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 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.