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The Top 10 Beyond LEED

A holistic look at the most sustainable projects that also support human health and happiness


By AnnMarie Martin, Chris Curtland, Robert Nieminen, and Ashleigh VanHouten

Another year, another round-up of 10 exceptional examples of sustainable design, curated by the editors here at I&S. And once again, this annual listing goes beyond mere points-based systems and looks holistically at projects that evoke the struggle for that lasting impact you all strive for in your work. Of course, we'll discuss their varying designations such as USGBC’s LEED certification and Green Globes ratings, as well as the WELL Building Standard, but more than that, we hope these snapshots will help keep it all in perspective. As you travel from China to Norway, California, and beyond through these pages, remember that it’s not just about that plaque hanging in the lobby.

It’s about spaces that lead to happier and healthier human beings.

Powerhouse Offices
By Snøhetta, Oslo, Norway

When Snøhetta joined forces with construction company Skanska and environmental organization ZERO to develop the Powerhouse brand of office buildings, they had quite an ambitious goal: to create structures that produce more energy than they consume over the course of their lifetime—in other words, positive-energy buildings.

The first out of the gate, Powerhouse Kjørbo just outside of Oslo, Norway, was awarded the highest classification in the BREEAM-NOR environmental certification system for the design phase.

This renovation of two office buildings from the 1980s boasts a clean-lined and uncluttered aesthetic. For the exterior, green space between the buildings was upgraded with beds of ten new plant varieties, and the entry area features an upgraded and extended bicycle-parking building.

Facades consist of charred wood, retaining the dark colors of the existing building and providing a maintenance-free material. Walls, ceilings, and windows are well insulated and detailing ensures an airtight climate shell. Transparent exterior sun shading screens were installed to avoid overheating in the summer, and exposed concrete absorbs heat and releases it again when it becomes cooler. The end result? The buildings’ energy needs have been reduced by 90 percent, with local energy produced using solar panels on the roof.

But the project was not without its challenges: 40 percent of the roof had to be exposed to control temperatures, and it was necessary to develop a good acoustic environment without a suspended ceiling. The solution incorporated suspended baffles on the ceiling and acoustic dampening fins around the central cores, both made of recycled plastic bottles. The core wall is designed as a beautifully curved waveform, trapping noise, hiding ventilation supply ducts, and creating calm zones in the open office layout.

Look for more Powerhouse projects in the future, including Brattørkaia, also in Norway, set to break ground this year.

Haworth Showroom
By Perkins+Will, Los Angeles, Calif.

Opened in August 2015, Haworth’s new Los Angeles showroom is the first in North America designed to the WELL Building Standard, which focuses on human health. The space occupies the top floor of its building and boasts 360-degree panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and Hollywood Hills. Tracking LEED Gold certification, the project features locally made materials and a living wall of varied vegetation.

“The future of sustainability isn’t only about environmental health,” said Steve South, senior interior designer and associate at Perkins+Will. “The WELL designation doesn’t conflict with LEED—it just considers other aspects of well-being. The two go hand in hand—when you impact the environment, it also impacts humans.”

A color palate of turquoise, gold, red, and orange create a warm, sunset-like ambience while paying homage to downtown L.A.’s vibrant artistic culture. Perkins+Will’s Branded Environments group incorporated local pottery accessories to decorate the space, in addition to custom graphics inspired by the area’s street culture.

The showroom features a range of collaborative workspaces that allow Haworth team members not only to demonstrate their offerings, but also to strategize and form solutions themselves. “There are very little other architectural products within the space, and we were very mindful about materials and keeping the space raw and exposed,” South said.

A philosophy revolving around people, planet, and profit drove Haworth’s perspective on the project. “We’ve done pretty well on the planet portion, and LEED provides a great baseline for that,” said Steve Kooy, global sustainability manager for Haworth. “We wanted to expand that into the workplace, and the workplace of the future is about health and productivity. The lines are blurring with the work-life balance. The healthier people are, the more productive they are, and that’s a win-win for everyone.”

The Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership
By Studio Gang Architects, Kalamazoo, Mich.

Historically, convening for social justice has taken place in informal settings—a church basement, a living room, or even around a kitchen table. The Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership on the campus of liberal arts and sciences school Kalamazoo College in Michigan brings these discussions up from the basement and squarely into public consciousness.

The Arcus Center works to develop emerging leaders and sustain existing leaders in the fields of human rights and social justice. As a learning environment and meeting space, it brings together students, faculty, visiting scholars, social justice leaders, and members of the public for conversation and activities aimed at creating a more just world.

Supporting this important work, the 10,000- square-foot center’s design is visually open and activated by daylight, and is targeting LEED Gold certification. The uniquely-shaped, triangular plan encourages convening in configurations that begin to break down psychological and cultural barriers between people and helps facilitate understanding. The presence of a living room, hearth, and kitchen for sharing food at the center of the building creates the potential for frequent informal meetings and casual, chance encounters.

The wood masonry utilized for the building’s exterior is a low-tech and relatively inexpensive method of building assembly used to achieve a high-performance facade. The wood walls sequester more carbon than was released in building them, responding to today’s need to reduce carbon pollution—one of many environmental issues embraced by social justice movements.

Tozzer Anthropology Building
By Kennedy & Violich Architecture, Ltd., Cambridge, Mass.

Modern-era buildings are aging on campuses across America, due to obsolete building codes that cannot meet contemporary envelope, seismic, public access, and energy requirements. The Tozzer Anthropology Building at Harvard University takes a bold approach to this problem by consolidating the original library holdings and calling for a transformative adaptive re-use project that creates a new public identity and program for Johnson and Hotveld’s 1971 Tozzer Library, while reusing the original building’s foundation, campus infrastructure connections, and steel and concrete structure.

“The Tozzer Anthropology Building strives to set a new benchmark in re-using and building upon the carbon investment of an existing campus building,” said Sheila Kennedy, FAIA, principal at KVA. “The project takes an integrated and thorough approach to environmental responsibility that begins with the core idea of the reuse of existing campus infrastructure tie-ins, all existing concrete slabs and vertical circulation cores, and all existing steel.”

The new program is organized around a torqued central lightwell clad in birch wood panels that are designed to reflect light and absorb sound. Offices, classrooms, and informal gathering places ring this “living space,” which brings daylight into the building, and creates visual relationships between floor levels.

The Tozzer Anthropology building has received LEED Gold certification, and includes a number of sustainable design elements including:

  • All materials in the project meet consumer content recycling requirements including FSC-certified woods, recyclable steel, enduring brick envelope construction, and recycled, 20 oz. (100 Year) copper roof.
  • Low-flow fixtures reduce wasted water.
  • Efficient active chilled beams reduce cooling loads.
  • Operable office windows improve comfort and encourage natural air circulation, reducing “shoulder” season HVAC use.
  • High-efficiency LED lighting, smart classroom and offices occupancy sensors, bi-level switching, and daylight dimming help the community reduce energy.
  • The building offers a 25 percent reduction in Lighting Power Density (Watts/sf) beyond ASHRAE standards.

Pitzer College Residence
By Carrier Johnson + CULTURE, Claremont, Calif.

The LEED Platinum-certified residence at Pitzer College in Los Angeles County is the second of three phases of the College’s housing master plan—the Residential Life Project, its green blueprint for an environmentally responsible development. The newest addition to the student village is a mixed-use residential hall that houses more than 300 students and was designed with more than 40 sustainable features, making Pitzer College one step closer to becoming the first college to have all Gold or higher LEED-certified dorms.

The village-like atmosphere encourages students to live all four years on campus, reducing their carbon footprint. The college’s environmental commitment is supported by promoting local lifestyles, including student-landscape areas, indoor and outdoor art galleries, and an exhibition kitchen for cooking classes. The importance of nature preservation and appreciation of open spaces is evident throughout the student village, where the green belt encompassing the new residential halls is equal in size to the footprint of the buildings. The diversity of the outdoor spaces is impressive, ranging from the amphitheater for live performances to the urban plaza as an informal gathering spot, recreational lawns for play, outdoor classroom space, and a nature preserve.

Energy preservation is maximized with a green roof, solar cells, and a plan boasting plentiful natural light and ventilation. Water is conserved at every turn, making use of low-flow fixtures, rain-water recycling, and a graywater system that treats wastewater from showers and sinks for landscape irrigation.

But it’s as much about the student experience as it is about preserving the world around them: the project’s “experiential” design ensures easy collaboration and interaction using shaded porches and cozy meeting nooks, mirroring Pitzer’s bungalow-style campus center, Grove House. And of course, the design highlights the buildings’ connection to the landscape with stunning views of the San Gabriel Mountains.

National Office Furniture Headquarters
By Gensler | Jasper, Ind.

Completed in August 2015, the new headquarters for National Office Furniture is a testament to the brand and its people. It welcomes customers to witness the latest in product, architectural, and sustainable design—while also offering employees choices of how and where they work, with a variety of “me” and “we” spaces.

Pursuing LEED certification, the facility utilizes daylighting, water-saving strategies, low-emitting paints and adhesives, and materials with recycled content. Energy efficiency and reduction in greenhouse gases are achieved with Energy Star HVAC equipment, LED lighting and controls, and a white roof. A natural palette of wood, metal, and concrete complement the manufacturer’s style.

A major priority of the space is to enhance four popular work styles: collaborate, learn, interact, and focus. The workspace is designed around collaboration, concentration, and chance encounters.

“Our old space had high workstations, and it didn’t highlight how new work styles bring people together,” explained Kevin McCoy, president of National Office Furniture. “We wanted to highlight our brand and philosophy, and how our offerings accommodate interaction.”

Another goal of the space is to enhance what McCoy called the “bump factor.” Building relationships is the key to personal and professional growth, he explained, and the workplace culture should embrace individuality as much as teamwork.

“We tried to create a lot of spaces for people to almost literally bump into each other. I see people every day now that I used to see a couple times per quarter,” McCoy said. “That’s not a great situation with only a couple hundred people in the building. People are utilizing the lounge spaces, café area, and small meeting rooms. We encourage people to get up and move around, sit out on the terrace. It makes everything more fun.”

National Office’s tagline is “Furniture with personality.” But McCoy offered a subtle twist on that: “It’s not necessarily the furniture that brings the personality—it’s the people that you interact with. It’s an experience we try to create and support.”


Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes
By the Design Alliance Architects
Pittsburgh, Pa.

Founded in 1893, the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is a public greenhouse and garden with missions to inspire and educate through the beauty and importance of plants, and to advance sustainability and promote human and environmental well-being through action and research.

A home-base for environmental education and research, as well as a space for visitors to explore, the site’s Center for Sustainable Landscapes is a 24,350-square-foot facility that became the first institution worldwide to achieve WELL Platinum Pilot Certification, in October of last year. It earned the distinction based on seven categories of building performance: air, water, light, nourishment, fitness, comfort, and mind.

“We see human and environmental health as inextricably connected. To be truly sustainable one must look at the building, the landscape, and human health,” said Richard Piacentini, executive director of Phipps. “We like to think in systems, which is how nature works. We want to maximize the relationships between humans and the rest of nature.”

The CSL challenges the perceived mutual exclusivity between built and natural environments, while highlighting occupant well-being. The facility includes features such as enhanced ventilation for occupant comfort, operable high performance low-e windows that provide fresh air, natural light and views of nature, and visual and auditory biophilic art. Other design elements include humidity control, advanced air and water purification systems, wellness literacy for occupants, and circadian lighting.

“As we spend more than 90 percent of our time indoors and as urbanization accelerates, the impact of buildings on our environment and on our health and wellness will continue to grow,” explained Paul Scialla, founder of the International WELL Buildings Institute. “We encourage designers to learn about and adopt building practices that are environmentally sustainable and support human health.”

Lake Nona Medical City
By Tavistock Development | Orlando, Fla.

Lake Nona Medical City is a 650-acre health and life sciences park. It represents a deliberate strategy to create a centralized focus of sophisticated medical treatment, research, and education in Central Florida. Several institutions anchor the development, including the University of Central Florida Health Sciences Campus, Nemours Children’s Hospital, and Orlando Veterans Affairs Medical Center—and it also entails retail, residential, and sports research spaces.

In addition to its cognizant culture of collaboration, the project caught our attention because of its holistic approach to health.

“A more traditional definition of sustainability incorporates things like LEED, and a number of our buildings have those certifications,” explained James Zboril, president of Tavistock Development Company, which owns Lake Nona. “But we wanted to do a little bit more. With real sustainability, we also think about job creation and education. A person could be born at Lake Nona, go from preschool through college, and never leave the property.”

Built on the proven theory that a cluster of facilities in proximity to one another will accelerate innovation, Lake Nona is an intellectual hub opened in a concerted effort and with a collective mission. It has become home to some of the nation’s top hospitals, universities, research institutions, and life science companies. These networks and synergies have made Orlando a global destination for healthcare, while boosting economic development in the region.

“We want to take these programs and bridge them to the community with things like trails, yoga in the park, marathon races,” Zboril said. “It’s a sustainable focus on wellness and fitness.”

That philosophy can serve as inspiration for design in other sectors, suggested Fernando Arias, director of strategic partnerships for ASID, which offered input on the project. “Integrating design elements that produce positive health outcomes—for the occupant and environment—is of major interested to the industry,” he explained. “The designer’s toolkit of solutions can address both.”

Huishan North Bund
By Perkins Eastman | Shanghai, China

To say that China has lagged behind in the sustainability movement is somewhat of an understatement. “Just six short years ago, the building community, the real estate community, developers in China, and corporations in China were not really focused on sustainability or issues pertaining to the environment,” explained Ming Wu, AIA, principal with Perkins Eastman.
Today, however, the story is much different, and the Chinese are wholeheartedly embracing
sustainability. One need look no further for an example of this paradigm shift than the ambitious Huishan North Bund project in Shanghai, a 2.7 million square-foot anchor redevelopment of the historic Hongkou District waterfront along the Huangpu River that has not only earned LEED Gold certification, but also BREEAM and China Green Building Assessment Standard designations.
Designed by EE&K, a Perkins Eastman company, the North Bund redevelopment comprises a total of eight new buildings and a new marina. Each building features a green roof, ice storage, operable windows, and raised floor systems to increase energy efficiency. Varied glass, steel, and terra cotta facades are designed for the controlled absorption of abundant sunlight as well as reflective light from the marina. These constructions—in addition to the esplanade, on-site storm water harvesting, and easy access to multiple modes of public transit—all represent a very comprehensive sustainability initiative.
“I think most cities in the world that are blessed with any kind of water frontage ... are coming to the realization that a waterfront of any kind is probably their most valuable natural asset. In terms of a business plan, this [project] is about restoring that waterfront to its newest and best uses,” said Wu. “Equally important is to reunite the citizenry with their waterfront after a long, long absence. It’s profoundly changed the quality of life for everyone who lives in the Huangpu District which is one of the core districts at the heart of Shanghai.”

Hilton Garden Inn LIC
By AJC Design | Long Island City, N.Y.

Hot off the presses, the Hilton Garden Inn LIC was completed just this past April. Located one subway stop from Manhattan in order to produce fewer carbon emissions from guests, this LEED Silver property calls one of the fastest-growing neighborhoods in the Queens borough home.

AJC Design focused on combining local construction materials and high-efficiency technologies, such as recycled heating and cooling created with an enthalpy wheel (which exchanges heat and humidity from one air-stream into another and helps provide fresher air to all spaces).

A tight building envelope prevents energy leakage, and helps the building use and waste less energy with the added benefit of uber-quiet guestrooms. The hotel also features a green room that reduces heat absorption, and has sedum plants to absorb rain volume and reduce city storm flow, protecting the city river from pollutants (not to mention absorbing carbon dioxide and providing a distinct visual enhancement to the building).

While a commitment to sustainability is evident in every detail, painstaking work was spent on ensuring the space was beautiful and welcoming as well. “I love the wooden ceiling at the reception area, and the artwork from Peter Glassford. Both add texture, warmth, and color to the space,” said Alicia Cannon, principal with AJC Design. The team brought in furniture with bright pops of yellow and orange and developed custom pieces like built-in casegoods to add luxury and space to small guestrooms.

Sounds like the Hilton Garden Inn offers a quiet respite that maintains the look—but not the chatter—of similar up-and-coming New York City neighborhoods.

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