By Ruth Wood-Steed
Have you ever noticed when flying into or out of St. Louis that it appears greener than most cities? Even on a hot summer day, our abundance of trees makes the Metro area look cool and inviting. The area is becoming green in another way as well—a way you might want to consider when moving or upgrading your current space.
Arcturis Principal Margaret McDonald
Professionals from five architectural and interiors firms, ACI/Boland, Arcturis, Cannon Design, Christner and Hellmuth Obata + Kassabaum (HOK), are part of the reason. In fact, they and their firms are so sold on the value of green, or environmentally-friendly design that it has become a routine part of their work, whether or not requested by their clients.
Does that mean their clients are paying a premium for their
services? Not really. Most agree that it doesnÕt have to be a more expensive alternative. As Cannon Design Project Manager Punit Jain explains: "You can see a green building that's $100 per square foot, and you can see a non-green building that's $100 per square foot," with the same applying to $500-per-square-foot buildings.
So, what is green design and why should you be interested? Very loosely, green design maximizes the use of renewable or recyclable materials and systems from local or regional sources that don't require long-distance transportation, and that conserve energy and natural resources. Green materials also don't emit unhealthy gases. In other words, green design is healthier, both to the environment as a whole and to building occupants. When you consider that healthier employees require fewer sick days, you can already begin to visualize the return for your investment.
There is a reason, however, that green design has the reputation of being costly. At one time, green products were more expensive, less easily available and less attractive
than they are today. Also, the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED¨) rating system, which formalizes green design and certifies buildings according to their level of environmentally-friendly design, requires a significant amount of documentation, adding additional cost to projects seeking certification.
Still, green products are more and more readily available, cost-effective and attractive. Arcturis Principal Margaret McDonald says the firmÕs product library has changed greatly over the past few years. "(We) used to have a separate shelf for green products, and you really can't do that anymore. It's just integrated through the whole library."
Bamboo products are a great example. McDonald talks about the product that was originally fairly neutral in color: "Fabrics woven out of bamboo fibers [now have] really beautiful, saturated colors and a really nice hand. [They] feel like wool."
Bamboo also can be used in a strikingly different way—as an alternative to wood. "It's a beautiful product," says HOK's Ryan Favier. The Web site bambootechnologies.com says that bamboo, which is technically a grass, regenerates naturally in three to five years, as opposed to 10 to 50 years for most softwoods and hardwoods"—and the wood itself is just as strong and just as durable as oak," he adds. Imagine that! A single product that in different forms can be used in both draperies and casework. Also, while it was once considerably more expensive, Favier says the price is gradually becoming more affordable.
Cannon Design, too, is very impressed with bamboo. In fact, the firm used bamboo casework in Washington University's Consortium for Translational Research in Advanced Imaging & Nanotechnology in midtown's CORTEX One.
Other, perhaps less easily noticeable materials also add greatly to a green environment. Washington University's Center for Orthopedic Medicine is a good example. ACI/Boland Principal Rick Clawson says the firm used: "recycled-content flooring, carpeting and wall coveringÑand low-VOC (volatile organic compound*) paints." Also, much of the building's furniture is being transferred from the Center's existing buildings (reusing existing furniture avoids filling up landfills). Clawson says the building's function makes its interiors difficult to design for LEED certification, but the university still is committed to green design. The firm currently is seeking certification for the shell and core, which they also designed.
Factors other than product composition also are sometimes considered. Christner researched manufacturers when designing the Missouri Botanical Garden's (MBG) Monsanto Center in 1995, before LEED. Christner associate Grace Crews Corbin discusses the project. "We went beyond, in many cases, LEED standards, because we investigated the policies of manufacturers of products we used. We wanted to know not that this particular (product) was a green product, but that they as a company were committed." Also, furniture dealers had to lease space off-site to off-gas furniture before installing it, in order to remove any toxic gases or particulates that could harm the facility's indoor air quality and harm MBG employees.
HOK's Ryan Favier
Obviously, green design must be catching on, or there wouldn't be enough demand for prices to be dropping. Who else is using it? HOK obtained LEED certification for their recent St. Louis office renovation. It is among five HOK offices that now have achieved some level of LEED certification.
Cannon Design and Arcturis both are relocating. Both are researching green design at a minimum, and possibly some level of LEED certification, even though the buildings into which theyÕre moving are not green. Okay, so you might expect architectural firms to go green. Who else?
Enterprise Rent-A-Car's Fleet Operations
Center with LEED-Commercial Interiors-silver
certification by Christner.
Enterprise Rent-A-Car's Fleet Operations Center on Hanley Road (LEED-Commercial Interiors Silver-Christner), Enterprise Rent-A-Car's Call Center (Arcturis), Solae's new headquarters (Cannon Design) and Boston Logan Airport's Delta Airlines Terminal (HOK) are only a small sampling of green and LEED-certified buildings designed by these St. Louis firms. ACI/Boland is even working with two confidential national developers on new, speculative buildings to be LEED-certified.
Why are these companies and others going green? Are they tree huggers? Perhaps. Still there are other equally valid reasons. Marketability. Lower overall utility bills. Healthier, happier, more productive employees. These architects and interior designers agree that there can be a return on investment for green design in 10 years or less.
Asked what advice they would offer someone considering green design, all agreed—Go for it!
* Volatile organic compounds emit chemicals which can be hazardous to health.