Hurricane Harvey brought record rainfall and flooding to the Houston-Galveston region. The impacts of the storm and ensuing flooding included loss of lives, homes and livelihoods. In response, researchers from the region with expertise in hydrology, climate science, engineering, coastal resiliency, energy, community development and urban planning came together to strategize on solutions.
It’s all about how you start the process… beginning with the end in mind and finishing in alignment with those early goals. The journey to delivery of HARC’s new, green building is a great story about collaboration, setting clear goals with an organization’s leadership, and working with the design, engineering and construction teams early in the process to understand the effort required. This collaboration process is one that many of us in the design community hope to employ to deliver the highest quality building design and construction project when possible. That is the process that we aimed to apply in our relationship with HARC to design their new LEED Platinum headquarters. This level of clarity is in fact rare and is all the more reason that the journey to design and construct HARC’s new home is noteworthy and significant.
The first step in creating a clear vision that led to a “Smart Start” in the design process was a Feasibility and Programming effort. This preliminary phase was initiated prior to the actual design of the building. The Feasibility and Programming effort established the programmatic, design, construction and operational targets for HARC’s high-performance campus. Gensler and HARC (including executive leadership, the Board of Directors, and staff) spent time asking questions via a workplace survey and visioning meetings. We sought to determine how HARC’s research programs work best and understand the physical attributes of the ideal work space desired by the organization. We then reviewed the program to right-size the facility based on industry benchmarks.
The Feasibility and Programming process created the Owner’s Project Requirements. We focused on the three aspects of the Owner’s Project Requirements that align with HARC’s sustainability mission:
- Social: HARC is an employee-focused organization that sought to maximize employee engagement, collaboration and satisfaction;
- Economic: HARC sought to optimize the financial and operational performance of the organization; and
- Environment: HARC embraces the tenets of sustainable living and working, its new building will serve as a regional model for environmental stewardship, building efficiency, and community outreach.
From the outset, we created key performance indicators, aligning our efforts with what HARC considered “non-negotiable targets.” From these targets, we quickly established a basis of design that determined the architectural and engineering approaches that would drive the building’s design and construction.
HARC’s new home sits on 3.5 acres of forested land in The Woodlands adjacent to the Panther Creek floodplain. From the outset, HARC sought to preserve as much of the site’s biodiversity as possible and employ landscape design and best management practices to reduce impacts to the nearby waterway. The team worked to appropriately locate and minimize building and paving footprints, provide onsite water filtration and retention through bioswales, and protect and restore native vegetation on the site.
The interior work and collaboration spaces of the new building were extremely important to HARC staff. The team worked to find the right balance of quiet focus areas and dynamic collaboration spaces. The result being right-sized offices that are flexible and organized for small work efforts fostering a healthful and productive work environment through daylighting, indoor air quality, and thermal comfort. Adjacent to the focus spaces are collaboration spaces that facilitate small group interaction, formal in-person meetings, e-meetings and webinars, and workshop activities.
A focus of HARC’s research is clean and renewable energy. It is important to HARC that it “walk the walk” as an organization that facilitates commercial building energy efficiency. The new facility will feature geothermal heat exchange, a high-performance building envelope and rain screen, appropriately sized mechanical and air distribution systems, and day lighting. A share of the building’s electricity needs will be generated from roof mounted solar photovoltaics. We are aiming for an Energy Use Intensity of less than 10 kBTU per square foot per year. Through these strategies, the campus will attain a very close to “net zero” operational status. This is unusual in the Houston climate and will serve as a great example of HARC’s long-term stewardship mission
Watershed protection and low impact development are hallmarks of HARC’s Hydrology and Watershed Program. Rainfall runoff from the roof and parking lot will be directed toward vegetated bioswales. The bioswales feature native and water stout plants and run adjacent to the preserved forest habitats. Natural and restored habitats facilitate landscape regeneration. Low flow water fixtures in the building are calibrated to reduce potable water use.
Building design seeks to lessen the carbon footprint of the structural systems as well as minimize layers of finished materials where possible; exposed structure and polished concrete floors are examples of strategies employed. 30.82% of materials used in the building were obtained from the local region. All building finishes were low in volatile organic compound (VOC) content. Building waste was minimized and 88.33% of waste generated was recycled.
It was important to HARC and the design team that all aspects of the project, including engineers and the construction manager coordinate from the start of the project. The construction process has been facilitated by a well-honed and trusted relationship between the owner, the design team and the contractor, Brookstone Construction Managers. As part of the high quality and timely delivery, a majority of the initial social, economic, and environmental targets have been met and exceeded.
Simplicity and Efficiency of Operations
Highly effective operations will be facilitated by the building design and systems engineering. Efficiencies will be maximized during occupancy through the implementation of a building automation system (BAS). HARC researchers will gather the energy and water usage data generated by the BAS and create a data visualization dashboard providing real time and monthly data to optimize building operation and minimize electricity and water usage.
Third Party Certification
HARC’s new headquarters facility is targeting a LEED 2009 Building Design and Construction Platinum Certification. Our submission is particularly notable for its over 50% energy savings compared to LEED base targets. Commissioning of engineered systems began early in the project to identify issues and maintain the path towards LEED Platinum certification.
In an era where we are increasingly targeting low or no impact design, from the outset HARC and the Gensler design teams focused on the ecological, human and economic project viability while supporting the HARC mission. For many high-performance campuses where we needed to include mitigating climate impacts via a design process to support construction (materials and site choices) and operations (energy, water and human resources), the “Smart Start” process has been the common factor for success. As it moves into the new campus, HARC will monitor and share lessons from the site and the building performance, seeing how the lifecycle outcome aligns with our objectives.