Richard Mandelkorn

FOR ALMOST TWO DECADES, Boston-based nonprofit Artists for Humanity has worked with the city’s underprivileged youth. The brainchild of Founder and Executive/Artistic Director Susan Rodgerson, the organization provides art education and community involvement, as well as an opportunity for young adults to generate income from their skills and talents. After spending much of its life in an old, turn-of-the-century brick warehouse complete with leaky ceiling and broken windows, the group decided it was time to move to a new home. Not just any building would do, however; AFH wanted to be an example to the very community to which its youth and adult staff are so committed. The new space had to provide a healthy environment inside and out.

Richard Mandelkorn
Years of planning, fundraising and dedication to the cause produced the Artists for Humanity EpiCenter, which achieved a LEED Platinum rating from the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council. Located in a traditionally industrial part of Boston, the building's aesthetic intimates the historic neighborhood while clearly expressing its artistic, green sensibility.
GANG GREEN
Richard Mandelkorn

The project required and inspired a true group effort. AFH's staff and students were very active in the design process. “Most of our employees and artists are creative people, so this was a great opportunity to flex our creative urges and design a space that serves our purposes and needs,” Rodgerson explains. “We were thrilled to find an architect who was not just open, but interested in that process. They were excited that we were totally committed to building the most sustainable building we possibly could.” Somerville, Mass.-based design firm Arrowstreet came onto the project in 2001. “Sustainability was an important goal from the beginning,” recalls Jim Batchelor, FAIA, LEED AP, and a principal at Arrowstreet. “It ties back to the real purposes of the program, which include increasing the individual’s sense that he or she can affect and change the world. Being responsible for one’s environment was something the students took very seriously. It became a mission that was as important as producing art.” The team was able to to achieve its green goals with a limited budget. The building features natural ventilation, daylighting, rainwater catchment and photovoltaic panels. Because the organization does not have a single large donor, the only money the team could spend was the money that Rodgerson and her group was able to raise through their efforts in the community. “I think one of the things that’s interesting about this project is that sustainable design on a LEED Platinum project doesn’t have to be expensive,” asserts Patricia Cornelison, AIA, LEED AP, and a principal at Arrowstreet. “Everything we’ve done here is very low-tech and inexpensive and achieves project goals without exotic equipment.”

Richard Mandelkorn

MODULAR SPACE The interior of the EpiCenter was designed to be open and spare. This was partially because of budget constraints, but also played to a modular philosophy. “The fit-out of the building is not so specific to the use that the building couldn't be used for something else later on,” Cornelison explains. “The fit-out is very simple and can be easily adapted. Occasionally, AFH creates new programs and needs different uses for some of the spaces, so it is easy for the group to modify if needed.” Approximately 20 staff and 120 teen artists inhabit the EpiCenter. Studio space, offices, workshops, a woodshop and silk-screening area are found on the two upper floors. The ground level, which was built approximately 10 feet (3 m) below grade, is a tall, wide-open gallery with a mezzanine.

The main gallery can be accessed by a large garage door that opens out to a small courtyard. A ground-level bridge to the front door provides access to the mezzanine level. “The gallery was designed to display art, but it's become an extremely popular place for meetings and events,” Batchelor says. “That's turned out to be incredibly successful. It's helped the group financially because they can rent it out to a variety of business groups and individuals. And because the garage door opens out to a courtyard, in nice weather it's a very good indoor/outdoor space.”

A commitment to recycling and reuse is immediately evident in the gallery. Student-made tables, fashioned from recycled junk mail, are rented out for events. The mezzanine's railing is lined with automobile windshields that were destined for landfills. “The reflectivity of the glass is a great component,” Rodgerson says. “You have the sense the space is going to come alive at any moment—that something is going to happen.” Along with being a revenue generator for the group, the gallery provides an opportunity to interact with the community. “We're very proud of our event space and the idea of educating thousands of people each year that green is beautiful,” Rodgerson says. “It's a beautiful space and people love it. We challenge them to bring their own décor and get creative. That's how the place works.”

Richard Mandelkorn

COOL IT Because Boston summers are generally mild and the air gets cool in the evenings, the design team opted for a natural cooling and ventilation system rather than traditional air conditioning. “We designed a system that starts with a really good envelope around the building—extra insulation in the walls and roof and high-performance glazing on all the windows. When the occupants leave the building at night, they open the windows,” Cornelison explains. The hopper-type windows don’t open wider than 4 inches (102 mm) and are located at and above the mezzanine level, so security is not an issue. “During the night, giant fans pull the cool, nighttime air through the building, removing any heat that has built up during the day.

When the occupants come back in the morning, they close the windows; the insulation and thermal mass of the building keep the cool air inside during the day.” “It really has been quite successful for them,” Cornelison says. “There are maybe two or three days in the summer when it doesn't get cool enough at night, and when that happens they occasionally declare a heat day. Because their program is somewhat flexible, they can go to a museum or something.” The minor inconvenience of a heat day or two is worthwhile to the youth and adult staff of AFH. “The natural ventilation was a big risk. It was gutsy,” Rodgerson admits. “Each summer we have a couple of heat days, but we're content to be in partnership with nature. We believe it's important and we believe it's a very positive message for the young adults who come here. I think they're grasping a sense of sustainability beyond their individual selves.

Richard Mandelkorn

They live it, they breathe it and take it home with them. They now understand how to keep their rooms cool in the summer.” Siting and orientation was important to the cooling and daylighting strategies of the EpiCenter. “The energy model indicated it would be best from a daylighting and an overall energy point of view to minimize windows on the east and west sides of the building,” Batchelor recalls. “On this site, if we built to the lot lines, we couldn't have windows without considerable effort and expense. So we looked at designs that brought all the daylight from the north and south ends.” According to Batchelor, that idea has played out well. “Two of the three floors essentially are fully open to either end,” he says. “The middle floor is divided into workshops and the walls are clear acrylic corrugated material, so you get a lot of daylight spilling in. The natural inclination in most projects is to have windows on all sides. In climates like New England's, that's not necessarily a great idea.”

Richard Mandelkorn

PENNIES FROM HEAVEN

From the start, Rodgerson was intent on using solar power to generate energy savings for the facility. The EpiCenter's PV array, which performs at about 45 kilowatts at peak, still is one of Boston's largest. The goal was for the grid-connected system to make the building energy autonomous, but the reality of the facility's electricity usage turned out to be higher than originally modeled. This partially is because of the unexpected success of the gallery as an event space, as well as the growth of AFH’s screen-printing enterprise. Still, the PV-covered roof is performing as it was modeled and now provides approximately 60 percent of the EpiCenter's power. Along with gathering electricity, the building’s roof collects water. A rainwater catchment system captures water to be used for landscaping and other things—such as cleaning paint brushes— that don't require potable water.

“Again, it's fairly low tech,” Cornelison says. “We just got a prefab, 1,500-gallon [5678-L] concrete tank and put it in the ground underneath the courtyard. Rainwater from the roof goes into the tank; any overflow goes into a dry well and the overflow from that goes into the storm-water system.” Since the EpiCenter's opening, it has been a home run with the community and organization that calls it home. “We were nervous about moving into a posh space after a decade in broken-down, industrial buildings,” Rodgerson admits. “But the space has adapted very well to us and we've adapted well to it. It's only made us better, stronger and given us lots of visibility.” That visibility has been put to good use. This high-performing structure serves as an inspiration and a lesson to those looking to live and work in harmony with their surroundings. “This is a testimony of what a comprehensive commitment to sustainability is,” Batchelor says. “This was led by people who really have been committed to it and who don't have tons of resources. The lesson I learned is that it doesn't take lots of money to create a good, environmentally responsible building.”

Green Team

ARCHITECT / ARROWSTREET, Somerville, Mass., www.arrowstreet.com

SUSTAINABILITY CONSULTANT / BUILDING SCIENCE ENGINEERING, Harvard, Mass. (978) 456-6950

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER / RENE MUGNIER ASSOCIATES, Cambridge, Mass., (617) 666-5566

MECHANICAL/ELECTRICAL/PLUMBING ENGINEER / ZADE CO. INC., Boston, (617) 338-4406

LIGHTING / US LIGHTING CONSULTANTS, New York, www.us-lighting.com

CIVIL ENGINEER / SAMIOTES CONSULTANTS, Framingham, Mass., www.samiotes.com

COMMISSIONING AGENT / WSP FLACK+KURTZ (formerly SEi), Boston, www.flackandkurtz.com

Materials and Sources

STAINLESS-STEEL PANELS / FABRAL, Lancaster, Pa., www.fabral.com

STRUCTURAL STEEL / CANATAL, Brampton, Ontario, Canada, www.canatal.com

INTERIOR WALL FINISHES / USG, Chicago, www.usg.com

DOORS / LAMBTON DOORS, Lambton, Quebec, Canada, www.lambtondoors.com

LOW-E WINDOWS / PPG INDUSTRIES, Pittsburgh, www.ppg.com

HIGH-EFFICIENCY BOILER / LOCHINVAR CORP., Lebanon, Tenn., www.lochinvar.com

CEILING FANS / GOSSAMER WIND, Cocoa, Fla., www.gossamerwind.com

HEAT-RECOVERY VENTILATION / GREENHECK, Schofield, Wis., www.greenheck.com

LIGHTING / DELRAY LIGHTING, Burbank, Calif., www.delraylighting.com;

HESS FORM + LIGHT LTD.,Great Braxted, England, www.hess.eu/uk; and ZUMTOBEL STAFF, Highland, N.Y., www.zumtobelstaffusa.com

PHOTOVOLTAIC ARRAY / SCHOTT SOLAR INC., Roseville, Calif., www.us.schott.com