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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.

August 03, 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.”



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