When the USGBC was preparing to move into a new Washington, D.C., headquarters, its leadership knew that the project would have to demonstrate leading-edge sustainable design, enough to earn at least a Platinum LEED rating, or it would risk embarrassing the organization. And on a practical level, after quickly growing out of two previous spaces, the new USGBC headquarters needed room to keep growing over time. But there was also a desire to go beyond LEED, to embrace biophilic design, and to create a space that expressed the organization’s prominence as a worldwide leader in green building.
“It was definitely interesting to be the client while also evaluating all these different projects around the world,” says USGBC communications manager Ashley Katz. “It was a great opportunity to act as a showcase. And at the time, in 2009, green building was growing, but there weren’t as many opportunities to showcase it like there are today.”
Having outgrown offices near Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C., that it had occupied for just two years, the USGBC moved to two floors of an existing 10-story office building, which dated to the 1970s but had a new curtainwall. The ensuing $8.7 million retrofit included adding a palette of white terrazzo floors and reclaimed-gum-wood walls that strike an ideal balance between institutional clout and biophilic presence.
The USGBC’s first step, though, was to negotiate a green lease, enabling submetering of energy. The firm hired D.C.-based Envision Design (now a part of Perkins+Will), whose co-founder and principal, Ken Wilson, FAIA, had been on the development committees for LEED for Commercial Interiors and LEED for Core and Shell.
The project came with an extra challenge: to meet strictures of the LEED updates that were set to be released in 2009 without knowing what would compose the still-in-development standards. “It was kind of funny,” Wilson remembers. “But we were highly motivated by that because this was arguably the mother of all green projects.” The key to meeting these unforeseen strictures, the architect says, was integrated design. “The general contractor, the client, the consultants … everybody was brought to the table for a series of charrettes. There was a huge amount of synergy that occurred during that process. Because our engineer was sitting in the room they’d say, ‘If you did this and this, it might really work.’ ” In the end, the office earned 14 points more than required to meet the 2009 Platinum level.
Among the results of the integrated dialogue are two aspects of the office’s daylight-harvesting system. A desk-free space along the perimeter wall had already been planned in order to distribute light evenly to employees. But the mechanical engineering contractor, Northern Virginia–based GHT, noted that a corresponding reduction was possible in the HVAC system. “In any office building, there are two systems that work simultaneously,” Wilson explains. “There is a perimeter system that tempers this band of about 8 feet wrapping the perimeter. In the winter it’s heated and in the summer it’s cooled. From that point inward, it’s always cooled, even in the wintertime.” But GHT recognized that the unoccupied perimeter wouldn’t need wintertime heating or summer cooling, so the dual HVAC system could be eliminated. “It turned out,” Wilson says, “we could save 25 percent of the energy in the summer and 10 percent in the winter just by doing this.”
In order to extend the light further into the interior, the architects considered light shelves, but they partially blocked the view. Instead, they used a light-colored carpet, which distributed the light so well that daylight censors started closing the blinds all the time. As a result, the sensors also had to be moved further back into the interior, and a LEED point was lost because they were no longer within 15 feet of the window, as stipulated by the rating system. The blinds would also open and close too often, nudged by a cloud moving temporarily in front of the sun. But after they were reprogrammed, the system proved successful, so much so that electric lighting has been reduced to half a watt per square foot, which is only half of LEED Platinum’s stipulated minimum.
Post-occupancy commissioning determined that the investments have paid off. The USGBC’s offices are using 39 percent less power than a comparable project designed to code, based on the Energy Star Target Finder baseline calculation method. When based on the AIA’s 2030 Challenge baseline method, the project is using 49 percent less power. Payback was achieved within15 months of occupancy, meaning that the USGBC saves approximately $93,500 per year in energy costs, totaling about $726,400 through its 10-year lease on the space.
Brian Libby writes about architecture from Portland, Ore.