When the Katherine K. Hanley family shelter in Fairfax, Va., opened last August, it was greeted with fanfare and gratitude. One of the first homeless shelters in the country to receive a Green Globes certification from the Portland, Ore.-based Green Building Initiative, it was designed to emphasize aesthetics, as well as green strategies. The subtle and welcoming 16,931-square-foot (1573-m2) facility is located in a picturesque neighborhood and overlooks a nature preserve.

Beyond the stunning architecture and savvy environmental nature of the structure, the shelter has a different kind of story. For the 20 families taking up temporary residence in the building, the eco-friendly home offers safety and hope. It provides a secure location for these families to get back on their feet.



The Hanley Family Shelter grew out of Fairfax County’s dedication to green building and its ongoing commitment to tread lightly on the environment. These goals was further encouraged by the project architects’ focus on sustainable design. The completed shelter serves as an example of how green principles and techniques can be applied to any type of building and can be a boon to the community. It provides a very real and successful example of the benefits of working with certification systems, like Green Globes.

“Why not build a homeless shelter, or any public building, in a sustainable manner?” asks architect Reuben Hameed of Alexandria, Va.-based Wisnewski Blair & Associates, the project’s design firm. “This county believes in that concept, as does our firm. We’re all starting to realize sustainability is the key to having better overall projects and reducing the impact of what we do as designers and construction professionals.”

Like most public buildings, the project had several constraints and challenges from the beginning. The initial goal for the project design was to fit into the context of the neighborhood. The shelter would stand on a 5.7-acre (2.3-hectare) site in a residential area filled with neighbors who are concerned about old-growth trees and opposed to having a monstrous building in their midst.

The builders and planners came up against another significant challenge early in the project. Skyrocketing building costs from oil-price spikes and material shortages threatened the shelter's construction and placed pressure on its green goals. The architects presented an option ideal for a building with smaller square footage and restricted costs. By adhering to Green Globes standards, the project was able to address budget challenges while still achieving its sustainability goals.

For the planners of the Hanley Family Shelter, the Green Globes online tool meant having constant access to a sustainable design-build consultant and a cost-effective, flexible means to accrue points toward a green certification.

“The questionnaire aspect got us thinking about how to keep the building green and stay on track with the project,” Hameed says. “[The GBI was] very involved and helpful in answering our questions and concerns.”


Green Globes is a holistic online management tool that uses questionnaires and what-if scenarios to guide design and building. The system encourages the pursuit of green elements early in the project, rather than tacking on haphazard and often

expensive features after the fact. The methodology of Green Globes meshed well with the team’s goals and needs.

“We approached the project in a holistic way,” says Ken Lim, project manager for the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services. “We first considered the entire site; the goal was to use a minimum footprint to build and operate. We conserved a large portion of the area for a natural tree preserve and reserved part of the acreage for transitional housing. Outside the building we came up with a parking lot with favored spots for carpoolers. We also made bicycle racks and an off- site trail that connects to the shelter through a pedestrian walkway.”


To replicate the Virginia residential style, the shelter uses uses brick, fiber-cement siding and light-colored shingles that reduce the heat-island effect. All materials were selected from Virginia and Maryland to reduce the cost and environmental impact of hauling. In addition to wood, concrete and other building supplies that were manufactured in the state, all plants used in landscaping are local and native, reducing irrigation needs.

Deciding on the interior building structure was a matter of determining the needs of the shelter’s families. Within four major pods, or compartments, separate rooms with bunks and living amenities house the families. These rooms are surrounded by cozy common living areas and kitchens. The HVAC system in each pod is organized into independent quadrants; when one is not in operation, it is isolated from the rest of the building, conserving energy and costs.

To keep taxpayer costs down, efficiency became a keyword for the shelter. This applies to water systems, lighting, air conditioning, heating, chillers, waste management and more. Efficient plumbing design and fixtures maximize water resources. Two-pane, low-E windows save energy costs by protecting the building’s interior from unwanted heat gain. Plus, all materials were chosen specifically for their durability to reduce maintenance costs.

With the help of Green Globes, the entire team, including designers, builders, utility professionals and consultants, was able to work together and remain on track. “The Hanley family shelter team did a great job with project management,” says Vicki Worden, vice president of commercial programs and product development for GBI. “Green Globes is one of the only systems that rewards project management, which is crucial. They did a great job and earned points for their efforts.”

For the planners of the Hanley Family Shelter, the Green Globes online tool meant having constant access to a sustainable design-build consultant and a cost-effective, flexible means to accrue points toward a green certification.
RON SOLOMON PHOTOGRAPHY For the planners of the Hanley Family Shelter, the Green Globes online tool meant having constant access to a sustainable design-build consultant and a cost-effective, flexible means to accrue points toward a green certification.


The results are striking and add another structure to Fairfax County’s growing collection of green public buildings, which already includes a fire station, library and nearly 25 other buildings in some stage of development. With the county practice of building green and a new initiative focused on reducing greenhouse- gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, Fairfax County looks to be an example for counties and cities across the country.

However, the project’s impact is felt most strongly by the needy families it serves. “With our green features, big windows and an abundance of light, we’re a place of optimism and hope,” says Belinda Buescher, public information officer for the Fairfax County Department of Family Services. “It’s a cheerful and healthy place where families can feel safe and stable. In this building, residents feel supported and cared for while they assess their needs, work, send their children to school and make plans for finding permanent housing.”

>> Amy Lillard writes about architecture and sustainability from Chicago. 



• OWNER / Fairfax County, Fairfax, Va., www.fairfaxcounty.gov

• ARCHITECT / Wisnewski Blair & Associates Ltd., Alexandria, Va., www.wba-arch.com

• GENERAL CONTRACTOR / GC Brechbill and Helman Construction Co., Chambersburg, Pa., www.brechbillandhelman.com

• ENERGY CONSULTANT / Potomac Energy Group, Fairfax, www.pegroup.net

• CIVIL ENGINEER / Adtek Engineering, Fairfax, www.adtekengineers.com

• GREEN CERTIFICATION SYSTEM / Green Globes from the Green Building Initiative, Portland, Ore., www.thegbi.org

• THIRD-PARTY VERIFIER / Harvey Bryan, Ph.D., FAIA, FASES, College of Design, Arizona State University, Tempe, www.asu.edu


• INSULATION / 40 percent post-consumer recycled material from DOW CHEMICAL CO., Midland, Mich., www.dow.com, and formaldehyde-free insulation made from 25 percent recycled material from JOHNS MANVILLE, Denver, www.jm.com

• LOW-VOC PAINT / THE SHERWIN-WILLIAMS CO., Cleveland, www.sherwin-williams.com

• WINDOWS / Insulated, two-pane, low-E windows from ANDERSEN WINDOWS, Bayport, Minn., www.andersenwindows.com

• APPLIANCES / Energy Star-rated from GE, Fairfield, Conn., www.geappliances.com

• WASHER / Energy Star-rated, water-saving, front-load washer from WHIRLPOOL CORP., South Haven, Mich., www.whirlpoolcorp.com

• COMPACT-FLUORESCENT DOWN LIGHTS / ATLANTIC LIGHTING INC., Fall River, Mass., www.atlantic-lighting.com


• FIBER-CEMENT SIDING / JAMES HARDIE, Mission Viejo, Calif., www.jameshardie.com

• SHINGLES / ELK CORP., Wayne, N.J., www.elkcorp.com

• HVAC CONTROLS / SIEMENS BUILDING TECHNOLOGIES, Buffalo Grove, Ill., www.us.sbt.siemens.com/home.asp

• MAKE-UP AIR UNIT / STERLING, Westfield, Mass., www.sterlinghvac.com

• CONDENSING GAS FURNACE / CARRIER CORP., Farmington, Conn., www.carrier.com

• WATER HEATERS / Ultra Force by STATE INDUSTRIES, Ashland City, Tenn., www.statewaterheaters.com

• WATER RECIRCULATION PUMPS / BELL & GOSSETT, Morton Grove, Ill., www.bellgossett.com

• FLUSH VALVES / SLOAN VALVE CO., Franklin Park, Ill., www.sloanvalve.com

• FAUCETS / AMERICAN STANDARD, Piscataway, N.J., www.americanstandard-us.com

• SHOWERHEAD / SYMMONS, Braintree, Mass., www.symmons.com



[ PROJECT MANAGEMENT ] 50 POINTS Points are awarded for integrated design, environmental purchasing, commissioning documentation and emergency-response planning.

[ SITE ] 115 POINTS Points are awarded for site development, reduced ecological impacts, enhancement of watershed features and site-ecology improvement.

[ ENERGY ] 360 POINTS Points are awarded for energy consumption; energy demand minimization; “right-sized,” energy-efficient systems; renewable sources of energy; and energy-efficient transportation.

[ WATER ] 100 POINTS Points are awarded for water consumption, water-conserving features and the reduction of off-site water treatment.

[ RESOURCES ] 100 POINTS Points are awarded for using materials with low environmental impact; minimized consumption and depletion of material resources; reuse of existing structures; building durability, adaptability and disassembly; and the reduction, reuse and recycling of waste.

[ EMISSIONS, EFFLUENTS AND OTHER IMPACTS ] 75 POINTS Points are awarded for minimizing impact from air emissions, ozone depletion, contamination of sewers or waterways, land and water pollution, as well as integrated pest management and storage of hazardous materials.

[ INDOOR ENVIRONMENT ] 200 POINTS Points are awarded for having an effective ventilation system, source control of indoor pollutants, lighting design and integration of lighting systems, thermal comfort and acoustic comfort. Projects that achieve a score of 35 percent or more of the 1,000 possible points become eligible for a Green Globes rating of one, two, three or four globes, as follows:

ONE GLOBE: 35-54 percent

TWO GLOBES: 55-69 percent

THREE GLOBES: 70-84 percent

FOUR GLOBES: 85-100 percent