Los Angeles Harbor College, Los Angeles
© Tim Griffith Los Angeles Harbor College, Los Angeles

Location: Minneapolis
Principals:  Dan Avchen, FAIA; Dan Rectenwald, AIA; Gary Reetz, FAIA; Nancy Blankfard, AIA; Tim Carl, AIA
Date Founded: 1953 
Company Size:  600+ 

What was the biggest lesson you learned from your project for the American Swedish Institute?
The challenge (and opportunity) of this project was to create a sustainable building addition which was true to both the history of the mansion it builds on as well as the culture of and tradition of Sweden.  The design team drew inspiration from Swedish sustainable design principles and focused the addition on creating strategic views to the historic mansion.  By embracing these constraints rather than viewing them as obstacles, the end result is a building which uniquely incorporates strategies of sustainable design.  

Owensboro Health Regional Hospital, Owensboro, Ky.
Halkin Architectural Photography Owensboro Health Regional Hospital, Owensboro, Ky.

What insights from this and other sustainable projects would you share with other professionals? 
Each new client brings with them their own definition and prioritization of sustainability issues which is a result of their values and life experience.  For example, one client may have a passion for closed-loop water systems while another has a curiosity for renewable energy.  Or, in the case of the American Swedish Institute addition, the client’s sustainable design focus was centered on a specific cultural tradition.  As design professionals, it is important to listen to these unique passions and use them as a focal point to champion a more holistic sustainable design effort.  Dig deep on an issue that makes each project unique.

College of the Desert, West Valley Campus, Palm Springs, Calif.
HGA Architects and Engineers College of the Desert, West Valley Campus, Palm Springs, Calif.

What is your firm's philosophy on sustainable design? Human experience is at the core of any successful sustainable design solution.  Our first consideration is to create buildings that are beloved spaces which contribute to our well-being, performance and satisfaction.  A second consideration would be to create best value, doing more with less and considering the life-cycle of the building.  The third consideration is to set high standards of building performance with goals of net-zero energy, water, waste, materials and carbon.   

Minnesota Zoological Gardens, Heart of the Zoo, Apple Valley, Minn.
Paul Crosby Minnesota Zoological Gardens, Heart of the Zoo, Apple Valley, Minn.

What kinds of sustainable solutions are non-negotiable for your firm? What are the baseline standards your firm aims to meet with every project?
Too often, as the awareness and need for sustainable design grows, the focus on building performance becomes the dominant (and sometimes only) point of conversation.  The fact remains, however, that often the most sustainable building is the one so treasured that it lasts throughout generations.  Building performance is essential as a metric and goal, but truly resilient design must always be centered on the human experience, first and foremost. 

University of Minnesota Science Teaching and Student Services Center, Minneapolis
© Tim Griffith University of Minnesota Science Teaching and Student Services Center, Minneapolis

What are the top energy-saving features you put in your projects? 
Energy-efficiency begins with maximizing passive strategies wherever possible.  This includes strategies of natural ventilation, creating a high-performance building envelope, proper daylighting or shading and passive solar heating.  Energy is further reduced through high-efficiency equipment, controls and minimizing plug-loads.  Whenever possible, energy is then reclaimed through energy-recovery systems.  After these reduction strategies are maximized, energy-production can be considered including wind, photovoltaic and solar-thermal, fuel cell, biomass and other renewable sources.  Metering and monitoring is a crucial follow-up step and allows for the building to perform as it was intended and serve as a learning tool for future projects.  

How do you think these types of innovative green solutions, products, and strategies, might become standard?  Clients today are looking to maximize the value of their buildings, often using life-cycle cost analysis to make decisions.  
By providing real examples of similar projects that included sustainable design strategies without increasing costs, designers can make a strong business case, which is the bottom line.