Design in a Time of Uncertainty
By Rives Taylor, Principal, Global Resilience Research Lead
A Change in Course
In 2014, HARC's board and leadership made the decision to proceed with the design and construction of a new headquarters building that strongly embodies HARC’s mission – and in May 2016, HARC broke ground. When contemplating plans for the new facility, HARC sought the best design, engineering, and construction firms to create a workspace that acted as a true living lab.
Leadership knew that these goals would support HARC’s sustainability mission and be realized in the design of the space which could also provide a regional model of what is possible to other organizations and businesses in the area.
Flashback to the Future
From the start, HARC, in partnership with the Gensler-led design team, set out to create a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified green building capable of supporting HARC's mission of sustainability. In 2017, HARC achieved LEED Platinum – the most environmentally stringent LEED certification issued by the U.S. Green Building Council.
The design team began by employing several basic, elemental sustainable strategies. They minimized building footprint and impervious paving, designed bio swales to retain and filter water onsite, and preserved the site’s biodiversity by ensuing 70% of the 3.5 acre site remained unpaved and in its native state. The building was oriented to maximize the daylight reaching the building’s interior spaces and rooftop solar installation. Low-flow fixtures were installed to conserve water while mechanical systems utilize a 37 well closed-loop geothermal heat exchange system for optimal energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and thermal comfort. All the interior spaces were right-sized according to function.
Attaining such exemplary levels of sustainability required early and constant collaboration among the project team to prevent hindrances that could jeopardize the project. Because energy, materials, and performance-related strategies have such a significant impact on LEED scores, assessing critical building systems and materials were early priorities in the design process.
Walter P Moore performed a Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment (WBLCA) to evaluate the impacts of multiple materials, concentrating particularly on enclosure and structural systems, as these comprise a major portion of the building’s materials. Because typical concrete — or more specifically, the cement in the concrete, which accounts for 90% of the concrete’s carbon (CO2) — produces significant embodied CO2, we specified a steel-frame structural system and low-carbon concrete elsewhere.
These simple strategies saved 300,000 pounds of CO2 emissions, which equaled a 20% reduction of embodied CO2 from the structural and enclosure systems (compared to conventional construction) and saved four years of operational CO2 emissions before the building even opened.
HARC was the first project in the region to require concrete suppliers to provide Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), which are analogous to nutrition labels on packaged foods. 30.82% of materials used in the building were obtained locally, and all building finishes either had no or very low volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emissions associated with them. 88.33% of the construction waste was recycled.
Other advanced sustainable strategies include onsite renewable energy production and an air-tight, high-performance building envelope and rain screen that, with an effective insulation R50 value, performs 2.5 times better than a typical enclosure. Particularly impressive is the facility’s over 50% energy savings compared to LEED base targets.
Because of the generous support of the Green Mountain Energy Sun Club and their $136,000 grant, HARC was able to significantly expand its existing roof top photovoltaic (PV) solar array from 11.5 kW to just over 88 kW in December. Our building is now on track to become one of the first commercial net-zero energy (NZE) buildings in the whole state of Texas. We will be producing more renewable power on site over the course of the next 12 months than our overall building energy usage.
Hold your applause… because the show isn’t over!
The building continues to receive accolade after accolade – and as the building showcases its cutting-edge technology to provide a healthier work environment – our project partners also share the HARC story to various industry organizations.
In 2017, HARC was recognized by the Engineering News Record (ENR) Texas and Louisiana. This organization awarded HARC with the 2017 Best Projects Award of Merit. The awards continued into 2018. The first as HARC’s headquarters was selected as a Houston Business Journal 2018 Landmark Awards finalist, recognized as one of the region’s top commercial real estate projects.
More recently, HARC’s headquarters received the a Gold Level (highest level) APEX Award from the Houston Chapter of the Association of General Contractors of America (AGC). The 2018 AGC awards recognize the top commercial construction projects in the region. HARC’s building received the award for the Office Building: Under $20M category.
In addition, in October, HARC received its first Energy Star Certification. ENERGY STAR certified buildings and plants are verified to perform in the top 25 percent of buildings nationwide, based on weather-normalized source energy use that considers occupancy, hours of operation, and other key metrics. ENERGY STAR is the only energy efficiency certification in the United States that is based on actual, verified energy performance. And for 2019, ULI Houston named HARC’s building as a finalist for their Development of Distinction awards.
Lisa Gonzalez, HARC President and CEO, credits this success to several advanced sustainable strategies used to power the LEED Platinum building, including the extremely efficient building envelope, geothermal based HVAC system, and onsite solar power generation.
And most recently, Rives Taylor, educator and the lead architect on the building, featured images of HARC’s headquarters on Gensler’s Impact Design blog regarding the demand for greater sustainability in designing and building office space. Walter P Moore’s Dirk Kestner, PE, and Kileigh Shea featured HARC as part of an article on Redefining Net Zero.
HARC’s new headquarters facility has indeed fulfilled its vision of embodying a prototype for sustainability. HARC is an exemplar for environmental stewardship, building efficiency, community outreach, and affordable net zero in the Gulf Coast Region.
For 2019, we have many additional building enchantments planed including the addition of onsite energy storage to allow us to utilize the excess solar power that we generate during the day at night and on cloudy days as needed. Our interactive and educational building dashboard will go live and be made accessible online to everyone.
The office space at HARC is not only a model for how other companies and organizations can create a green workspace, but it is a financially solvent project. Energy savings and general employee health aside, the building seeks to be a model for others. At HARC, the future is now.
*Check out the interactive web application Building a Legacy to learn more about HARC’s origins, how the building was designed with nature, behind the scenes design features, and the innovative sustainable technologies. *