What does a LEED Platinum project look like? What do energy-efficient, sustainably designed spaces contribute to the quality of a workplace environment, and what do they say about a company’s identity and mission?
With many of today’s LEED-certified projects, form follows sustainability. The LEED checklist often fosters a look that is fresh and light or earthy and green. However, in producing three LEED Platinum–certified projects, design teams at the Washington, D.C., office of RTKL & Associates have taken aesthetic inspiration from other sources such as urban precedents, user satisfaction, and corporate vision.
Brickell World Plaza in Miami, Fla., RTKL’s Washington, D.C., office, and the American Society of Hematology, also in Washington, D.C., collectively represent an approach in which RTKL’s design priorities were focused on the workplace environment supported by sustainable attributes—not the other way around. While designed to secure the credits for energy performance, material use, water conservation, and the other points required for Platinum certification, the LEED checklist drove neither the programs, nor the aesthetics of these projects. In all three cases, the teams’ priorities were primarily responsive to the needs of the users and tenants, the physical contexts, and the project visions. And by incorporating a broad, collaborative approach engaging not just the designers, but the owners, the users, and the builders as well, these projects have established a high level of functionality and brand identity for their occupants.
At RTKL’s Washington, D.C., office, I sat down to talk with the lead designers for each of the three projects to learn more.
BRICKELL WORLD PLAZA
Rod Henderer, FAIA, is a senior vice president at RTKL and led the team for Brickell World Plaza. Located in central Miami and scheduled for completion in 2011, the 40-story project includes ground-floor retail, 600,000 square feet of office space, and a 30,000-square-foot landscaped plaza. A future phase will include a 65-story office and residential tower. This Class A office tower is the first South Florida office property that has been precertified at LEED Platinum.
What was the design team’s approach?
RTKL, as master planner and architect, worked with Sasaki Associates, who designed the plaza, and BVM, who provide sustainability consulting. In addition to creating a significant investment property, Foram Group, the project’s developer, challenged us with three goals: To contribute a bold signature to the city skyline; to create a significant civic space along Brickell Avenue, Miami’s main thoroughfare; and to aggressively embrace the principals of sustainability in order to become a benchmark property in Florida.
From the start, our design team committed to green design principles, not just in terms of materials and systems, but as an urban multiuse development that uses scale, density, and a variety to reinforce community and to define a sense of place. Brickell was conceived from the ground up as a response to the urban context of the site. Drawing its inspiration from such iconic developments as Rockefeller Center [in New York], the design is centered on a landscaped plaza as its front door—a strong civic statement that hints at the building’s sustainability goals.
Tell us more about the project’s civic mission.
The underlying principal of the design was to start with the plaza and to create an elegant, well-proportioned tower whose image will be as fresh 30 years from now as the day it opens. A series of setbacks in the building’s façade creates the graceful profile of a classic skyscraper, and the building’s materials reinforce its contemporary but classically inspired lines.
What were some of the challenges in responding to the client’s objectives?
This site was originally zoned for high-density residential, a category established decades ago as a way of enhancing residential development in the city’s core. But with the current overabundance of residential offerings in downtown Miami, the client asked RTKL to work with the city to rezone the property to allow a 40-story office building in the first phase and a 65=story mixed-use tower in the second phase. This effort was successful.
And the realities of economics and schedule?
In spite of the difficult real estate market, the building has met its economic and schedule targets. The building has been topped out, the precast façade is complete, and the curtainwall is being installed. This project began construction before the economic crisis and the completion was originally intended for the fall of 2009. However, the construction was deliberately delayed in order to preserve cash and to time its completion with a better market.
I understand that the LEED targets moved during design?
Yes, initially we designed to a LEED Silver standard and achieved precertification. During our document stage, we increased it to LEED Gold and got precertified at that level. Then, during construction it went to precertified LEED Platinum. Of course this was driven in part by the growing market expectation, but also because of Forum’s commitment to green stewardship.
RTKL’s WASHINGTON, D.C., OFFICE
Kim Heartwell is a senior vice president at RTKL who directed the design of RTKL’s own space in Washington, D.C. The 63,000-square-foot, LEED Platinum office is located four blocks from the D.C. metro.
What were your goals for the project?
The project had one overriding objective: to create a workplace that would serve as a reflection of our company’s collaborative culture—both internally and externally—and as a tangible expression of our commitment to environmental stewardship.
What was your process?
We decided early on that we wanted to engage staff at all levels to help define the attributes of the work environment that would support our culture. We began with observations plus an individual online workplace survey, followed by focus groups and interviews, and culminated with a town hall meeting to get feedback on the design concepts.
We focused on communication throughout the process, even during construction, with an online website that provided staff with information on our new location and neighborhood, the construction process and move details. We also commissioned Chicago-based Conifer Research, ethnographers who observed RTKL’s working habits. Their findings ultimately helped inform the openness of our space.
So how is the space organized?
An open work plan, touchdown spaces, conferencing space, and in-board offices all foster an environment that is more about teaming and partnerships than a traditional corporate hierarchy. The separation of formal visitor areas and backstage work areas has been dissolved in favor of five core activity zones:
Greet—these spaces are primarily associated with visitors who have immediate access to the studios and creative process.
Seat—the open floor plan blends individual workstations and offices with impromptu and dedicated collaboration areas to promote knowledge sharing.
Meet—the areas devoted to meeting and conferencing are centrally located and designed to facilitate communication and document sharing.
Eat—the cafés are spaces that truly bring employees together. They are community hubs, offering vending machines, refrigerators, coffee and tea service and views to the terrace.
Retreat—these spaces include the lounge, library, and outdoor terrace, and are primarily associated with taking a break and enjoying the company of others.
What are some of the human and company benefits of the space?
Ninety percent of the office has access to natural light while other areas use borrowed light. The open floor plan not only facilitates teaming, but also maximizes daylight and views. Therefore, in both practice and lifestyle, the firm’s values take shape, and all employees are encouraged to embrace the idea of openness and community—even if it means sacrificing a bit of personal space and privacy. Energy-efficient light fixtures, occupancy sensors, regionally manufactured materials, materials with high-recycled content and low-VOC, reused furnishings, low-flow water fixtures, and improved indoor air quality demonstrate good environmental stewardship. Conference facilities with video-teleconferencing capabilities facilitate inter-office collaboration while AV-enhanced design labs on each floor allow for more interactive charettes. Amenities such as an outdoor terrace, game area and in-building fitness center further contribute to a healthy work-life balance.
Can you tell us about the contractor’s role?
We selected HITT Contracting, who shares our commitment to sustainability. From the beginning, HITT outlined a plan for handling construction waste and improving conditions on site with strategies that addressed air quality, recycling, and material procurement. Air filters placed on all ductwork in the building were replaced on a regular preestablished basis. Air quality was tested at various points during construction, with a final test performed prior to occupancy. Waste and recyclables were sorted into separate dumpsters and collected weekly. HITT closely monitored the amount of recycled content on site throughout construction. They also procured as many regionally produced and high-recycled content materials as possible and used low-VOC paints, adhesives and materials to minimize harmful emissions.
As a result of their efforts, we recycled 95 percent of the construction waste, an amount that amassed to 15 tons. The project also passed its indoor air quality test on the first try—a testament to sound engineering and thoughtful construction practices.
AMERICAN SOCIETY OF HEMATOLOGY (ASH)
Dennis Gaffney is an RTKL vice president who directed the design of the new space for the American Society of Hematology.
What is ASH?
The American Society of Hematology (ASH) is the world’s largest professional society concerned with the causes and treatments of blood disorders. Its mission is to promote research, clinical care, education, training, and advocacy in hematology.
ASH purchased the building at 2021 L Street in Washington’s central business district to serve as its headquarters and selected RTKL to develop a branded workplace environment to reflect its culture and mission as well as to strengthen its organizational identity.
The 96,000-square-foot office is the only nonprofit LEED Platinum headquarters in the country that not only represents an exemplary case study for smart design and construction, but also leadership in the nonprofit green building movement.
Can you describe the design team and how RTKL worked with it?
AtSite was brought on as the owner’s representative and assembled the design and construction team, which included RTKL as the interior architect, Forrester Construction as the general contractor, GHT Engineering as the mechanical engineer, KCE Engineering as the structural engineer, and SDC as the LEED AP consultant for the project.
We began with an immersion process, a series of strategic visioning sessions in which the design team interviewed staff, evaluated their existing workplace and tested solutions. It became clear early on that the facility’s function would need to serve two distinct user groups: a core resident staff of 60, as well as the greater ASH membership comprising over 15,000 doctors and scientists around the world. Our greatest design challenge was balancing the different needs of these two groups: creating a collaborative workplace environment for the employees over four small floor plates and representing the ASH members who are the heart of the organization. In addition, RTKL worked to create a place called the “ASH Club” to consolidate conference facilities into one central location, alleviating the need to rent outside facilities for larger meetings.
Tell us about the design solution.
When ASH bought the building it was rated as a Class C property. The implementation of the Platinum level design has brought it up to Class A and it is currently only one of seven LEED Platinum buildings in D.C., although that number is growing quickly.
The design solution provides the employees and members with an environment that is open, progressive, and inviting. The focal point of the interior design is a light-filled stairwell that enhances vertical circulation and fosters connection between workspaces. The core of the stairwell houses a custom-designed light sculpture comprised of hundreds of colored translucent rondelles that represent the organization’s membership and the symbolic characteristics of hematology: fluidity, movement, translucency, and connectivity.
To maximize space and foster movement, workstations are organized in a nonlinear way in the center of the floor plate. Work areas are designed with low partitions and semitransparent screens to maximize access to daylight while maintaining a sense of privacy within the open floor plan. Conference rooms with full-height glass walls and support spaces are positioned at key points near the stairwell to activate that space and to establish a zone for circulation between floors.
And what about the sustainable elements?
Products for the construction were carefully chosen to include recycled content, regionally manufactured and harvested materials, rapidly renewable materials, and products that contain minimal VOCs and formaldehyde.
The project provides access to outside views for 90 percent of occupied spaces, water-efficient plumbing fixtures that reduce water consumption by 32 percent, and energy-efficiency systems that have contributed to an annual energy savings of 11.5 percent. The building also utilizes a Building Performance Management System which allows ASH to continually monitor and manage the building’s performance in real time. The annual energy consumption for the ASH building is expected to be 30.5 percent under baseline.
At what point was the project’s LEED goal identified?
Initially the goal was for LEED Silver, but as the process developed, going for Platinum created numerous benefits for the organization and its tenants including increased asset value, improved employee productivity and morale, improved stakeholder relations, increased operational efficiency, decreased operational expenses, optimized building life cycle and reduced environmental impact.
At the unveiling of the LEED plaque, the USGBC’s COO Chris Smith confided that the USGBC considered moving into 2021 L Street, but decided that the building’s mechanical system needed too much work to get it to the appropriate level of efficiency. “What an outstanding accomplishment it was to turn 2021 into a LEED Platinum building,” he said.
Christophe Tulou, head of the D.C. Department on the Environment, added, “When you think about the ASH building, you think about a building that has incredible efficiencies built into it. These efficiencies are going to help all of us—the people that work in the building, that live in the District of Columbia. All of us."
J. Scott Kilbourn AIA, is a vice president in RTKL Associates’ Washington, D.C.–based Workplace Practice Group. Previously the director of the firm’s Shanghai office, Kilbourn joined the firm in 1996 and spent 13 years working in Asia on projects ranging from environmental graphics to urban design.