Sustainable Design – The Right Thing to Do
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By Prescott D. (Scott) May, AIA,
A commitment to sustainable design is an investment for the future that has tangible results for today. The USGBC defines sustainability as “meeting the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” For architects, sustainable design is a logical moral extension of the charge to protect the health, safety, and welfare of building occupants. For builders, sustainable designs can hedge their ability to construct in the future by conserving building materials to be used on other projects, and hence affect the ultimate cost of their trade. For owners, sustainable design yields quantitative and qualitative advantages. In particular, corporate and higher education leaders can gain political capital by promoting strategies that benefit a wide constituency, as well as reap the economic benefits of the responsible use of resources. And for building occupants, sustainable design can affect not only the quality of experience in the built environment, but also the natural en ironment. We all can contribute to sustainable design.
Although sustainable design has moved to the forefront of design and construction only recently, it has been gaining strength and legitimacy through the efforts of the USGBC and the LEED® Rating System. In the years since the first release of the LEED® Version 1.0 Pilot Program in 1998, the advancement of sustainable design has been remarkable. Embraced by such early proponents as William McDonough, Ray Anderson, and Paul Hawken; sustainable design, manufacturing, and construction has gained substantial momentum and is forming the basis for the award of many contemporary design commissions.
Furman University, a private liberal arts university located in Greenville, South Carolina, adopted a campus-wide sustainability policy early in the design phase of the renovations and expansion of the James B. Duke Library. The mandate was clear: all capital projects undertaken by the university would pursue a minimum of Silver Level Certification under the LEED® Rating System. A desire to make a strong statement regarding Furman’s environmental responsibility to the community, state, and higher education community has resulted in policies that embrace waste and material recycling at several levels, the use of alternative transportation modes, economies in utility usage, and environmental quality, including new and renovated construction. The policy also directly affects the award of commissions for design and construction of all university capital projects.
Consistent with the goals of “environmental responsibility, resource efficiency, occupant comfort, and community sensitivity,” the design and construction team, which included architects, engineers, constructors, building occupants, building users, and university faculty and staff, approached the expansion of the existing 1958 library with a goal of completely renovating and expanding the structure from 65,000 to 135,000 square feet. A holistic design approach was adopted in which a series of architectural and engineering analyses were undertaken to identify and confirm sustainable design strategies.
The campus offered several viable opportunities, such as an existing lake that afforded water efficient storm drainage management and landscape irrigation. A network of accessible pathways throughout the campus was utilized for efficient electric cart transportation services, as well as bicycle use, for which showers and locker/changing rooms were provided in the renovated building.
Building specific strategies included the integration of daylighting and artificial lighting technologies. Occupancy sensors, daylighting sensors, high efficiency fixtures, digitally controlled mechanically operated shading systems, and high performance glazing were optimized for orientation, interior views, and energy conservation. A resulting decrease in conditioned air loading resulted in a high performance mechanical system that employed CO2 sensor controls, coupled with a building automation system that can be remotely controlled from the central energy plant offices. High efficiency filtration media and economizer operation of the systems resulted in occupant comfort and minimized concentrations of air-borne allergens. Because archival collections and paper media of many of the collections are moisture and temperature sensitive, the design team employed an air barrier system on the new construction to reduce the effects of casual infiltration through the untreated joints that can occur in typical const uction technologies.
Not all of the strategies pursued were building design dependent. The contractor developed a construction waste management program that resulted in diverting more than 400 tons of construction and demolition waste materials from the landfill. Materials removed from the site were sorted by the waste collection service and sent to various recycling operations. Packaging wastes were kept to a minimum; and strict control over construction dust and debris, such as following ASHRAE recommendations for temporarily covering or sealing air distribution systems during construction, resulted in a clean environment upon occupancy. Challenges, such as partial occupancy of the building while the expansion and renovations were in process, took close coordination between the owner, architect, and constructor, but the efforts reaped substantial benefits.
After more than a year of occupancy, the building is performing well, and the owner is reaping the benefits of an energy efficient building system as well as the prestige of a functioning and visible environmental policy. As stewards of the owner’s capital resources, the design team can offer the hope of maximizing the owner’s investment in the built environment and can offer future generations the opportunity to meet their needs without compromise. The future of sustainable design is not in question; it is the only viable path forward in our resource-limited environment. Adopting a commitment to sustainability can result in tangible benefits for today and will help preserve opportunities in our not too distant future. Designers, manufacturers, constructors, and consumers can help educate and encourage one another towards a more responsible use of our environmental and economic capital.
A note about the author: Prescott D. (Scott) May, AIA, LEED-AP, is a Principal with the firm of Neal Prince + Partners Architects in Greenville, South Carolina. Mr. May has over 25 years of experience in the design and construction industry and gained LEED® accreditation in 2000. His firm is currently involved with several LEED® registered projects and incorporates sustainable design principles in all projects regardless of formal project LEED® participation.