If one of the original occupants of the 1928 Mutual Building in Lansing, Mich., was to walk into the space today, the experience would be both familiar and astounding. The careful preservation of items, like the original bronze entrance, ornate stairwell, walnut office paneling and Pewabic wall tile with its characteristic iridescent glaze, would make the surroundings seem perfectly natural. Other new features would be no less than awe-inspiring. The building’s ability to merge historic preservation with sustainable attributes supports its second-place win in eco-structure’s inaugural Evergreen Awards’ “ecommercial” category.
Moving through The Christman Co.’s national corporate construction headquarters in the newly renamed Christman Building, the historic visitor would see an exciting, modern facility. Enormous amounts of daylight flood the interior from a skylit atrium that encloses the U-shaped building’s former light well. Combined with the large original perimeter windows and semi-enclosed offices with transparent glazing, natural light enters 92 percent of the occupied spaces. Electric lights go off automatically with occupancy controls and programmed timers throughout the space. An underfloor-air-distribution system gives employees the ability to adjust the temperature in their workspaces.
The results of the project’s design amaze contemporary visitors, as well. The 6-story, 60,000-square-foot (5574-m²) Christman Building, which was completed in January 2008, not only reclaimed a vacant structure on the National Register of Historic Places to help revitalize the city’s core, it managed to garner an unprecedented two LEED Platinum awards from the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council—one for LEED for Core and Shell and one for LEED for Commercial Interiors. The Christman Co. wanted no appreciable construction-cost increase, which demanded the project team meet the rigorous U.S. Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation to obtain $2.5 million in historic tax credits. With the credits, all sustainability initiatives added only 2 percent to the overall project cost, and the owner anticipates a two-year return on investment through energy efficiency. Energy-modeling projections show the building will exceed the Atlanta-based American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers Inc. 90.1-2004 standard, “Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-rise Residential Buildings,” by 34 percent. Water-efficient plumbing allows the building to reduce potable water and sewage use by 40 percent.
“The requirements of historic preservation sometimes clash with sustainable goals, but the Christman Building shows the diverse objectives aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s a great model of what can be achieved,” says Brooke Smith, principal of Detroit-based SmithGroup Inc., the building's design and engineering firm. The Christman Co.'s offices highlight its ability to sensitively renovate historic spaces while providing a fresh, innovative work environment. The offices are organized into “communities ” with mini-studio spaces to increase collaboration. The skylight extends above the parapet to showcase the original character of the light well, and a new inner courtyard serves as the office’s focal point. Evergreen Awards juror Bert Gregory, principal of Seattle-based Mithun, has experience working on a National Register building and was highly impressed with the project. “Meeting the energyefficiency parameters and historic criteria where tax credits are involved is not easy to do. In addition, the interior build-out skillfully addresses human well-being and architectural beauty. It’s a wonderful achievement.”
KJ FIELDS writes about architecture and sustainability from Portland, Ore.