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.
Rives Taylor, the architect leading the Gensler firm’s planning and design of HARC’s new, green building, regards the project as a vivid manifestation of the organization and its famous founder.
“This is the 21st-Century, next-step legacy of George Mitchell in a very powerful but incisive way,” Taylor said.
“The entire site is emblematic of the mission, vision and values of HARC in the power and water systems, the choice of materials for life-cycle implications and carbon implications, and the site stewardship of what is, in The Woodlands, a site that has the remnants of what was woodlands for many, many decades, perhaps centuries,” he added.
On top of all that, Taylor said, the new building will be “an exemplary workplace for Houston, not only to support research but to show the value of a sustainable and healthful approach to where we work – what we call our workplace.”
He offered examples of the project’s key features.
Building with nature in mind
With conservation considerations an integral part of the process, planners have left so-called “no-fly zones” untouched to protect natural features of the wooded site and the biodiversity of its habitat, both on the ground and in the forest canopy, Taylor said.
Planners are “carefully inserting” building and site components in the heavily vegetated property in a way that respects its natural characteristics while including all that “a 21st-Century, fully-accessible, ADA-compliant [accommodating persons with disabilities] building requires.”
“It’s not going to be a treehouse,” Taylor said, but the new building will nonetheless reflect the nature-conscious community where it is located: “It’s going to be in The Woodlands, in keeping with the aspirations of The Woodlands, rethinking that for the 21st Century.”
Reducing energy use
Energy conservation will be accomplished through a variety of methods, Taylor said.
“Harvesting free energy” will be accomplished, for example, with a design that admits ample daylight to reduce the need for electric light.
Geothermal energy may be tapped “to harvest the natural cool of the earth.”
Planners are also looking at creative ways to harvest and use waste from building operations, such as recirculating otherwise-wasted cool air from the air-conditioning as the system brings in fresh air from outside.
Meanwhile, engineers “with a track record in high energy optimization” are aiming to achieve “a very low energy use per square foot” with “very aggressive” targets.
One way that projected energy use has been reduced in plans is the substitution of more task lighting for some of the overhead lighting that would otherwise be used, Taylor said. This will reduce the excess light and heat that overhead lighting produces.
Building in harmony with HARC’s activities
Staff members’ workspaces will be “suffused with daylight,” with ample views of the surrounding forested property, Taylor said.
An emphasis on collaborative spaces for staff members is especially evident in the new building’s design, along with features to facilitate collaboration and education for HARC’s visiting colleagues and visiting members of the public, he added.
HARC leaders want to make the new building available for use as a compatible place for community organizations to hold meetings and for visitors to learn about sustainability.
Enabling an increased public orientation for HARC has been “one of our non-negotiable deals” in the building design, Taylor said. “We won’t sacrifice educational opportunities.”
In line with Mitchell’s belief that “buildings are physics, manifest,” the new building is being planned so a lot of often-hidden equipment will be visible, allowing visitors to observe and learn how the structure functions, he said.