The Top 10 Beyond LEED

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

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.

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