With the emergence of high-definition television and the U.S. Government mandating a switch from analog to digital, The Weather Channel wanted to expand and remodel its Legacy studio space to provide high-quality, high-definition (HD) television programming. With its strong dedication to the environment, The Weather Channel’s senior management felt that it was only natural to consider LEED certification with this new expansion.
To investigate the design options for the expansion space, The Weather Channel first consulted with Don Archiable of Archteck. Archiable could see that the incorporation of sustainable features with technology would be no easy task, so he recruited Vocon to provide LEED recommendations. It was soon realized that The Weather Channel’s current space wouldn’t be able to accommodate the height requirements to create the different camera angles and additional acoustics required for HD broadcasting.
So Vocon suggested another route. Building upon The Weather Channel’s initial ideas, Vocon proposed the idea of a first-of-its-kind high-definition studio to meet the space parameters. The new studio would make a statement as the first media company to build a standalone 24/7 studio with LEED-NC certification.
To create a seamless flow between the multiple studios and production facilities, Vocon connected the addition to the existing building through a main street corridor to still give studio employees the feel that they were all in one expanded work area. This also allows employees to utilize existing workspace, such as shared dressing rooms, and travel back and forth to multiple studios and control rooms.
Committing to the idea of an all-inclusive, connected studio, and being a trendsetter in the broadcasting industry, The Weather Channel decided that, in addition to LEED-NC certification, its new studio needed high-end technology and an overall aesthetic appearance.
Vocon worked with the studio design team to implement the technology associated with a futuristic cable network to create the innovative, first-of-its-kind studio. Throughout the interior, a combination of highly sustainable, rapidly renewable light and dark woods was used, as well as bamboo panels and brushed stainless steel. A recycled cork product was used to accent the wood and stainless steel; recycled carpet and concrete polished flooring were also used.
The acoustical design, sound, and lighting associated with a high-tech, high-def studio created a new challenge – elements like these don’t easily accommodate sustainable architecture practices.
“We needed a space that not only had a natural, eco-friendly look, but also met the studio team’s needs by incorporating the latest technology with our commitment to the environment,” says Ron Culpepper, facilities director for The Weather Channel.
Studio lighting designs require natural light to be kept out of each camera shot, and natural air to be kept away from high-tech electronics. Both of these elements, however, are typically key to LEED.
The team – through an adjacency and efficiency study – eliminated the material needed for acoustical wall construction and decreased the overall building footprint with a user-friendly floorplate that utilized below-grade space (13-feet below ground level). This also reduced sound penetration through exterior walls; a rapidly renewable, sound-safe low sound transmission coefficient (STC) insulation was chosen to increase the thermal insulation value. These features provided a more comfortable work environment and limited the amount of natural sunlight that could harm the equipment.
To conserve energy, the heat generated from the studio lighting was used to heat the building, eliminating the need for a building-wide heating system. A reflective roofing system was installed that reflects 90 percent of the sun’s rays and minimizes the added heat to lower air-conditioning usage. The roofing system also met the solar reflective index (SRI) requirements, reducing heat islands and minimizing the impact on the climate and wildlife habitats.
Using these methods, as well as motion sensors and automatic lighting controls to turn off non-essential interior lighting during non-business hours, the building is designed to reduce overall energy consumption by 25 percent in comparison to similarly functioning buildings of equal size.
From Silver to Gold
Although The Weather Channel began its renovation with the intention of pursuing LEED certification, the station realized it was feasible to obtain LEED Silver certification. To further meet LEED specifications, the team used sustainable materials – including paints, adhesives, sealants, and carpet – all low in VOCs to reduce air and environmental pollutants. Nearly 25 percent of the materials used, including 225 tons of steel and cement, were manufactured within 500 miles of the jobsite to reduce the energy required to transport supplies.
The new addition features restrooms with automatic faucets and flush valves to reduce water consumption, as well as an underground retention pond that uses stormwater for irrigation. This 75,000-gallon retention pond stores rainwater, and a separate control system monitors precipitation in separate zoned areas, monitoring the dew point to determine when the landscape needs watering.
The Weather Channel’s commitment to the environment took the studio project to the next level: LEED Gold. To counteract the energy needed to operate a 24/7studio, The Weather Channel entered into an agreement with Renewable Choice Energy to purchase renewable energy credits, which will offset 35 percent of the electricity used in the studio over the next two years.
The Weather Channel’s HD studio has been operating efficiently since June 2008. Although it achieved LEED Gold, it still continuously looks for ways to enhance its efforts to sustain and improve its high-tech environment.
Eric Kremer is a Registered Architect and LEED AP professional at Vocon, a Cleveland-based architecture and interior design firm.