Currently Reading

GREEN BUILDING GIANTS: Sustainability leaders turn to wellness and technology to get an edge

GREEN BUILDING GIANTS: Sustainability leaders turn to wellness and technology to get an edge

AEC leaders in green building are stepping up to a higher level of innovation and to be a green leader today, you have to dig deeper into data.

By Peter Fabris, Contributing Editor | August 3, 2016

The Chespapeake Bay Foundation’s Brock Environmental Center, Virginia Beach, Va., is only the eleventh building to earn Living Building Challenge status. It generated 83% more energy than it used over the past year and treats rainwater so that it is drinkable. SmithGroupJJR led the Building Team: Skanska (owner’s rep), A+F Engineering (SE), WPL (CE), Biohabitats (water treatment), The Façade Group (BECx), and Hourigan Construction (GC). Photo: Prakash Patel / courtesty SmithGroupJJR

The easiest and most cost-effective strategies in sustainable design—daylighting, optimal building orientation, a tight envelope, super-efficient HVAC systems, LED lighting—are taken for granted today. AEC leaders in green building are stepping up to a higher level of innovation.

Rank, Firm, 2015 Revenue
1. Gensler $768,470,000
2. Stantec $331,794,291
3. HOK $280,570,000
4. Perkins+Will $195,460,000
5. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill $175,140,374
6. HKS $163,696,602
7. EYP $137,479,466
8. SmithGroupJJR $122,636,361
9. CallisonRTKL $104,462,061
10. CannonDesign $69,400,000



Rank, Firm, 2015 Revenue
1. Turner Construction Co. $5,701,000,000
2. Clark Group $2,620,000,000
3. Hensel Phelps $2,286,280,000
4. Skanska USA $1,941,400,000
5. Swinerton Inc. $1,918,000,000
6. Gilbane Building Co. $1,746,261,000
7. Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., The $1,600,777,900
8. Suffolk Construction Co. $1,514,705,316
9. Structure Tone $1,460,800,000
10. Holder Construction Co. $1,335,000,000



Rank, Firm, 2015 Revenue
1. Jacobs $203,161,333
2. AECOM $200,900,000
3. Arup $168,783,060
4. Thornton Tomasetti $67,382,221
5. Syska Hennessy Group $32,420,857
6. Burns & McDonnell $24,341,832
7. Vanderweil Engineers $23,508,800
8. Smith Seckman Reid $20,189,000
9. DeSimone Consulting Engineers $19,799,641
10. Dewberry $19,159,460




Some have created tools that aid designers’ ability to more precisely compare the projected energy performance of various design concepts, materials, and equipment choices. Designers can kick the tires on an array of options early in the design process. 

Occupant wellness and comfort have also gained increasing prominence, especially since the signing of a partnership between the International WELL Building Institute and the U.S. Green Building Council in 2014. “If it doesn’t enhance the wellness of occupants, it’s not really sustainable,” says Mike Szabo, OAA, AIBC, Principal, Diamond Schmitt Architects.

To be a green leader today, you have to dig deeper into data. For Diamond Schmitt, existing energy models only go so far. “We have a diverse portfolio, and we don’t do prescriptive design,” Szabo says. To improve the quality of data for its project types, the firm, in collaboration with the engineering firm RWDI, developed a visual database with energy simulation models. The models take energy-load information from the firm’s portfolio and extrapolate predictive data that is used in the early stages of design. 

“There are a series of filters—location, heating, process loads, etc.—so you can drill down beyond a single measure of energy usage per square meter,” Szabo says. “This allows us to ask the right questions about the core issues that make projects perform more efficiently.”

On a recent master-planning project for a mixed-use development, the tool helped the firm and the client choose from among three possible site configurations to find the best orientation for energy efficiency. 

ZGF Architects has also found existing databases, such as Energy Star, lacking. The firm specializes in the design of hospitals, laboratories, and research facilities, all of which have higher-than-average energy loads. “The actual performance of these buildings is driven largely by the program,” says Associate Partner Vikram Sami, AIA, BEMP, LEED BD+C. 

Using publicly available data from the Department of Energy, ASHRAE, and its own projects, ZGF developed an energy-load database for such project types. The data is stored on Microsoft Excel and maps to Revit. Designers filter the data according to the program of individual spaces—climate, equipment loads, and other factors—to get fairly reliable answers to what-if questions about energy demand and savings. ZGF’s Energy Programming Dashboard helps its designers obtain energy load information on individual pieces of equipment—pumps, heating units, lighting fixtures—which can then be combined to create the optimal aggregation of equipment.

on the wellness front

ZGF has teamed up with researchers at the University of Washington on Lark Spectral Lighting. The tool allows designers to use spectral data to define how the quality of light impacts not only a physical space, but also the occupants. The color and quality of light affect humans’ circadian rhythms, sleeping patterns, and alertness, which can impact employee productivity. 

“The spectral content of light sources changes as the light bounces off of surfaces,” says ZGF Associate Ed Clark, LEED AP BD+C. The choice of materials and color schemes for ceilings, walls, floors, and furniture influences the quality of light. Darker colors absorb light; lighter colors are more reflective. The Lark tool (free download at: www.food4rhino.com/project/lark) provides a model that helps designers configure optimal combinations of lights and interior materials. 

How architectural features impact wellness is an ever-growing competitive consideration for AEC firms that design and construct new office space. KSS Architects encountered this in its work for Burlington Stores.

The off-price retailer wanted its new headquarters in New Jersey to appeal to Millennials. KSS’s design encourages workers to get out of their chairs and move about the facility during the day. A large café has extensive indirect daylighting, bright colorscapes, and long, European-style tables. The space is busy throughout the workday, not just at mealtimes, notes Ed Klimek, AIA, NCARB, Partner, KSS Architects.

Small nooks outfitted with furniture are spread throughout the building. Outdoor seating is arranged on the north side of the structure. These features are tailored especially for the young professionals accustomed to working untethered from their desks. “The design was a response to an emerging generation of people with new expectations of what a workplace should be,” Klimek says. 

Elevators are pushed to the side of a large, sweeping staircase to encourage employees to take the stairs. Spaces that foster physical activity—and add variability to workspaces, seating postures, and scenery—are believed to promote a healthier style of work. 

The project included many LEED-blessed approaches, but the owner chose not to apply for certification. “It’s less about getting the plaque and more about how design can have a direct impact on sustainability, wellness, and saving money,” Klimek says. “It’s about looking for unique ways your project can address sustainability, not because they are cool, but because they matter.”



Related Stories

University Buildings | Sep 27, 2023

Top 170 University Building Architecture Firms for 2023

Gensler, CannonDesign, Page Southerland Page, SmithGroup, and Ayers Saint Gross top the ranking of the nation's largest university sector architecture and architecture/engineering (AE) firms, as reported in Building Design+Construction's 2023 Giants 400 Report.

Affordable Housing | Sep 25, 2023

3 affordable housing projects that serve as social catalysts

Trish Donnally, Associate Principal, Perkins Eastman, shares insights from three transformative affordable housing projects.

Resiliency | Sep 25, 2023

National Institute of Building Sciences, Fannie Mae release roadmap for resilience

The National Institute of Building Sciences and Fannie Mae have released the Resilience Incentivization Roadmap 2.0. The document is intended to guide mitigation investment to prepare for and respond to natural disasters.

Data Centers | Sep 21, 2023

North American data center construction rises 25% to record high in first half of 2023, driven by growth of artificial intelligence

CBRE’s latest North American Data Center Trends Report found there is 2,287.6 megawatts (MW) of data center supply currently under construction in primary markets, reaching a new all-time high with more than 70% already preleased. 

Giants 400 | Sep 20, 2023

Top 130 Hospitality Facility Architecture Firms for 2023

Gensler, WATG, HKS, and JCJ Architecture top BD+C's ranking of the nation's largest hospitality facilities sector architecture and architecture/engineering (AE) firms for 2023, as reported in Building Design+Construction's 2023 Giants 400 Report. Note: This ranking includes revenue for all hospitality facilities work, including casinos, hotels, and resorts. 

Adaptive Reuse | Sep 19, 2023

Transforming shopping malls into 21st century neighborhoods

As we reimagine the antiquated shopping mall, Marc Asnis, AICP, Associate, Perkins&Will, details four first steps to consider.

Giants 400 | Sep 18, 2023

Top 200 Office Building Architecture Firms for 2023

Gensler, Stantec, HOK, and Interior Architects top BD+C's ranking of the nation's largest office building sector architecture and architecture/engineering (AE) firms for 2023, as reported in Building Design+Construction's 2023 Giants 400 Report. Note: This ranking includes revenue for all office building work, including core and shell projects and workplace/interior fitouts. 

Resort Design | Sep 18, 2023

Luxury resort provides new housing community for its employees

The Wisteria community will feature a slew of exclusive amenities, including a market, pub, and fitness center, in addition to 33 new patio homes.

Life of an Architect Podcast | Sep 18, 2023

Life of an Architect Podcast Ep. 134: Management 101

It happens to most people eventually. Some get there quickly, while others take a bit longer. Transitioning into a management role is a natural evolution of skill development, but that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier. Chances are you’re ready for management, but in case you’ve questions, we think we have answers.

Hotel Facilities | Sep 15, 2023

The next phase of sustainability in luxury hotels

The luxury hotel market has seen an increase in green-minded guests looking for opportunities to support businesses that are conscientious of the environment.


More In Category


Most Popular Content

  1. 2021 Giants 400 Report
  2. Top 150 Architecture Firms for 2019
  3. 13 projects that represent the future of affordable housing
  4. Sagrada Familia completion date pushed back due to coronavirus
  5. Top 160 Architecture Firms 2021