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Adapting Visions of Sustainability Call for Existing Buildings to Adapt as Well

Renovation and restoration are a dominant theme among this year's COTE Top Ten Award recipients.

By Kim A. O'Connell

AIA-Slideshow

Wayne N. Aspinall Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse

The south elevation of the Aspinall Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Colorado. Image courtesy of Kevin G. Reeves.

Wayne N. Aspinall Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse

New Lobby design elements compliment historic features. Image courtesy of Kevin G. Reeves.

Wayne N. Aspinall Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse

A roof-mounted photovoltaic array is just one of the active sustainability systems that help get the project to net zero energy usage. Image courtesy of Westlake Reed Leskosky.

Wayne N. Aspinall Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse

An upper floor corridor in the Aspinall Courthouse and Federal Building. Image courtesy of Kevin G. Reed.

Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building

The southwest fašade of the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building. Image courtesy of Nic Lehoux.

Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building

An integrated shade/light reflector façade system is integral to the building’s low energy use. Image courtesy of Jeremy Bittermann.

Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building

The façade system’s vertical reeds provide occupants a connection to nature and support a flora onsite. Image courtesy of Nic Lehoux.

Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building

Openings cut in the existing slab provide daylight for below-grade spaces. Image courtesy of Nic Lehoux.

Arizona State University Health Services Building

The Arizona State University Health Services Building. Image courtesy of Bill Timmerman.

Arizona State University Health Services Building

The interior of the Arizona State University Health Services Building. Image courtesy of Bill Timmerman.

Arizona State University Health Services Building

Clinics and offices are located along the south and west, minimizing glazing along these sun-absorbing sides, with more open light-filled waiting areas (like this one) on the opposite ends of the building. Image courtesy of Bill Timmerman.

Arizona State University Health Services Building

The Arizona State University Health Services Building combines new construction with renovated spaces. Image courtesy of Bill Timmerman.

Bushwick Inlet Park

Bushwick Inlet Park in Brooklyn, N.Y, designed by Kiss + Cathcart, Architects. Malcolm Pinckney © 2013 New York City, NYC Parks.

Bushwick Inlet Park

A low-slope zigzag path connects the park to the green roof. Image courtesy of Paul Warchol.

Bushwick Inlet Park

Despite the subterranean theme of the lobby with its tree-root chandeliers, all interior spaces are daylit, and several open to shared outdoor space. Image courtesy of Paul Warchol.

Bushwick Inlet Park

The west-facing green roof overlooks the playing fields to Manhattan beyond. Image courtesy of Paul Warchol.



A Neoclassical century-old courthouse, an inefficient desert health center, an industrial brownfield, and an outdated office building—four projects, four programs, and four problems. In each case, the architects and clients made the often difficult decision to renovate and remodel rather than build new. Doing so helped them all win recognition in the AIA’s prestigious COTE Top Ten awards this year, saluting the greenest projects in the nation.

Although preservationists have been preaching adaptive reuse for many years, it’s an idea that has taken hold in the green building sector as well, with increasing efforts to preserve the embodied energy in buildings and limit the waste associated with demolition and new construction. The nearly half of recognized projects represents more renovation and adaptively reused projects than have appeared in the list in the last several years. This realization of value is coming from beyond the AIA, as well. For example, the U.S. Green Building Council has expanded its LEED certification system to better serve existing and historic building projects.

Aside from the ecological benefits, another reason for the rise in adaptive reuse projects may be the recent soft economy, which tends to favor renovation over new construction. Two of this year’s COTE reuse projects, in fact, are federal buildings funded with American Reinvestment and Recovery Act money. “I think the emphasis on adaptive reuse reflects the state of the economy when these projects were undertaken,” says Fritz Steiner, Assoc. AIA, dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin and a member of the COTE jury. “There were fewer new projects and more reuse. In a larger sense, though, reuse and preservation efforts are quite sustainable in that new resources are not employed and existing resources are conserved.”

High-tech and low-tech

Renovating an existing building means working within certain unavoidable constraints. At the Wayne N. Aspinall Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Grand Junction, Colo., the primary constraint was the circa 1918 42,000-square-foot Neoclassical structure itself, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the intervening decades since its construction, the building had become cramped and outdated, and some historic features had been obscured.

Led by the General Services Administration and a design-build partnership between the architect of record Beck and design architect Westlake Reed Leskosky (WRL), the design aims to be GSA’s first Site Net-Zero Energy facility on the National Register. The building targets net zero through a roof canopy–mounted 123 kW photovoltaic array (set back so as not to detract from the building’s monumental appearance), additional insulation, a 32-well geothermal system, and upgrades to fixtures and lighting. Through a thorough research and documentation process, the design team was able to preserve and restore certain historic features in the most prominent areas while using less visible areas, such as the basement, for building services.

But these relatively high-tech buildings systems weren’t the only critical players in the project’s energy portfolio. For WRL Managing Principal Paul Westlake Jr., FAIA, the Aspinall building demonstrated “the high value of investment in fairly low-tech measures, such as envelope upgrades, to dramatically increase energy efficiency.”

Similarly, the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building project modernized an 18-story office tower in downtown Portland, Ore. The 40-year-old building, renovated by the GSA, required a complete upgrade to accommodate workspaces for 17 federal agencies. The most significant aspect of the new design involved transforming the existing precast concrete façade into a high-performance curtain wall, with elevation-specific shading devices whose placement was determined by extensive digital modeling. Recladding the building resulted in the removal of over 3,300 tons of concrete, which was reused as roadbed, thus reducing the building’s weight so much that a seismic upgrade was not needed.

For the project’s architects, SERA and Cutler Anderson Architects, these digital models provided critical tools that allowed them to make design decisions with certainty. “What an incredible difference it was having absolute metrics made on the project,” says Lisa Petterson, associate principal and director of sustainability resources for SERA, the lead designers on the Wyatt building. “Decisions could be linked to a specific requirement, as opposed to abstract goals that aren’t always clearly defined.”

Making connections

For the renovated Arizona State University Health Services Building in Tempe, the designers—Lake|Flato Architects in partnership with orcutt|winslow—knew they wanted to save as much of the existing facility as possible. Their original plan was to renovate the entire 25,000-square-foot facility while adding 9,000 square feet of new construction. After a thorough programming and cost-benefit analysis, however, the designers determined that it would be more efficient to renovate a 14,500-square-foot, two-story wing of the existing building, deconstruct the oldest single-story section, and construct a new 20,000-square-foot two-story addition. The resulting building greatly increased the facility’s efficiency, reducing its footprint by 20 percent, and preserving 5,000 square feet of open green space.

Based on the site’s orientation, the team devised passive solutions to reduce the building’s thermal loads. As a result, clinics and offices are located along the south and west, minimizing glazing along these sun-absorbing sides, with more open waiting areas on the opposite ends of the building. Perhaps most significantly, the project reoriented the building’s main entry pavilion so that it directly engages Palm Walk, a historic pedestrian walkway through the campus. “The building and landscape promote health and wellness through design,” Steiner says.

“Most of the solutions we found for the project to achieve success were already existing,” says Andrew Herdeg, FAIA, a partner at Lake|Flato. “We just had to assemble the puzzle pieces and apply them to this project.”

Finally, at Bushwick Inlet Park in Brooklyn, N.Y., the task was to reuse not an existing building but an environmentally degraded brownfield. Bordering the East River in the northern Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint, the park sits on a former industrial site once surrounded by oil refineries and gas plants. Led by Kiss + Cathcart, Architects, the designers have transformed the site into a 6.2-acre park that now includes athletic fields, a community center, and a park maintenance facility. Most ingeniously, the park actually wraps over the community building’s west side, turning the building into a green hill that is fully accessible. And Bushwick Inlet Park is just the beginning. It’s the first step in redeveloping up to 50 acres of waterfront parkland along the East River.

The rehabilitation was often difficult, for both bureaucratic and logistical reasons, according to Clare Miflin, an associate principal with the firm. To rehabilitate the site, the team worked with the New York Office of Environmental Remediation (OER), which had assumed oversight of the project from another agency. “[And] despite the fact [that] we did a ground-penetrating radar survey,” Miflin says, “we still found three steel fuel tanks, buried pretty deep, that needed to be disposed of, per OER requirements.” Yet other “finds” were more useful, such as the granite cobblestones discovered during excavation that were reused for edging along a walkway.

Like the other projects, the building is oriented to protect against excessive solar heat gain, with the hill sloping down to the northwest. To accommodate the park’s 1,000 daily visitors, the design team installed highly efficient low-flow fixtures that save 47 percent of water usage over the baseline. Rainwater is collected from pervious paved surfaces to irrigate the vegetated hill slope, and all other water passes through a wetland garden on the site, or infiltrates through the soil, sending no stormwater into the New York City sewer system.

Overall, the jury praised the strong connections that each project made with its particular landscape and site. “In general, the projects went far beyond mere landscaping or external decoration,” Steiner says. “They made profound connections with the deep structures of [their] place—that is, with the fundamental natural and cultural processes where they [are] located.”



Recent Related:

BNIM’s COTE Top Ten Plus Recipient Sets the Pace for Utility Efficiency

COTE Top Ten: A Tale of Two Houses

How 355 11th Street Won the First COTE Top Ten Plus Award

SERA’s Portland Federal Building: Big Data, Big Buildings, Big BIM


Reference:

The 2014 AIA COTE Top Ten

COTE Top Ten List—2013

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