To delve deeper into our coverage of the 2012 COTE Top Ten Awards, eco-structure asked the winning firms to detail their experiences with sustainable design. These offices didn’t just happen upon a winning scheme—rather, they’re all well-versed in making high-performance strategies an integral part of each project. Below we take a closer look at some of the core values that shape each firm’s ethos.

Locations: Ann Arbor, Mich.; Chicago; Dallas; Detroit (corporate office); Durham, N.C.; Madison, Wisc.; Los Angeles; Phoenix; San Francisco; and Washington, D.C.

Principals: David R.H. King, FAIA, Chairman and Director of Design

Founded: 1853

Size: 800 total staff

What was the biggest lesson you learned from your 2012 COTE Top Ten Project, Chandler City Hall?
Mark Roddy, design principal: One the biggest lessons learned during the design of Chandler City Hall was how public art can play a significant and valuable role in communicating sustainability to the public. A very accessible dialogue of sustainability was interwoven into the project through two key elements. Catherine Hammond, a graphic artist, created the “Sustainable Pathway,” which provides visitors a self-guided tour of the building's sustainable elements, marked by descriptive signs and noting whether the strategy is social, economic or environmentally focused. Additionally, artist Ned Kahn created “Turbulent Shade,” a shading element integrated with the entry façade that is very much connected to the physical environment by its movement with the wind. Sustainability is on display for the community to not only learn from, but to interact with and enjoy.

What insights from this and other sustainable projects would you share with other professionals?
Greg Mella, AIA, co-director of sustainable design: Chandler City Hall and the COTE Top Ten Program demonstrate a core belief at SmithGroupJJR: that sustainable design and great design are interrelated, not mutually exclusive.  Sustainable considerations link a design with its site and context, adding a richness and specificity to the design. Sustainability enhances performance, and even the glossiest design is not beautiful if it does not perform well or is reckless in its resource consumption. Conversely, if a design is simply sustainable but lacks artfulness, the result will not be enduring, and therefore it is not truly sustainable. We strive to marry environmental considerations with aesthetic considerations, recognizing each attribute enhances the other. Sustainable considerations can be understood as design inspirations, and by embracing all disciplines working together at the onset of a project, sustainable strategies go beyond surface-applied ornament towards a holistic, specific, and often remarkably simple design idea.

What is your firm's philosophy on sustainable design?
Russell Perry, FAIA, co-director of sustainable design: Sustainable design is at the heart of what we do at SmithGroupJJR. We are committed to delivering sustainable solutions not only for our clients, but for the overall health of our planet. Since we are in a global crisis of potentially huge proportions and realizing our creations have contributed to that impact on the planet as a whole, SmithGroupJJR has committed to adopting the Architecture 2030 Challenge and to find solutions to that will help reduce our overall footprint. We are part of a greater global community that must take responsibility for our actions and we must work in concert with our neighbors to find truly sustainable solutions. We will accomplish our goals only thru multi-disciplinary integrated design. In this vein, we must also practice what we preach by committing to reducing the overall footprint within our own organization through our operations, education, work environment, and process.

What kinds of sustainable solutions are non-negotiable for your firm? What are the baseline standards your firm aims to meet with every project?
Greg Mella: As signatories of the AIA’s 2030 Commitment and the Architecture 2030 Challenge, SmithGroupJJR meets specific energy targets as a baseline standard that we apply across our practice on every project. Currently, we are endeavoring to ensure that everything we design consumes a minimum of 60 percent less energy than an average building in the U.S. While we are not able to meet these targets on every project, it is a valuable first step to at least set an energy target for every project. We believe it is important to start by having every project set an energy goal and to discuss that goal with our clients. Just the act of setting an energy goal early in a project establishes an level of collaboration between the architect and the engineering team that creates a good foundation for integrated design. We are also beginning to embark on a similar process for water.  We’ve created a new water metric to inform our site design. We assign a water score that reflects the pre-development hydrology of a site with respect to stormwater infiltration, and we measure our design’s site hydrology against the pre-development condition. This approach challenges our teams to integrate stormwater solutions with potable water demand, and establishes a restorative design approach as the goal for our site design.

How do you think these types of innovative green solutions might become standard?
Greg Mella: At SmithGroupJJR, energy conservation has become more standardized by using the following methodology:

First, we establish an energy use target at the onset of a project. Second, we use conceptual energy modeling to test the energy implications of passive design approaches. We are using basic energy modeling in our practice more and more, and find this approach is becoming increasingly integrated into the BIM software we use during the early design phases. Third, we work closely with our engineers to find innovative systems that efficiently meet the project’s energy demand, using more advanced energy modeling to evaluate multiple systems options. We also find that sustainable goals like energy targets or site hydrology metrics can be met without a significant increase in first cost, so we showcase the case studies within our practice that  demonstrate this reality. We have a monthly all-staff video-meeting that features these case studies, and by showcasing projects that achieve our high aspirations for both design and sustainability, we instill our core values across our practice.

More information about Chandler City Hall is available here.