Natalie and I recently toured the Alberici Construction office building and grounds on Page Avenue. Alberici offers a once a month tour of their Platinum-rated LEED - Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design facility. This particular tour, sponsored by Jessica Hoagland of Green Spiral Tours, boasted not only Alberici's regular and extremely knowledgeable tour guide, but also, the architect who designed the building, John C. Guenther, FAIA, LEED AP. [For more on John, please scroll down to the bottom of this article.]
Natalie and I have a level of knowledge about the elements of green interior design, but the world of green architectural design was exciting and totally new to me. Nat who had a background from her college studies and early career, was very impressed with the building.
We tour participants learned that the five LEED standards are:
- Sustainable Sites
- Water Efficiency
- Energy and Atmosphere
- Materials and Resources
- Indoor Environmental Quality
These standards have been adjusted over time. The U.S. Green Building Council currently includes standards for Innovation, for Regional Priority Credits, and for Location & Transportation. If you would like to learn more, there's a link to the Council at the end of this article.
The design of the Alberici building and campus took all five LEED standards to the highest level possible! Here are just a few of the particulars...
SUSTAINABLE SITES: The site was redeveloped making good use of the existing structures on the property. Steel girders from those original buildings were reused to create a multi-level parking garage. Ten thousand tons of concrete rubble from the teardown of the original structures was used as landfill to remedy the site's drainage run-off problems. Two ponds were created to enhance the landscape and retain 100% of the storm water, thus avoiding the need for the storm waters to be processed by MSD. The use of native plant species in the landscaping removed the need for lawn watering and cutting, reducing both energy needs and mower emissions and also saving money! The white, highly reflective roofing on both the parking garage and the office building reduces the "heat island" effect. [Heat islands are created by surfaces absorbing heat during the day and re-radiating that heat back out into the atmosphere at night, often causing cities to be hotter and dryer than the surrounding countryside.]
WATER USE EFFICIENCY: A thirty-eight thousand gallon underground cistern stores captured rainwater for later use in sewage conveyance, thus eliminating the need to use potable/treated water for flushing. Between this and the no-irrigation-needed landscaping, water usage was reduced by 70%.
ENERGY AND ATMOSPHERE: An energy model computer program was used to aid in the design of this highly energy-efficient building. The obvious choice was made to begin with a well-insulated building. Then, high performance glazing was used for the windows throughout. An under floor air distribution system delivers fresh air to the occupants. As hot spent air rises it is vented out at the roof level. A special "weather station" automatically opens windows at the highest level to vent out the hot air in the warmer months. Solar collectors provide almost 100% of all water heating needs. The wind turbine you see as you pass the Alberici site when driving near Page and 170 provides 15 - 20% of the annual electrical energy needed. Energy efficient lighting fixtures with sensors also contribute to overall energy conservation.
MATERIALS AND RESOURCES: Flooring, paints, and furnishings selected were those with the least out-gassing and the smallest carbon footprint: low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints, recycled plastics, and rapidly renewable resources such as bamboo and cork. The furniture chosen was assembled without glues, avoiding those oftentimes-dangerous chemicals. Recycled and locally sourced materials were given preference in the selection process. And, the choice of these materials contributes to a healthier Indoor Environmental Quality. More on that below...
INDOOR ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY: Through clever design and placement of windows and overhangs in the new saw-tooth shaped addition to the office building, the patterns of solar and wind are put to optimal use. The winter sun supplies much of that season's light and heat. In summer, the overhangs offer shade from the sun's heat. Occupants have access to daylight, outdoor views, and natural ventilation. And, employees are free to open windows to bring in fresh air in warmer seasons. The under floor and roof-level venting air distribution system (mentioned in the Energy and Atmosphere section) efficiently ventilates the building while significantly reducing the amount of re-circulated air, thus providing the freshest air to the building occupants. It should go without saying that Alberici is a smoke-free environment. That, plus the on-campus fitness center has led to improved employee health.
Here's a small blurb from the Alberici web site, from the "Indoor Environmental Quality" section:
"A study of occupants in 40 commercial buildings found that workers in buildings with high ventilation rates had 34% fewer short-term absences than workers in buildings with standard (to code) ventilation rates. Effective ventilation and avoidance of toxic indoor materials are the keys to healthy indoor air, helping us avoid many diseases and increasing our vitality and productivity."
In our tour we learned that in green architectural design the goal is to integrate the LEED standards with a plan for the comfort of the building's occupants. Architect John C. Guenther did just that, and in addition, he designed a building with long-lasting potential, and, at a reasonable cost! Through his creative re-purposing of the buildings/materials original to the site, the facility was built at a cost equal to non-LEED construction. Given the savings to the Alberici Company in utility costs alone, this building has proved to be a very economical investment!
A surprising comment from architect John Guenther: he remembers how sad the construction workers were when they completed this building. I assumed they felt a great deal of pride while working on this environmentally sound project and were sorry to see it come to an end. And yes, that was true. But also, they were sad to be finishing the project because they would then be going back into the world of traditional NON-green building: using materials that caused many of them to come home at the end of the work day feeling head-achy and sick. How telling!
To learn more, you can read Alberici's on-line brochure by clicking here:
To tour Alberici, call and ask about the public tours (at 2 pm every first Wednesday of the month) or schedule your own group tour by calling 733-2000 x32430.
If you'd like information on future Green Spiral Tours, go to: www.greenspiraltours.com
You can read Jessica Hoagland's blog, "Green Building Tours/Green Spiral Writes" by clicking on: https://jzika.wordpress.com/2013/03/04/green-infrastructure/ or at: https://jzika.wordpress.com/
John C. Guenther, FAIA (Fellow of the American Institute of Architecture), LEED AP (Accredited Professional) was with Mackey Mitchell Architects from 1979-2009 and a Principal responsible for design. John designed the Alberici Headquarters while with Mackey Mitchell Architects, the Architects of Record for the Alberici project. Among John's other projects of note while with Mackey Mitchell Architects: Saint Louis University's Chaifetz Arena, the Science Center at Principia College, the Center for Molecular Electronics at UMSL, the Center for Plant Conservation at the Missouri Botanical Gardens, and so many more...
John is now Principal of:
John C. Guenther Architect LLC and may be reached at 314-560-1493.
If you'd like to learn more about current LEED standards, click on this link to the U.S. Green Building Council: http://www.usgbc.org/LEED/
If you have an interest in green interior design call Deborah and Natalie at
Terra Decorating Services: 314-544-2555