Kathy Shaloo Berg, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, a principal at ZGF Architects.
Courtesy ZGF Architects Kathy Shaloo Berg, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, a principal at ZGF Architects.

In January, Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) announced that it had selected ZGF Architects to design its new office building in Basalt, Colo. Having one of the world’s top energy think tanks as a client should be an interesting experience for ZGF, which will collaborate with consultant John Breshears of a2, Doug Graybeal of Graybeal Architects, and members of RMI’s own team. ECOSTRUCTURE recently spoke with ZGF principal Kathy Shaloo Berg, AIA, about the project.

Why did you want to take on this project?

We knew as soon as we saw the project that we wanted to participate. RMI has an exciting vision. We’re hugely excited about the fact that they wanted a replicable and beautiful building that would inspire others. They’re a really special client. They look at this as a building that can transform the industry. It’s going to be 15,000 to 20,000 square feet. Seventy-five percent of the office buildings in this country are around 20,000 square feet. You’re talking about being able to transform the marketplace. It’s really amazing for us to be backed by a lot of the best thinkers in the whole country. It’s like having a research tank. We can take research and put it into physical form.

What is your approach?

We tried to be really cognizant of how our process can work differently. With the energy modeling, we started by thinking about what would be the ideal organization of the site. We’re letting physical drivers begin the discussion and figuring out how to let the form arise out of that. Our early task was how to figure out what we have to work with: how much power from the sun can we generate, for example, and how do you design to that. We’re figuring out what we have to work with first and then what we can do.

Where are you with the project now?

We’re a little more than halfway through our programming and design concept.

What kinds of green features are you considering?

We’re looking at doing a highly passive building. We’re trying to eliminate as many of the mechanical elements as possible. We’re planning to pursue Living Building Challenge certification, so are looking at making it net-zero energy, et cetera. We’re also investigating how we can incorporate LEED and Passive House requirements.

What is the site like?

The site is next to the Roaring Fork River in Basalt. It’s fairly flat and has great southern exposure. It’s at the base of the valley and is close to the heart of historic Basalt. It’s beautiful. Our site looks across the river to the Basalt Regional Library and beyond to the mountain range.

Rocky Mountain Institute's new office building is slated for completion in 2015 or 2016.