LEED by Example
Almost nothing is greener than the U.S. Green Building Council headquarters, a Perkins + Will project in Washington, D.C.
Laura Fisher Kaiser -- Interior Design, 6/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
If schadenfreude were biofuel, Washington, D.C., could crank out enough energy to power the national grid. Executives at the U.S. Green Building Council knew from its inception in 1993 that they needed a national headquarters that walked the walk of the USGBC's own Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system, the benchmark for green buildings and interiors. Ironically, the success of the coalition—it now comprises 10,000 member organizations—had resulted in the office equivalent of urban sprawl, with ad hoc space for 70-plus staffers leased on three floors of a downtown building, little of it LEED-worthy. In a town rife with hypocrisy cops, one thing was certain: Wherever the USGBC chose to relocate and consolidate, only LEED Platinum would do. "If they couldn't do it, nobody could," says architect Holly Briggs, principal of Perkins + Will.
The USGBC started by leasing 25,000 square feet in a LEED Gold building near a Metro station (LEED points for public-transit proximity). Then Briggs and senior associate Gretchen Leigh mapped out a demolition plan to reuse or recycle 93 percent of the existing office's materials, including steel studs, MDF millwork, granite counters, glass doors, and more than 60 wooden doors, half of which had to be shortened. The designers also reused 30 percent of the furnishings.
All new materials had to meet green criteria, of course, and contribute to a larger narrative of sustainability. That story is explicitly told through graphics by Shaw-Jelveh Design. Mounted or suspended just about everywhere, acrylic arrows are imprinted with factoids pointing out the attributes of every resource. "Icestone is 100% recycled glass in a durable cement matrix," reads a typical message. These micro-billboards not only remind staffers of the USGBC mission but also educate the many tour groups that parade through—underscoring, Briggs says, that "sustainable design can be simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary. It's all about hidden performance."
USGBC member-manufacturers made such major donations as the bamboo end-grain laminate, linoleum flooring, and Energy Star–rated appliances in the pantry; the wood-composite paneling and renewable bamboo flooring in the reception area; and the recyclable carpet tile throughout. The designers had fun playing up the aesthetic merits of massive Douglas fir beams salvaged from a Department of Defense steel plant in Utah. Unevenly spaced, like a forest, they screen a vaguely elliptical conference room at the heart of the space. Bands of recycled stainless steel help hold the timbers in place, while blue resin panels—containing 40 percent postindustrial material—contribute color and a bit more privacy.
The recyclable ceiling-plank system was a big-ticket donation that the nonprofit was especially grateful for. Before the gift materialized, early renderings had left the entire ceiling and all mechanicals exposed and painted white, a good fit with both the less-is-more aesthetic and the sustainability ethos. Plus, in a city where very few buildings are permitted to be taller than 130 feet—resulting in shallow slab-to-slab floor heights, as developers cram in as many levels as possible—an exposed ceiling is a way to achieve a loftier effect. However, once the USGBC voiced concern about noise levels above the workstations and the ceiling system was simultaneously offered, Perkins + Will reversed course and designed a partial floating ceiling, garnering a few more LEED points along the way.
Each workstation features a Perkins + Will specialty, a "communication protocol indicator" that silently tells colleagues how well an interruption would be tolerated depending on which geometric shape is on top of a stack of three. (Green pyramid: Feel free to come in. Yellow sphere: If you must. Red cube: Don't even think about it.) The workstations' low partitions improve visual access to operable windows. Photo sensors, installed within 15 feet of the perimeter, "harvest" sunshine by detecting levels of natural light and adjusting the output of artificial light to create a balance. Fluorescent fixtures and 5-watt LED task lamps help achieve a 35 percent reduction in electricity usage for lighting, too.
All told, the interior racked up 45 of a possible 57 credits for LEED for Commercial Interiors. That's three points beyond Platinum. Whew.