Ayers Saint Gross at TCUF 2018

September 13, 2018
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If you’re in San Antonio next week, I hope you’ll join the Ayers Saint Gross team at one of our three TCUF sessions, or visit our display in the Architectural Showcase. Here’s where we’ll be.

A New Era of Sustainability Planning: From Vision to Implementation
Texas A&M’s 2018 Sustainability Master Plan integrates social equity objectives with environmental and economic efforts while balancing the need for long-term vision with action and accountability. Through nine themes that address the physical environment, social sustainability, waste management, and institutional efforts, sustainability initiatives at Texas A&M have been transformed from an environment-heavy focus to an approach that places equal emphasis on all three elements of sustainability’s triple bottom line.

Concurrent to developing the university’s Sustainability Master Plan, Texas A&M’s Department of Residence Life sought ways to evaluate its contribution to institution-wide sustainability efforts and prioritize future endeavors. The Residence Life Sustainability Master Plan seeks to advance the department’s capacity to operate sustainable facilities, support sustainable life skills education, and leverage competitive advantage in the local student housing market.

Presenters
Chareny Rydl, Director of Residence Life, Texas A&M University
Lara Hendrickson, Sustainability Operations Coordinator, Texas A&M University
Allison Wilson, Sustainability Director, Ayers Saint Gross

Details
Friday September 21, 2018
Republic C (4th Floor)
1:00PM – 2:00PM


An Instigator and Path to Crafting a Campus Plan
Campus master plans, both aspirational in vision and realistic in implementation, seek to guide the long-term physical development of institutions in alignment with their vision, mission and goals. The session will evaluate and illustrate conditions supporting the need for a campus master plan, what to incorporate into the effort and how to adopt a continuum of planning on campus.

Texas A&M University’s 2017 Campus Master Plan will serve as a case study, guiding attendees through the process of determining when a plan is needed, where to focus your efforts, what elements might be included, who to engage in the process, how the proposed transformations have impacted the campus experience and why to outline future supporting planning efforts for continuous improvement.

Attendees will develop and refine skills to critically analyze past and current planning efforts to identify potential process adjustments leading to increased planning impacts on your campus.

Presenters
Lilia Y. Gonzales, University Architect, Texas A&M University
Dana Dixon, Senior Associate, Ayers Saint Gross
Corey Rothermel, Associate, Ayers Saint Gross

Details
Friday September 21, 2018
2:10PM – 3:10 PM
Republic B (4th Floor)


Enterprise Planning: A Case for Moving Beyond a Traditional Master Plan
Differing from a traditional master plan which focuses solely on the built environment, enterprise planning touches all areas of an institution to guide strategic direction. The outcome is a shared vision which becomes the framework for policies, programs, and physical space.

Through a highly collaborative process involving hundreds of Tarrant County College stakeholders, a series of charrettes acted as the primary tool for discovery, analysis, and dialogue. The activities sought to create a collective understanding of key concepts, establish big-picture priorities, and discuss stakeholder ideas for the near term and long term. These workshops created a venue to discover and analyze challenges, craft potential solutions, and define the future, all in tandem.

The outcome was the establishment of three overarching goals and a set of eight principles that together serve as the pillars of the college’s vision and guide all areas of the institution.

Presenters
Nina Petty, Vice Chancellor for Real Estate & Facilities, Tarrant County College
Doug Lowe, President, Facility Programming and Consulting
Jack Black, Principal, Ayers Saint Gross
Corey Rothermel, Associate, Ayers Saint Gross

Details
Saturday September 22, 2018
11:15 AM – 12:15PM
Crockett C/D

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.

A New Model for Floating Wetlands

May 10, 2018
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The National Aquarium has an ambitious mission to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures.

With its prime location in downtown Baltimore on historic shipping piers, the Aquarium wants to localize this mission by restoring aquatic environments in its own backyard, the Chesapeake Bay. To that end, the Aquarium is planning to redevelop an inlet at the heart of its campus with a large-scale floating salt marsh.

These recreated wetlands will serve multiple purposes. They will support greater biodiversity in the Inner Harbor and provide infrastructure for supplemental oxygenation of the water. They will also be an immersive experience for learning about the Chesapeake Bay watershed and its component ecosystems.

Several major technical challenges stand in the way of realizing this vision. First, conventional floating wetlands are costly, and yet they typically last a mere five years. It would be prohibitively expensive for the Aquarium to replace such a large floating wetland structure (planned to be 16,000+ SF) twice per decade.

Secondly, conventional floating wetland systems are topographically flat and not readily calibrated to create a range of microhabitats. They are incapable of supporting the ecological diversity that the Aquarium desires for this unique environment.

Lastly, conventional floating wetlands are not stable enough to support maintenance personnel. For the Aquarium to be able to manage such a landscape, the structure needs to be designed with a high degree of stability.

To realize the client’s vision, our designers (and our partners at Biohabitats, McLaren Engineers, and Kovacs Whitney) had to create a durable and more topographically varied floating wetland.

***

A brief history of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor: in pre-Columbian times, there was tremendous biodiversity in this zone of the Chesapeake Bay. With the rise of the Industrial Revolution, the area became a major shipping port. Hard infrastructure development mirrored rising urban populations into the early 20th century, replacing natural shorelines. Humans reshaped the harbor to suit the needs of industry and shipping, which resulted in lost habitats and waning species diversity.

The heavy industry eventually faded, and in the 1980s the Inner Harbor was one of the first post-industrial waterfronts transformed into a cultural amenity. Unfortunately, while the land surrounding the Inner Harbor’s water was revitalized, the water itself was largely neglected.

Another significant development that affects the health of the Chesapeake Bay is sprawling urbanization throughout much of its watershed. Hard surfaces cover soil and prevent infiltration of rain water into the ground, so when rain falls on buildings and pavement, it carries lawn fertilizers, pet waste, and road salts into storm drains. Leaks in an aging network of sewer and stormwater pipes, running underneath the city, also added excess nitrogen and phosphorous to Inner Harbor waters. This polluted urban stormwater runoff joins suburban and rural runoff and ultimately flows downstream into waterways like the Inner Harbor. Excess nitrogen and phosphorous, transported in polluted stormwater runoff, is utilized by naturally occurring phytoplankton species and fuels an endless cycle of algae population explosions and crashes throughout the Inner Harbor. When the excess fertilizers that enabled the algal blooms to occur are consumed, a massive die-off of phytoplankton follows. The dead algae sinks to the bottom and provides food that fuels a major bacterial bloom. The rapidly growing bacteria population uses up all the available dissolved oxygen in the water and effectively smothers fish, crabs, and other aquatic life.

Reversing years of environmental degradation and creating a renewed and thriving ecosystem requires a large-scale intervention capable of delivering a wide array of ecological services. Floating wetlands were a natural choice for the Aquarium’s project. 

However, as noted above, conventional floating wetlands have some significant drawbacks. They are typically made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) injected with marine foam for buoyancy. Plants are placed in drilled holes to allow their roots to reach directly into the water. The PET layers are typically flat with upper layers extending out of the water – a form that does not mimic the varied topography and microhabitats of most wetlands or tidal shorelines. Thus only a limited number of aquatic species can thrive in them (falling well short of the Aquarium’s ambitions for this project).

Additionally, with time, biomass accumulates from plants and bivalves that colonize the PET mesh, causing the entire wetland to sink under its own weight. 

Therefore, while current models of floating wetlands can serve decorative and educational purposes, they are ultimately more akin to a flower show exhibit than to a real-life habitat that is both durable and functional enough to achieve the Aquarium’s objectives. We had to develop a new floating wetland model and adapt an array of technologies from other disciplines to realize our goals.

***

In collaboration with the Aquarium and our multidisciplinary team of scientists and engineers, we designed a new kind of floating wetland. It improves upon the technologies of conventional floating wetlands while remedying their shortcomings in terms of habitat-creation capabilities and the lifespan of the final installation. These new technologies and variables have been prototyped and are currently being tested within the harbor on the Aquarium’s campus.

First, we addressed the issue of topography.

In lieu of a flat floating sheet of PET, our team created a layered topo-model with varied planting surfaces at different elevations, some submerged, relative to the water surface. In the middle of the prototype, a deeper channel provides habitats analogous to shallow salt marsh tidal channels. On the edges, the layers stack up to simulate the low and high marsh environments of the Chesapeake Bay. The prototype also features airlifts and air diffusers, which help to oxygenate and continuously circulate the water and prevent water stagnation in the channel and around the outer edges of the form. All together, these interventions create a variety of microhabitats, which will be utilized by a greater diversity of species and life stages of those species.

Secondly, we addressed the issue of buoyancy. Conventional floating wetlands have what is called static buoyancy from integrated marine foam, which means they can generally restore equilibrium in response to pressure (ie, they don’t capsize or sink easily). Our design adds a rigid support structure underneath the PET layers with capabilities for adjustable buoyancy. This “skeleton” is made of high density polyethylene (HDPE) pipes and pontoon structures that provide the wetland with ballast.

Adjustable buoyancy is essential to longevity. As the plants grow and become heavier, the PET bed can be raised or lowered by pumping water into or out of the pontoons as needed. This design feature also allows for easier maintenance and unique research opportunities. The pontoon structure acts similarly to a ship’s ballast system, whereby trim and list are controlled through adding and removing water. That way, the elevations of individual areas of wetland can be controlled, rather than solely raising and lowering the entire structure uniformly.

The reserve buoyancy system within the PET layer is one of the most difficult and sensitive portions of the design. As buoyancy is directly related to the weight of water displaced, PET mesh itself has very little buoyancy in reserve to counteract the added weight of maintenance workers and waves. To address this issue, we filled hollow cavities in the PET layers above the waterline with marine foam, which is engineered to provide added buoyancy and stability to allow people to stand on the edge of the wetland without it swamping. The foam cavities are carefully spaced in linear strips to avoid interference with plantings.

Additionally, we added a cementitious bonding coating to the PET to increase longevity with regard to ultraviolet degradation.

The 200-SF prototype was shop-fabricated, transported in pieces, and then assembled in a shipyard on the Middle Branch River before being towed to its current position in the Inner Harbor in August 2017. Aquarium staff then planted it with over more than 1400 plugs of native plants. (The staffers were pleased to report that the wetland was stable and firm underfoot—a pleasure to work on compared with the small conventional floating wetlands that have been used on a small scale around the Inner Harbor.) Every square inch of this ecological powerhouse provides opportunities for a diverse range of organisms to grow, colonize, molt, spawn, or eat.

***

Nine months into the experiment, preliminary results are promising.

Almost immediately after implementation, Aquarium scientists observed a rapid colonization of the submerged woven PET material by biofilms, a type of beneficial bacteria that creates a sticky, living coating of the vast PET surfaces. Biofilms feed on excess nitrogen and other nutrients in the water and are the first step towards reaching broader biodiversity and recreating a more natural and multi-layered food web.

By the third day, schools of killifish moved into the prototype’s central channel, and a blue crab was observed molting in the protected shallow water of the new habitat. More fish, anemones, and crustacean species soon followed, along with the arrival of larger species like wading birds and muskrat. The recreated wetland has brought several native species back to the Inner Harbor and into full view of people passing by.

Going forward, the performance of the prototype will continue to be measured. Its impact on water quality will be monitored using data collection equipment installed nearby in the same inlet. This information will help us to calibrate and refine the design of the floating wetland system, so that it has maximum impact when it is fabricated at full scale.

We’re excited to see what’s next for the Aquarium, the Harbor, and the Bay, and what role our newly designed wetlands can play in improving these vital and beautiful places.

 

Jonathan Ceci, Shelly Drees, and Amelle Schultz contributed to the writing of the article.

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.

Ayers Saint Gross at AIA DC’s Building Enclosure Council

March 26, 2018
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If you’re in the greater Washington DC area this week, I hope you’ll join me on Tuesday March 27 for a lecture sponsored by AIA DC on an in-depth case study of a unique approach to a high-performance renovation.

Over-Cladding for Thermal Performance and Building Resiliency

The Nelson Harvey Building patient tower occupies a dense urban site in the heart of the Johns Hopkins Hospital campus in Baltimore, Maryland. Ayers Saint Gross teamed with Wilmot Sanz to renovate the exterior and interior of the nine-story, 33-year-old, 118,500-SF building. The innovative and sustainable approach in developing a new hybrid building envelope combines high-performance over-cladding with the existing envelope. The result is a modern design aesthetic that is energy efficient, environmentally sustainable, and highly resilient. In addition to new exterior over-cladding systems, the renovation includes new pat ient rooms, the first-floor lobby, main entrance, and plazas.

After attending this course, participants will be able to:

  • Identify the code implications related to exterior enclosure on existing infrastructure that inform design decisions in a repurposing project;
  • Describe the role that technology plays in assessing, coordinating, and implementing design strategies for new enclosure design on existing infrastructure;
  • Examine the impact of design decisions related to cladding materials, fenestration, roofing, and insulation on the constructability of a new enclosure design; and
  • Discuss the various strategies to future-proof buildings through innovative design systems that address short-term and long-term building enclosure performance and sustainability objectives.

Presenter
Dan McKelvey, Associate Principal, Ayers Saint Gross

Details
Tuesday, March 27, 2018
6:00 PM – 8:00 PM
District Architecture Center
421 7th St NW, Washington, DC 20004

Credits
2.0 HSW | LUs

SITES 101: Creating Sustainable Landscapes

December 20, 2017
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Most people connected to the AEC industry are by now well familiar with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, more commonly known as LEED, the world’s most widely used green building rating system.

Less familiar to many is the Sustainable Sites Initiative, aka SITES. SITES is, broadly, LEED for landscape. The rating is a way of helping designers set and reach sustainability goals with clients. The system was developed through an interdisciplinary effort by the American Society of Landscape Architects Fund, The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden. After a rigorous testing period, the program was transferred to Green Business Certification, Inc (GBCI) in 2015. It’s a relatively new force in sustainability for the built environment, and in my opinion, it’s a powerful one. I am excited about how SITES can help create a holistic approach to sustainability in the built environment.

Every SITES prerequisite or credit is based on the idea of ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are the benefits we receive from natural systems, comprised of both the living and the nonliving components of the landscape. SITES sorts these benefits into four categories: provisioning, supporting, regulating, and cultural. Below are more details on these categories and some suggestions for how designers and clients can thoughtfully approach the SITES certification process.

  • Provisioning. Any useful product produced by the landscape would be the result of a provisioning system. These products include food, lumber, energy supplies, medicines, and similar items. These credits can be earned through a variety of approaches such as incorporating edible gardens, or using local quarries for stone elements on a site.
  • Supporting. Supporting systems keep ecosystems healthy. They include soil formation, photosynthesis, habitat creation, and biodiversity. Credits for supporting can be reached through both design intervention and preservation. Much of the program focuses on preserving healthy soils and ecosystems that would take years of in-situ cultivation to recreate. Improving degraded sites through soil remediation and using native planting to improve habitat value are another way to earn credits.
  • Regulating. Regulating systems produce benefits by maintain larger systems through carbon sequestration, local and global climate regulation, and water and air cleansing. A common regulating technique is the use of bioretention and filtration to clean water and recharge the water table. Biofiltration facilities allow stormwater management infrastructure to function in a healthy way rather than adding to city storm water systems. These systems can often add a cultural value as well by improving the aesthetic of a place.
  • Cultural. This category includes a wide range of tactical choices, like outdoor exercise and gathering spaces, highlighting local icons, and healthy benefits. It’s everything from the creation of a healing garden near a hospital to the inclusion of native plants in a landscape design.

Personally, the thing that excites me most about the SITES system (and about being the first SITES AP at Ayers Saint Gross) is the ability to help a landscape project improve a place’s ecological functioning. Living landscapes are unique for their ability to recharge systems and can make a place function better than before intervention. Too often we see a LEED certified building that is a sustainable island in a landscape that doesn’t support the same high-performance objectives. SITES is a terrific tool to help align the development and management of land with innovative sustainable design.

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!

Top 10 Blog Posts of 2016

December 16, 2016
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It’s been an eventful year for Ayers Saint Gross. As we turn the calendar page, here’s a look at our most popular blog posts of 2016. We’re proud of what we accomplished with our clients, and are excited about what’s to come in 2017.

1. Luanne Greene is Ayers Saint Gross’ New President. Having distinguished herself as head of our Planning studio and as an acknowledged industry leader, Luanne rose to become the President of Ayers Saint Gross. She is the first woman to lead the firm in its 100-year history.

2. Anne Hicks Harney Elevated to AIA College of Fellows. Our Sustainability Director is now one of four FAIAs at Ayers Saint Gross, alongside Glenn Birx, Luanne Greene, and Adam Gross. Anne was also named a LEED Fellow this year.

3. Placemaking for People: How Stormwater Management Can Be a Design Asset. The unglamorous necessity of stormwater management can be a starting point for truly great design in landscape architecture.

4. Place Matters: Cortex Innovation Community Wins SCUP Award. Recognition from the Society of College and University Planning was a huge honor. Innovation Districts like Cortex provide a new paradigm for research, business, and job creation.

5. National Aquarium Waterfront Campus Plan Wins AIA Maryland Award. The National Aquarium is a world-renowned conservation organization, and we are excited to be a part of the revitalization of its campus.

6. 2016 Comparing Campuses Innovation Districts. We did a deep dive on Innovation Districts in our 18th annual Comparing Campuses poster. (We also have an online archive of all the Comparing Campuses posters.)

7. A Brief History of the Ayers Saint Gross ACUHO-I Housing Book. We’ve been creating these tiny but informative books since 2005 for the annual ACUHO-I conference. We’ll see you in Providence in June with the 2017 edition.

8. Telling a Story with Data. Lisa Keith, head of our Space Analytics studio, wowed the KA Connect Conference with her data visualization expertise.

9. Ayers Saint Gross Reaches $1B in LEED Construction. With the LEED Silver certification of Georgetown University’s Ryan and Isaac Halls, our firm crossed the billion-dollar mark in LEED certified construction. To celebrate, we created an infographic that illustrates exactly what $1,000,000,000 in LEED construction looks like.

10. Going Green, Staying Green: How to Create and Enduring, Sustainable Landscape. Align your sustainability goals with available resources, and consider the life cycle costs of your choices.

Ayers Saint Gross Reaches $1B in LEED Construction

October 19, 2016
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Last month, Ayers Saint Gross reached an important and exciting milestone in our sustainable journey. With the LEED Silver certification of Georgetown University’s Ryan and Isaac Halls, our firm crossed the billion-dollar mark, having produced $1 billion in LEED certified construction.

To celebrate, we’ve created an infographic that illustrates exactly what $1,000,000,000 in LEED construction looks like. Congratulations to everyoneclients, designers, partners, and of course the USGBCwho made this tremendous achievement possible. I’m particularly grateful to Emory University, the University of Maryland system, and the University of Virginia, which collectively make up 14 of our 34 LEED projects. It’s wonderful to see clients build with sustainability in mind, and then come back for more when they see its many benefits. Great clients make for great buildings.

Here’s to the next billion. We’re already on our way with the pending certification of the Earl G. Graves School of Business and Management at Morgan State University.
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The Endless Park: PARK(ing) Day 2016

September 21, 2016
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PARK(ing) Day got its start in 2005, and has since become a global celebration of public space in urban contexts. As a firm, Ayers Saint Gross celebrates sustainability and the importance of green spaces as a necessary part of good urban design. This year the DC office was thrilled to tackle a parking space in NoMa and turn it into an “endless park.”

The goal was to get passersby from the NoMa community to disrupt their daily routines and immerse themselves in an unexpected retreat while learning about urban sustainability practices.

We created our pop-up park out of salvaged wooden pallets from a local construction site, fresh layers of sod, and (most importantly) a series of mirrors. Mirrors have long been a go-to move for making interior spaces seem larger; we figured they could do the same thing for an outdoor space. Thus our mirrors faced each other, creating the illusion of an infinite, endless park.

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We also had a series of posters informing park-goers about urban sustainability. All together it made for a relaxing and informative spot.

Of course, the best urban design is not delivered from on high; it is a collaboration between the designers and the community. With that in mind, we wanted to include an interactive element in our park. We asked pedestrians to contribute by writing thoughts, activities, and feelings about parks and sustainability on tags. The tags became petals on flower-like stakes that were laid out on the park’s grass, creating a “endless” field of wildflowers in the mirrored reflection. As we grew our field of flowers throughout the day, it became a beautiful metaphor for the endless benefits of sustainability.

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Photo courtesy of Laetitia Brock

To support sustainability once more at the conclusion of the day, our team returned the wood pallets to the construction site and planted the sod nearby in NoMa.

The mission of PARK(ing) Day is to call attention to the need for more urban open space, to generate debate around how public space is created and allocated, and to improve the quality of urban human habitat. While our “endless park” lasted only a day, creativity and a thoughtful approach to urban space are ever-present parts of our firm’s philosophy.

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Going Green, Staying Green: How to Create an Enduring Sustainable Landscape

August 23, 2016
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Sustainable landscapes address a number of environmental concerns: habitat loss, natural resource depletion, air pollution, and waste generation. For those reasons and more, sustainability is an increasingly central part of campus planning.

However, as the methods used to create an ecologically sound site grow, so can the number of maintenance needs and costs.

Creating – and perhaps even more crucially, maintaining – sustainable landscapes is a multi-phase process. Here are a few points of advice that can guide discussions about how to create a sustainable design that will continue to function as originally envisioned.

  • Align your sustainability goals with available resources. Understanding your desired project goals and maintenance routine is paramount to a project’s success. Ask yourself a few questions in the early design process: What are your project’s sustainability goals? What are your long-term maintenance capabilities? What changes could be made to align your practices with your goals? Once both client and landscape architect understand the parameters, you can work together to produce a design that meets the needs of your institution.
  • Consider the life cycle costs of your choices. Evaluate the necessary steps that ensure you can meet your sustainability goals. For example, if you wish to diminish a site’s long-term energy and potable water use, your standard planting palette, hardscape materials, and irrigation technique may need adjustment. Depending on the project’s goals, the design may have unique maintenance needs, such as permeable pavers or a rainwater collection system. If you are unfamiliar with these elements, ask how to maintain them to ensure the design will receive proper care. There’s good news, though: Not every sustainable strategy has a high maintenance cost. In fact, many diminish total costs because more expensive materials provide benefits that offset their initial price. For example, a cistern will reduce your irrigation bill, and selecting native or low-irrigation plants reduces irrigation and labor maintenance costs.
  • Concentrate high-maintenance areas for maximum effect. An elaborate design with ambitious net-zero goals may be beyond your scope. Instead, consider small interventions that make a large impact. Prioritize your goals, and centralize the high-maintenance areas in high-visibility areas to make the biggest impression.
  • Monitor performance. Whether the goal is to achieve a net-zero energy site, reduce stormwater runoff, or provide wildlife habitat, monitoring how the site performs is necessary to ensure the goal is met. Track the site closely, adapting maintenance activities as needed. Recording the effectiveness of various methods will provide a guide for future management actions. With proper care, the benefits of the landscape can continue to function at optimum potential.