to ensure a data-driven system. WELL also requires ongoing monitoring, annual reporting for some features, and re-certification every three years.

This level of rigor ensures that a building doesn’t just operate as intended on day one, but that it continues to do so on day 1,001 and beyond. It’s an exciting prospect to move beyond how buildings are predicted or intended to function, and to talk about how they do function on an ongoing basis.

The WELL Building Standard v1 sorts its 105 Preconditions and Optimizations into seven concepts: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. Below are more details on these concepts, and some suggestions for how designers and clients can thoughtfully approach the WELL certification process.

  • Air. This concept aims to optimize indoor air quality through the minimization of introduced contaminants, as well as filtration and testing to ensure air quality is conserved throughout occupancy. High indoor air quality has been linked to improved cognitive function, so it makes sense that this concept is the most heavily weighted subject within WELL.
  • Water. The water concept aims to ensure easy access to potable water and to maintain stringent standards regarding inorganic, organic, and agricultural contaminants in water for human consumption. To meet Preconditions and Optimizations, WELL projects incorporate a variety of filtration systems to ensure the purity of water for human consumption.
  • Nourishment. This is my favorite WELL concept because even without owning a commercial or institutional building, there are requirements in here that can change how I go grocery shopping and help me improve my health. Among other standards for projects that provide food service each day (including vending machines), processed foods are held to sugar restrictions and dinnerware must be within prescribed size limits to support portion control.
  • Light. The light concept addresses access to daylight and views, as well as the impact electric lighting can have on circadian rhythms. While energy conservation is not a stated part of the WELL Building Standard, many of the features within this concept help minimize energy use. Designers can develop appropriate building masses that allow for greater levels of daylight penetration to support success in this concept.
  • This concept encourages active transportation both for commuting and within a building. Project owners have multiple policy requirements within this section including activity incentive programs (like those offered at Ayers Saint Gross).
  • Comfort. The comfort concept addresses ergonomics, acoustical comfort, olfactory comfort, and thermal comfort. WELL recognizes that different kinds of work require different kinds of spaces, and create different acoustical and thermal conditions. Building a variety of comfort conditions into a building ensures that everyone can maximize their learning and productivity.
  • Mind. The mind concept addresses biophilic design, adaptability, sleep, business travel, and other subjects that impact mental health. Opportunities for innovation are also recognized within the mind concept.

While LEED is an important tool for talking about sustainability in the built environment, I am excited to engage with newer rating systems that allow us to have more human-centered discussions about sustainable design.

Just as LEED and other codes, standards, and rating systems are updated on a regular basis, WELL has been updated this summer. WELL v2 is a pilot program and it’s unclear how long the pilot period will last. As of this posting, projects can choose to register under either WELL v1 or WELL v2 and IWBI assures project teams that when WELL v2 becomes the dominant WELL Building Standard advance notice will be provided.

Check WELL’s FAQ for more on the transition between WELL v1 and WELL v2. You can also reach out to me to learn more about how WELL might be applicable to a project you’re considering at awilson@asg-architects.com.

Green Week 2018: The Carrot Awards

April 18, 2018
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Ayers Saint Gross hosts an annual Green Week to advance sustainability literacy within our staff so we can provide better high-performance designs to our clients. We use this time to:

  • Evaluate our performance in the AIA 2030 Commitment, a voluntary program of the AIA in which we report the predicted energy use intensity of our whole building projects and the lighting power density of our interiors projects.
  • Recognize the most energy efficient whole building project and interiors project under design with the annual Carrot Awards to inspire other projects to strive for greater energy efficiency.
  • Share information colleagues have learned through project experiences, professional certifications, and attendance at conferences.

Since Green Week’s inception in 2013, every year’s programming gets more robust and more engaging. Last year’s Green Week included five sessions and awarded 99 continuing education units to our staff. This year hopes to top those numbers by offering seven sessions across all three of our offices.

So what exactly is a Carrot Award and who are this year’s winners? Sustainable design is sometimes oversimplified to as “carrots and sticks” process, in which carrots are enticing incentives that inspire great design and sticks are cumbersome requirements design teams have to meet. We believe sustainable design is great design, so high-performance projects are a carrot to us. Our highest performing projects under design in 2017 are aspirations for every project in our firm to reach for.

This year’s whole building Carrot Award goes to Washington College’s Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall in Chestertown, Md. It is a new construction project of approximately 11,000 GSF that will support academic and lab spaces for environmental programs and the Center for Environment & Society at Washington College. The project is working toward a Petal Certification under the Living Building Challenge and is predicted to have an energy demand 71% less than baseline. The remaining energy consumption of the building will be offset by on-site solar power which will allow the building to achieve net-zero energy operations annually. To achieve this extraordinary level of energy savings, the project prioritized appropriate building orientation to maximize passive heating and cooling strategies. It will also optimize on-site solar production. A highly efficient geothermal heating system supports the project’s capacity to meet all of its HVAC demands without any on-site combustion.

The project is designed to use daylight whenever possible and supplement as needed with efficient LED lighting. End users have also strategized with designers about how to minimize plug loads, as these become a higher percentage of the total end use of energy in net-zero buildings than in other buildings.

This work would not be possible without the collaboration of an engaged client and our teams at Gipe Associates and CMTA.

This year’s interiors Carrot Award goes to our renovation of George Washington University’s Marvin Center. This student collaboration space in Washington, DC acts as a campus living room and decreases lighting power density by 73%, nearly three times the current AIA2030 reduction target, through daylighting and LED lighting.

Congratulations to this year’s winners, and be on the lookout for more sustainability-focused projects from our firm. For more on how Ayers Saint Gross approaches sustainable design, see our firm’s sustainability strategy, Take Action.

Green Week 2017: The Carrot Awards

April 17, 2017
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Ayers Saint Gross strives to make every project as energy efficient as possible. We’re signatories of the AIA2030 Commitment, and each year we report on the predicted energy use intensity of our whole building projects and the lighting power density of our interiors projects. Reducing both advances us toward our goal of designing net-zero projects across our design portfolio by 2030.

To keep our eyes on the prize and recognize Green Week 2017, we’re celebrating two projects – one whole building and one interior – with the Carrot Awards. Too often designers think of sustainability goals as a “stick,” something they have to do that’s at odds with good design. But for us, sustainability is a carrot. It’s something we reach for, something that inspires great design. The projects recognized by this year’s Green Week are examples for design teams across our firm to emulate in pursuit of sustainable design excellence.

This year’s whole building Carrot Award goes to Washington University in St. Louis’s Bryan Hall.

Bryan Hall is the renovation of approximately 49,000 GSF of existing 1968 laboratories for Washington University’s chemistry department. The project reuses more than 60% of the existing structural components while bringing in new building systems, infrastructure, and a vibration-sensitive design to support instrument-based chemistry. Laboratories are an energy-intensive program, but modeling predicts this project will use 55% less energy than the baseline laboratory.

To achieve these energy savings, KJWW Engineering (now IMEG) designed HVAC systems to serve laboratory, public, and restroom spaces separately so systems could be tailored to each type of space’s unique needs. Most of the laboratories require six air changes per hour to maintain high indoor air quality, but heating or cooling that air for once-through use would be very expensive and energy-intensive. To minimize that demand, laboratory exhaust air is routed through a sensible-only heat recovery system which pre-conditions outdoor air before it enters air handling units. Public spaces have different HVAC demands and are provided supply air as required to meet heating and cooling needs.

The building’s two laser research areas require constant temperature and maximum relative humidity conditions. These spaces are served by separate constant-volume air handling units that can optimally meet those conditions. Electrical and IT rooms on each floor are served by a variable refrigerant flow (VRF) system for local space conditioning.

This year’s interiors Carrot Award goes to our tenant improvement work for Tishman Speyer at Park Place, floors six and nine. This commercial office space in Arlington, Virginia includes multiple office suites and decreases lighting power density by 57%, more than double the current AIA2030 reduction target, through LED lighting.

We announced these awards today to kick off Green Week 2017, our firm’s annual celebration of high-performance design and sustainability. The week’s activities include internal and external luncheon speakers, trivia questions on our internal knowledge-sharing platform, and the Carrot Awards to get us inspired to create ever-more energy efficient design solutions.

For more on how Ayers Saint Gross approaches sustainable design, see our firm’s sustainability strategy, Take Action.

Transforming Sustainability at Texas A&M

March 24, 2017
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When Texas A&M decided to update its 2004 campus master plan with a team of Ayers Saint Gross planners, six integrated focus elements guided the work:

  • Campus Development
  • Mobility and Safety
  • Sustainability and Wellness
  • Campus Guidelines
  • Heritage Conservation
  • Wayfinding and Signage

My role on the team was most closely aligned with Sustainability and Wellness, and our firm’s work in this area is the subject of a session I’ll be co-presenting with Texas A&M’s University Architect, Lilia Gonzales, and Director of Sustainability, Kelly Wellman at the Smart and Sustainable Campuses Conference on March 27. I’m excited about digging into the integrated approach that Texas A&M has taken in planning its campus.

A selection of Texas A&M’s planning work between 2004 and the 2017 Campus Master Plan includes:

  • Sustainability Master Plan
  • Bicycle District Strategic Plan
  • Energy Action Plan
  • Utility and Energy Master Plan
  • Stormwater Management Program
  • District Plans to Direct Physical Development
  • Biennial Sustainability Progress Reports
  • AASHE STARS Report

Each of these elements informed the vision for a sustainable campus that is integrated throughout the 2017 Campus Master Plan to facilitate transformation across the campus community. Coordinating these efforts under a single master plan will clarify Texas A&M’s visions of a sustainable campus and support the transformative ideas the institution has for its campus.

Among other subjects, the Sustainability and Wellness portion of the 2017 Campus Mater Plan includes initiatives about:

  • Building on the success of the recent upgrades to the campus central heat and power plant to continue reductions in energy demand and GHG emissions
  • Managing stormwater with green infrastructure
  • Improving pedestrian mobility across the university’s large campus footprint
  • Developing greater connectivity for the bicycle network both on and off campus
  • Continuing the transition from interior surface lots to perimeter parking garages
  • Advancing the institution’s stated objective of designing LEED Silver equivalent buildings to a more A&M-specific set of high-performance design requirements
  • Progressing the deployment of universal recycling containers on campus
  • Celebrating Texas A&M’s historic legacy while furthering diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts
  • Increasing opportunities for education, outreach, and engagement

Hope to see you at Smart and Sustainable!

LEEDv4 vs. LEED 2009: Design Implications

August 8, 2016
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In 85 days, sustainable design will go through a big change.

On October 31, 2016, LEED 2009 will sunset. All projects registered thereafter will be required to meet the more stringent requirements of LEEDv4.

Ayers Saint Gross has long been a standard bearer for sustainable design. This year, that means investing significant resources in educating ourselves about how LEEDv4 will impact the way we build. Understanding the new standards in this depth allows us to be excited about how certifying projects under this system will advance the caliber of high-performance buildings.

At this point, most people in the AEC industry are familiar with the key differences between LEED 2009 and LEEDv4. Major changes in LEEDv4 include:

  • Energy modeling baseline updated from ASHRAE90.1-2007 to ASHRAE 90.1-2010;
  • Increased scope of fixtures addressed by water efficiency credits, including lab equipment among other process fixtures;
  • Restructured Materials and Resources credits that push for transparency in manufacturing;
  • New metrics in daylighting to more accurately account for daily and annual variations.

But the time for general understanding is winding down. Starting soon, designers will need to know specifics.

You have to get in the weeds about LEEDv4 to have confidence in certifying a building under the new standards and to deliver on a promise to certify a project to a certain level. Later this month, I will address the AIA Austin Summer Conference and dive into the nitty-gritty of what designing under this new rating system will mean, including:

  • Transportation Access. LEEDv4’s public transportation access credit counts the number of trips made by public transit infrastructure, whereas LEED 2009 counted the number of public transit lines. Projects that previously may not have qualified for any public transit points under LEED 2009 may be able to access a point under LEEDv4.
  • Covered Bicycle Parking. Under LEEDv4, both institutional and residential buildings require covered bicycle parking. Under the old system, only residential buildings had to meet this requirement.
  • Regional Materials. LEEDv4 does not offer points especially for sourcing materials from within 500 miles of a project as LEED 2009 did. Sourcing materials locally now allows project teams to double the value of local materials when performing building material optimization calculations.

LEED 2009 is the most widely adopted green building rating system on the planet, and it follows that LEEDv4 is likely to command a similar percentage of market share for green building certifications. However, since LEED 2009 debuted, a number of other rating systems, standards, and codes have been established, including the Living Building Challenge, IgCC, and ASHRAE189.1. LEEDv4 is walking into a much more crowded certification marketplace than LEED 2009 did.

Early and mid-range adopters to the sustainability movement are likely to stay with LEED because it carries significant brand recognition. However, LEEDv4 is progressive enough a standard that later adopters to sustainability may be intimidated to attempt it, especially with a whole suite of other rating systems and standards in the marketplace with lower barriers to entry. As professionals, we will be prepared to serve clients at all levels of sustainability, whether new to the party or well-versed and ready to be on the cutting edge.

We are excited to see how the specifics of LEEDv4 will influence design and sustainability, and believe this and other competitive green building rating systems, standards, and codes will push us all to create more efficient high-performance buildings that serve the community and the world.

See you in Austin!

Microhouses with Macro Impact: Volunteering with ACE in Austin

April 28, 2016
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When I began investigating volunteer opportunities in my new hometown of Austin, Texas, I happily stumbled across the ACE (Architecture Construction Engineering) Mentor Program. I had heard of ACE before, as a number of my colleagues in Baltimore have volunteered with their local affiliate. But the Austin chapter was just starting up and I was interested in the opportunities the program provided for both students and mentors.

ACE provides a free 12-week program for high school students to explore careers with industry professionals. The program includes guest speakers, construction site tours, and visits to local schools of architecture. It culminates with a final design project that allows students to collaborate with their mentors and peers and put their design skills to use.

The final project selected by the ACE Austin affiliate was particularly exciting to me: a 200 square foot microhome to address the challenges faced by the chronically homeless in Austin. Inspired by a recent AIA Austin design competition that asked professionals to perform the same task, the designs would use Community First Village, a 27-acre parcel in east Austin as their site. Run by a local organization, Mobile Loaves & Fishes, Community First Village is building dozens of microhomes. Our work as student-led, mentor-supported design teams fits right into the current events of the city.

Microhomes seem far from the large-scale residence halls that constitute much of Ayers Saint Gross’ portfolio. But our skills as designers let us serve everyone in need of a place to live, work, and play. I was excited to share my interest in design and sustainability with the high schoolers in our group, and eager to see how they’d respond to their first design problem.

When teaching budding designers, the first teaching challenge is figuring out where to start. To get our students going, we worked together to describe a client. Envisioning someone their building was to serve helped guide our students’ decision-making. Through the process we challenged them to measure their decisions against a budget as well, helping them learn about the real-world constraints that go with working in architecture. It’s been an incredible process, from their first day figuring out where to start to their final presentation hosted at the University of Texas at Austin’s AT&T Conference Center. Our students have come so far, and like every volunteer and teaching experience I’ve had, it’s hard to say who got more out of it – the students or the mentors.

Beyond the educational program, ACE also provides scholarships to as many deserving students in the program as it can. At the conclusion of the final design presentation, two of my team’s students were recognized with scholarships and I’m immensely proud of the work they did to earn those funds to support their college educations. Mentors are also recognized, and I’m humbled to say I was named the 2016 Exemplary Mentor of the Year. I’ll definitely be back next year and I can only imagine it’ll be just as rewarding an experience.

It’s CSA time again!

February 4, 2016
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Did you know the average American meal travels approximately 1500 miles from where it’s grown to where it’s eaten? There’s a lot of energy tied up in food production and transportation and supporting local agriculture can decrease food’s carbon footprint as well as create more resilient, diverse economies. Ayers Saint Gross believes in supporting our local economy and making sustainable lifestyles easier for our employees, so we’ve supported local community supported agriculture (CSA) by hosting weekly on-site CSA delivery for employees of our Baltimore office since 2013.

Dana Perzynski of the planning group coordinates office participation with One Straw Farm in the late winter months each year and food begins coming into the office in June. Perzynski says, “I make time to coordinate the CSA because I believe in supporting local farms and healthy eating. I’ve also found that it builds office camaraderie through the sharing of recipes and colleagues gawking together over sweet potatoes the size of a human head! I also like organizing things in general and I get a complimentary share for myself for coordinating the CSA…a major bonus!”

There are lots of reasons to participate in the CSA says Jonathan Ceci of the landscape studio, “I really enjoy the diversity of the produce. The share includes many kinds of vegetables that I would not normally pick up at the grocery store. Before participating in the CSA, I had never been exposed to so many species of Brassica! The quantities are often quite generous which allows for sharing with friends and family.”

Having the CSA delivery in the office has also supported lots of new recipes. Says Amber Wendland of the planning studio, “I enjoy cooking some of the more obscure veggies for family and friends and then making them guess what they just ate.”

Andrew Bernish, also of the planning studio, echoed similar sentiments, “I participated my first year at Ayers Saint Gross because it gave me the opportunity to incorporate new veggies into my meals at home. Actually ‘gave me is a bit soft – it ‘forced my hand’ to incorporate new items like kohlrabi and celtuce; alien-looking veggies I likely would not have purchased yet happily devoured.”

Sign-ups for this year’s CSA are happening between now and March 1, 2016. Food delivery is slated to begin the week of June 8 and runs for 24 weeks.

Over-Cladding for Thermal Performance and Building Resiliency

November 29, 2015
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While Ayers Saint Gross dominantly works on college and university campuses, we’ve also had opportunities to serve institutional clients such as Johns Hopkins Hospital, most recently in re-skinning Nelson Harvey Building on their downtown, urban hospital campus. This 1970s era, nine-story, in-patient tower maintained a sound structural frame, but was suffering from a poorly insulated, failing building enclosure. The project offered a unique opportunity to improve building performance and resiliency by over-cladding the existing envelope. This design strategy allowed the team to address the project’s four major challenges:

  • Renovation required compliance with Baltimore City’s Green Building Standards (BCGBS).
  • Complete demolition of the existing building enclosure was cost-prohibitively expensive.
  • Hospital operations needed to be continuously operational on the first and second floors of the project through construction.
  • The design and construction schedule for the building enclosure was tied to an existing project designed by Wilmot Sanz to renovate the tower’s patient rooms that had already reached the end of Design Development. The enclosure design and documentation would need to catch up with that project’s schedule so the interior and exterior renovations could occur concurrently.

While Ayers Saint Gross’s over-cladding strategy addressed the major issues of sustainability, project cost, continuous operations, and project schedule, the strategy also needed to address technical and aesthetic concerns:

  • Ayers Saint Gross needed to provide relief to the existing brick envelope and stabilize it against future failure.
  • Improvements in thermal performance and infiltration were critical.
  • The solution would need to be constructed primarily from the exterior of the building to minimize impediments to hospital operations.
  • In consultation with our structural engineer, Columbia Engineering, we were advised that we could add only 5% to the dead load of the building without overburdening the existing structure.
  • The design aesthetic of the envelope needed to align with the hospital’s dominant red brick palette.

To address these technical challenges, the over-cladding material palette included curtainwall to introduce greater access to daylight and views to patient rooms, thin-set brick on insulated precast concrete panels to maintain the campus’s brick aesthetic, and insulated metal panel to improve thermal performance while keeping the new envelope’s dead weight down. The existing masonry envelope was largely left intact within the new envelope with selective demolition allowing for the new envelope to be tied back to the existing structure. The application of the new envelope provides superior thermal performance that the existing envelope could not achieve.

Leaving most of the existing masonry envelope in place allowed the design to capitalize on the potential of the existing building’s infrastructure by providing resiliency in terms of fire and air-borne noise resistance and additional thermal mass for improved internal climate control and moderation. The retention of a significant portion of the existing envelope also provided an enclosure for the building during the construction process that shortened construction schedules and improved budgets by limiting the time allotted for demolition, hauling of debris, erection of temporary walls and barriers, and limiting the exposure of the building materials to the exterior environment of moisture and dust. Limiting demolition also decreased the wasteful hauling of debris, thus reducing the project’s carbon footprint.

We term the comprehensive approach used at Nelson Harvey to develop a high-performance enclosure for an aging structure “recycling in place.” This strategy provided a hybrid solution that took best advantage of the new to achieve thermal over-cladding while simultaneously celebrating the old to enable passive cooling, natural ventilation, and increased thermal mass. Over-cladding with a new thermal high-performance envelope improved energy performance and energy conservation through improved insulation and moisture mitigation strategies in addition to providing an aesthetic improvement that successfully positioned the aging building as a viable part of the master plan for decades to come.