Launch Slideshow

Transparent Technology

Valerio Dewalt Train's new Kresge Headquarters incorporates sustainable measures invisibly.

Transparent Technology

Valerio Dewalt Train's new Kresge Headquarters incorporates sustainable measures invisibly.

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    Barbara Karant / Karant + Associates

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    Barbara Karant / Karant + Associates

    The historic farmstead retains its character, thanks to Valerio's decision to embed his addition a full level into the ground. The upper floor of two-story structure is level with ground floor of farmhouse (at left) and barn.

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    Valerio Dewalt Train Associates

    The three-acre site was developed to capture rainfall and direct water movement. A bio-swale defines the perimeter of the property, and impervious surfaces are eschewed. The parking lot retains water within 18 inches of crushed rock below the permeable pavers. Water is collected in the reconstructed wetland and then pumped into a cistern, where it is used to water the green roofs.

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    Barbara Karant / Karant + Associates

    The primary entrance for the staff is at the lower courtyard level, accessed via an outdoor ramp adjacent to the barn. The barn houses the staff lunchroom and mechanical equipment-recapturing the barn's traditional role as primary support structure for the complex.

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    Valerio Dewalt Train Associates

    The north and south elevations are extensively glazed, while the east and west façades are generally opaque. The opaque façades, as well as the roof, are light-colored and superinsulated to retain heat within the building during the winter and retard solar gain during the summer months.

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    Barbara Karant / Karant + Associates

    The new offices face either the central courtyard or a restored wetland to the south. The subtle palette of glass and custom light-gray recycled aluminum panels complements the stone of the original Brooks Farm.

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    Barbara Karant / Karant + Associates

    The new offices face either the central courtyard or a restored wetland to the south. The subtle palette of glass and custom light-gray recycled aluminum panels complements the stone of the original Brooks Farm.

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    Valerio Dewalt Train Associates

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    Barbara Karant/Karant + Associates

    Two-thirds of the office space in the building is at what the architects euphemistically call the courtyard level-or the basement. Maximizing light was essential. "The staff of the foundation reads thousands of pages of grant applications every year," explains Valerio. The workspaces are thoughtful and serene-a cloister for the 21st century. Attention to detail extends to every aspect of the interior environment. A daylight-harvesting system distributes natural light. Occupancy sensors and light control maintain constant levels of illumination and conserve energy whenever possible. A raised floor system permits individual control of HVAC for maximum comfort. Operable windows are used to the extent practical.

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    Valerio Dewalt Train Associates

    Two-thirds of the office space in the building is at what the architects euphemistically call the courtyard level-or the basement. Maximizing light was essential. "The staff of the foundation reads thousands of pages of grant applications every year," explains Valerio. The workspaces are thoughtful and serene-a cloister for the 21st century. Attention to detail extends to every aspect of the interior environment. A daylight-harvesting system distributes natural light. Occupancy sensors and light control maintain constant levels of illumination and conserve energy whenever possible. A raised floor system permits individual control of HVAC for maximum comfort. Operable windows are used to the extent practical.

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    Valerio Dewalt Train Associates

    The architects implemented more than three-dozen sustainable strategies within their design, from simple sun-shading techniques to a sophisticated geothermal system. "The area under the parking lot is like a huge battery," explains Valerio, referring to the geothermal system that provides heating and cooling for the complex. Some 40, 400-foot-deep wells on a 20-foot grid are detectable only by the dark paving stones that cap them. A closed loop system of 1 1/4-inch-diameter plastic piping moves water from the wells to three heat pumps. A balance is maintained throughout the year-extracting heat from the earth during the winter and dispelling it from the building during the summer. Kresge's project manager, Ron Gagnon, notes some of the difficulties implementing these advanced strategies: Parking ordinances generally require vast swaths of impervious asphalt. Building inspectors typically don't understand geothermal energy. "You have to educate them about all of these new ideas," he says.

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    Barbara Karant / Karant + Associates

    Two-thirds of the office space in the building is at what the architects euphemistically call the courtyard level-or the basement. Maximizing light was essential. "The staff of the foundation reads thousands of pages of grant applications every year," explains Valerio. The workspaces are thoughtful and serene-a cloister for the 21st century. Attention to detail extends to every aspect of the interior environment. A daylight-harvesting system distributes natural light. Occupancy sensors and light control maintain constant levels of illumination and conserve energy whenever possible. A raised floor system permits individual control of HVAC for maximum comfort. Operable windows are used to the extent practical.

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    Barbara Karant / Karant + Associates

    Some staff receive private offices for acoustical privacy, although each space remains visually open via floor-to-ceiling glass. Detailing is clean and simple, with doors matching glass panel sizes. Clerestories help illuminate the circulation spaces.

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    Valerio Dewalt Train Associates

    The complex section of the two-level building incorporates light shades, green roofs, clerestory windows, and other features that promote environmental responsibility.

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    Barbara Karant / Karant + Associates

    Double-height glazing facing west dramatically illuminates a small seating area outside the conference room-a strategic choice made for aesthetic effect. Although inconsistent with the design's more energy efficient features, the architects found that careful implementation of such anomalies had a negligible impact on the overall energy use of the building.

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    Valerio Dewalt Train Associates

    Metal ceiling panels thematically relate to the building envelope and contrast with warm wood floors and walls in key locations.

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    Valerio Dewalt Train Associates

    Metal ceiling panels thematically relate to the building envelope and contrast with warm wood floors and walls in key locations.

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    Barbara Karant / Karant + Associates

    Two required fire stairs enclose the east and west edges of the central courtyard. Although occupied spaces on these elevations are generally opaque, Valerio clad the circulation spaces in glass. Energy is saved by simply tempering the air in each area to avoid extreme swings in temperature rather than providing full heating and cooling. Consistent with the rest of the building, the stairs are simply detailed in steel plate with precast terrazzo tread surfaces.

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    Barbara Karant / Karant + Associates

    Two required fire stairs enclose the east and west edges of the central courtyard. Although occupied spaces on these elevations are generally opaque, Valerio clad the circulation spaces in glass. Energy is saved by simply tempering the air in each area to avoid extreme swings in temperature rather than providing full heating and cooling. Consistent with the rest of the building, the stairs are simply detailed in steel plate with precast terrazzo tread surfaces.

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    Valerio Dewalt Train Associates

    Two required fire stairs enclose the east and west edges of the central courtyard. Although occupied spaces on these elevations are generally opaque, Valerio clad the circulation spaces in glass. Energy is saved by simply tempering the air in each area to avoid extreme swings in temperature rather than providing full heating and cooling. Consistent with the rest of the building, the stairs are simply detailed in steel plate with precast terrazzo tread surfaces.

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    Valerio Dewalt Train Associates

    Retaining walls are 3-footthick gabions faced in crushed Michigan blue granite. Each basket is filled primarily with recycled paving materials, including the previous paving from the site. Crushed asphalt and concrete was also "harvested" from nearby sites, making Kresge a local landfill for these waste materials.

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    Barbara Karant / Karant + Associates

    A lower-level conference room looks onto a retention pond on the south side of the site.

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    Barbara Karant / Karant + Associates

    A steel-framed pavilion provides an outdoor sheltered terrace overlooking a restored wetland.

The Kresge Foundation supports green building in a big way. The 82-year-old organization dispenses grants from its $3 billion in assets toward the capital campaigns of other nonprofits to advance the well-being of humanity. These substantial investments help finance the development of hundreds of buildings each year. In 2003, Kresge created its Green Building Initiative to stimulate sustainable and green building practices by its constituents. To date, the program has supported planning for 64 projects, including a building in New York City that promises to be off the grid entirely.

The need to expand its own headquarters in Troy, Mich., provided the Kresge Foundation with an opportunity to demonstrate these values itself. Since 1983, the foundation's home has been a collection of 19th century landmark stone structures that constitute the Brooks Farm. The organization had outgrown an earlier addition to the complex.

Kresge chose Chicago-based Valerio Dewalt Train Associates to design the facility. Principal Joe Valerio embraced the foundation's interest in building green, but he didn't want to create buildings that looked like they were trying too hard. “You shouldn't be aware of sustainable technology,” he says. “It should be just a part of the air, a part of the ether that surrounds us.” Valerio's nuanced approach informed every design decision—including more than three dozen distinct sustainable features—that shaped his 19,500-square-foot structure.

Valerio razed the aging 20-year-old structure—whose glassy façades proved highly unsustainable—and used the original farm structures as a point of reference.

  • The Architect
Name: Joe Valerio
Age: 58
Firm: Valerio Dewalt Train Associates
Employees: 52
Education: B.Arch., University of Michigan; M.Arch., UCLA

    Credit: Jens Umbach

    The Architect Name: Joe Valerio Age: 58 Firm: Valerio Dewalt Train Associates Employees: 52 Education: B.Arch., University of Michigan; M.Arch., UCLA

“The 19th century farm floated on the iconic American prairie,” Valerio explains. “It used sustainable technologies; it was off the grid; it was independent in terms of its energy,” he continues. “It changed nature, but it harmonized with nature.”

The environmentally unsound green lawn that had surrounded the farm's structures for the last 20 years was plowed under, replaced by a prairie landscape native to the area. All but one of the original farm buildings were moved by the architects to create a better sense of place and to integrate them with the new addition. This isn't just a sustainable strategy, Valerio notes; it's also traditional. Farmers often moved their outbuildings as farm functions expanded and changed over time.

Valerio eschewed overt “green” features, integrating sun-shading devices within a sleek contemporary aesthetic. The glass-and-metal façades of his building look no more sustainable than the addition it replaced. A preliminary survey indicates that the facility will achieve at least a gold, and possibly platinum, LEED rating. More important, Kresge has demonstrated that sustainability doesn't have to impede good design. In a capable designer's hands, it can be as invisible as the air.