As noted in ECO-STRUCTURE’s March/April 2011 feature story “Red, White, Blue, and Green,” which highlights the sustainable design and environmental performance of five land ports of entry (LPOE) along the U.S. borders, designing these facilities is no easy task. The spaces, which must be secure and operational 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and able to process thousands of passengers, are run and maintained by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) within the Department of Homeland Security. In conjunction with the March/April 2011 feature on new LPOEs in Calais, Maine; Nogales, Ariz.; Massena, N.Y.; Warroad, Minn.; and Van Buren, Maine—all of which were winners of GSA 2010 Design Awards—ECO-STRUCTURE also spoke with the GSA and CBP.

GSA Public Buildings Service Commissioner Robert A. Peck

How does the GSA define design excellence? How does sustainability factor into this design?

Numerous principles embody design excellence: An excellent federal building fosters community interaction as much as it is adaptable to a tenant agency’s current and future program requirements. Ideally, design excellence means an integrated design, which satisfies this whole range of criteria in a single move.

Officially, the Office of the Chief Architect also oversees the Design Excellence program. Design Excellence comprises a series of steps written into our procurement and project-development procedures that ensure that America’s best architects are applying for GSA solicitations, and which ensure application of best practices in design. The program also includes a body of resources—standards publications, private-industry peer reviewers, and our in-house subject matter experts—that support those procedural steps.

Given the federal mandate for LEED certification, what do you think is the role of public architecture in showcasing and supporting green design?

GSA is ahead of the curve, because today, all our projects are obligated to achieve a LEED Gold rating. We believe sustainable design is our responsibility, to taxpayers as well as future generations. But here’s another important point: GSA manages 362 million square feet. Because our inventory is so large, supporting green design can influence the entire green marketplace. We’re in a position to make green design cheaper for everyone.

Can you tell us a bit about the government’s goal of a zero environmental footprint?

Zero Environmental Footprint (ZEF) is a GSA initiative, which our Administrator, Martha Johnson, announced a year ago. It’s not a mandate like Executive Order 13514; rather, we call it a moonshot. But it’s far more rigorous, because it aims for zero net GHGs in scopes 1, 2, and 3 for the buildings we construct and modernize. Zero Environmental Footprint inspires us to think beyond LEED Gold, and to strive to continually improve passive sustainable design and to source better active technologies. ZEF applies to GSA itself, too, and with that in mind we're greening our own habits regarding work, commutation, and business travel.

[Editor’s note: The full text of Executive Order 13514, which was signed in Oct. 2009 and directs federal agencies to reduce their environmental footprints, here .]

In February 2009, the GSA received $5.5 billion to green facilities. Can you tell us a bit about how this is being implemented?

The most important aspect of our Recovery Act windfall was the $4.5 billion that had to be dedicated to high-performance modernizations. We recognize the importance of embodied energy, so we really welcomed this challenge. In hundreds of existing properties we replaced aging building infrastructure with efficient mechanical systems and plumbing fixtures, improved the performance of the building envelope, and applied energy-producing technologies to buildings and sites.

How is sustainability factored into the GSA Design Awards judging?

We select a new crop of jurors for each biennial Design Awards, so it's impossible to foresee whether one jury will be more dogmatic about sustainability than another. But for the 2010 GSA Design Awards, our jurors favored sustainable approaches that were integrated into the original design intent rather than, say, seemingly tacked on.

Why, do you think, did so many LPOE rise to the top of the design awards this year?

The land port of entry is a simply fascinating building type, in part because we’re still in the process of inventing it. That really appealed to jurors. Also, they looked favorably on the land ports’ remote locations: These vast landscapes are very inspirational. They also promise a little more legroom for architects to flex their creative muscles.

What do you think are some of the unique challenges of designing a LPOE? Also, can you tell me how the federal facility standard (P100) addresses sustainability?

Foremost, a land port has to support the work of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, whose officers monitor travel and trade entering the United States. It is a dangerous job, and our buildings must expedite officers’ work and make them feel safe. Yet land ports are important symbols, too. They need to express that serious gateway function, but they also must welcome returning travelers and visitors to the United States by broadcasting democratic values and American ideals to them.

The P100 addresses sustainability in every chapter. The standard explains our LEED Gold requirement, as well as previous performance requirements like those spelled out in Executive Order 13514 or the U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. And although it doesn’t demand specific strategies for meeting those targets—sites and programs are just too diverse for that—it does recommend some broad-strokes approaches like rainwater harvesting or sourcing materials that contain recycled content.

Trent Frazier,, Director, Field Operations Facilities Program Management Office, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Administration

In 2008, plans were announced to improve 39 major ports of entry on the U.S. borders. How is this work progressing, and how did CBP/DHS determine which facilities to improve and what scale of work would be required at each port?

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) appropriated $420 million to the Department of Homeland Security to modernize the CBP land port of entry inventory. Using these funds, CBP will replace up to 31 land ports of entry, in addition to completing minor repairs and alterations at eight of the LPOEs not being replaced and deploying an integrated project management system.

Currently, the ARRA LPOE modernization projects are progressing on schedule with 15 new LPOEs opening this spring and summer. The remaining set of LPOEs will be complete by the end of FY2012. Additionally, due to significant cost savings experienced from a competitive procurement process and standardized design elements, CBP was able to reprogram $21 million to other modernization projects outside of the CBP-owned LPOE inventory.

CBP determined the facilities to improve through a comprehensive modernization strategy which aligns facility and real property funding in a systematic and objective manner to the critical facility projects that are required to support CBP’s mission. Additionally, due to the specific requirements within the ARRA legislation, only CBP-owned LPOEs could receive funding; of the 167 LPOEs across the Northern and Southern borders, only 41 are CBP-owned.

On average, the current facilities slated for modernization were constructed more than 40 years ago and were built during an entirely different era of land port of entry inspection. Various inspection technologies that exist today were not imagined when many of the existing LPOEs were built. Due to the immense deficiencies are the old LPOEs, it was more cost effective to completely replace the existing facility than attempting to modernize the existing facility through repairs and alternations.

From CBP’s point of view, what are the most critical design elements of a land port of entry?

Regardless of size or location, land ports must secure the border while facilitating trade and travel. CBP has established standardized design elements which should be included in the infrastructure of all LPOEs to support today’s operational mission. These key elements each serve a distinct purpose, but collaboratively uphold CBP’s mission.

How do you think CBP’s security concerns influence the design of its LPOE?

Throughout the course of several federal building programs, standardized designs have been used to construct LPOEs. However, since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the formation of DHS, the operational mission requirements of CBP have increased substantially. CBP continually monitors the current environment to determine the security needs at our nation’s ports of entry. Today’s design standards provide an adaptable infrastructure that can be altered to meet future workloads, technologies, and operations.

For more information on the specific LPOEs in Calais, Nogales, Massena, Warroad, and Van Buren, read ECO-STRUCTURE’s March/April 2011 feature, “Red, White, Blue, and Green,” here.