Location: Portland, Ore.
Principal in charge: Don Eggleston, AIA, Principal in Charge; Jim Cutler Design Excellence Architect
Founded: 1968
Size: 87 employees (SERA) and 10 employees (Cutler Anderson)
Little-known fact: SERA has gone full circle in its 45 year history. The firm began in 1968 as the Design Collaborative. We now leverage technology to provide an even higher level of collaborative design.

What was the biggest lesson you learned from your COTE Top Ten winner, the Edith Green Wendell Wyatt Federal Building Modernization?

Lisa Petterson, AIA, associate prinicpal: The biggest lesson SERA learned from the Edith Green Wendell Wyatt project was the importance of specific performance targets for creating a culture of success. EGWW was funded by ARRA [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009] legislation, which required meeting criteria of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), including 55 percent fossil fuel reduction, 30 percent energy usage reduction, 20 percent indoor potable water reduction, and 50 percent outdoor potable water reduction. Having these specific goals allowed the team to determine how to best craft the design to respond to the criteria, pushing the entire team to develop creative and innovative solutions until the goal was reached or exceeded.

James Cutler

What insights from this and other sustainable projects would you share with other professionals? Clark Brockman, AIA, principal:The elements we’ve taken from the EGWW project in particular (which has informed a number of our other sustainable design projects) are:

  • Co-creation of a new delivery paradigm is possible. Collaboration occurs throughout the life of a project—regardless of whether it’s for a high-performance building or not. EGWW was truly about developing a new way of working that allows the owner, design, and construction teams to create a shared vision of the project from the beginning to maximize the project’s potential. We plotted our course by going slow and collectively defining the project’s challenges and optimum solutions. In doing so, all members on the team were on board and ready to go incredibly fast to achieve the project vision and goals.
  • Having an owner (the GSA [U.S. General Services Administration] in this case) set clear and ambitious outcome-based (or "actual performance") goals is a powerful design tool. The EISA performance targets became guiding principles for the pre-design, design, and execution efforts of the project. We’re imagining the impact on the design, engineering, and construction communities that will come from more and more owners expecting (and financially requiring) their buildings to truly perform to the targets identified during programming and design phases. Finally, a post-occupancy monitoring phase that verifies the building’s performance closes the loop and feeds back data that will inform the design of future projects.
  • Collaborative delivery (e.g. IPD) is a game changer. The relationships created by a collaborative team can translate into a high performance team that is focused on meeting the project goals. Combining collaborative delivery with clear, unwavering leadership by the owner in an authentic trust-based relationship between the owner, design team, and construction team makes it possible to eliminate the inefficiency and redundancy of traditional project delivery methods.
  • Establishing place-based/climate requirements early (i.e. before design) dramatically enhances the design. Working with our design excellence partner, Jim Cutler of Cutler Anderson Architects, we established outcome-based goals and analyzed the site’s climate metrics to truly inform the design process, from beginning to end. This process was an exciting and eye-opening endeavor for all parties as we came to understand the exact metrics of the place in which were working and how to create a design that would optimize the building’s performance within that context.
Nic Lehoux

What is your firm’s philosophy on sustainable design?

Brockman: Our firm is deeply committed to sustainable place making at all scales, from individual workstations, to whole buildings, to districts, neighborhoods and cities. We believe that sustainable design begins with the place, the client, and the problem(s) they’re trying to solve. In this work, we are focused on maximizing the user’s experience, while enhancing human and environmental health as much as possible within the context of the project. We also are focused on maximizing the value of the client’s asset for its entire life-cycle, not just during the design and construction (or "renovation" in the case of EGWW) period.

Nic Lehoux

What kinds of sustainable solutions are non-negotiable for your firm? What are the baseline standards your firm aims to meet with every project?

Brockman: SERA is committed to meeting our clients where they are at today, and then exploring sustainable design opportunities with them that follow the principles of maximizing the user’s experience, while enhancing human and environmental health. We have been reporting to the AIA’s 2030 commitment since reporting began and we track predicted energy performance on virtually all of our projects. We are beginning to track actual performance on more and more projects, knowing that the market transformation of outcome-based owners is coming. We also focus on specifying the healthiest materials and products possible for each product, and are active participants in the advancement of the Health Product Declaration, signing on as a founding sponsor.

Nic Lehoux

What are the top energy-saving features you put into your projects?

Petterson: On EGWW, we reduced the original building’s energy use by 55 percent. Five of the six top energy savings measures were: radiant heating and cooling (11 percent savings), exterior shading (7 percent), glass and wall U-values (5.9 percent), glass percentage (2 percent) and daylighting (2 percent). The savings were the result of an integrated design process that focused on reducing loads on the building façade by paying attention to a climate responsive approach to design. Only our third highest energy conservation measure—energy efficient lighting (6 percent)—is not directly related to this singular focus.

Edith Green Wendell Wyatt Federal Building Modernization.
Nic Lehoux Edith Green Wendell Wyatt Federal Building Modernization.

How do you think these types of solutions and products might become standard?

Don Eggleston, AIA: Climate-responsive design based on specific targets set by the owner, using trust-based collaborative teams, is an opportunity for the design and construction industry to show owners there is a better way to deliver projects. With advances made in recent years with Building Information Modeling and visualization technology, owners, architects and contractors can work together in new ways, co-creating a shared vision informed by all perspectives. Like all innovations, this change will take time, but moving all of us away from an adversarial relationship to one based on trust will enable us to provide solutions that will better respond to our client’s needs, the communities we serve, and ultimately the planet we live on.