There has been such a groundswell of general interest in, much less requisite incorporation of green building design criteria and materials in the design and construction industry in recent years that Black & Veatch architects and engineers stopped trying to find the proverbial line in the sand between traditional designed-to-meet-code and designed-to-be-sustainable. Instead, at some point, our practice concluded that we should be practicing smart, responsible building design regardless of program or project requirements. This represented a real shift in how we approached our design process.
Of course we have always put the needs of our clients first, particularly because in most cases our clients are the federal government or the military. So, while we will always make the traditional design drivers of budget, schedule and mission objectives our top priorities, we find every single client, by definition, wants great design service. Today, great design service translates into integrating the best ideas, methods and materials applicable into every project. Coincidentally, those same smart ideas, methods and materials are, in most cases, also related closely to responsible green design practices.
Based on that simple premise, Black & Veatch invests the time to incorporate sustainability criteria into every project, regardless of the scope of work. If the project requirements include designing to meet a specific rating level of the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, our designers work closely with the client and other team partners to formulate a design strategy utilizing the most appropriate point system for a specific design. We then incorporate that same LEED strategy into the design development, the documentation and specifications, and ultimately the construction approach that best meets the client’s goals and objectives.
This strategy simultaneously weaves together a holistic and balanced sustainable solution. We plan beyond the immediate needs of the facility design itself and work to blend the program into the site, the surrounding community and the general environment, so that green design aspects are addressed with forethought and careful consideration. This process almost always produces a final result that works for the client, on many levels, and usually gets our firm invited back for future contracts. Our own investment of “time well spent” has tangible payback benefits to our practice. We find that more of our professionals are enthusiastic about devising creative solutions when designing, and they are equally as enthusiastic about working with the client and the team as a whole in the process of developing and integrating those solutions into the final product.
Drivers to Sustainability
Our green building design process starts by identifying relevant design drivers related to specific project types, locations and operations missions. For instance, government-owned projects may include the utilization of several federal building design initiatives that affect project and program decision-making. An example is Executive Order 13423 – Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management, which sets goals for energy efficiency, renewable energy and sustainable buildings, among other things. Others, such as the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, and the Department of Energy’s Federal Energy Management Program outline the federal government’s commitment to energy conservation in buildings and the environment. In many cases, our clients have specialized design criteria, such as the Department of Defense Physical Security Program, and other specific criteria, related to anti-terrorism and force protection requirements, that can pose a formidable challenge to the traditional “openness” one would encounter in a typical green building design. Black & Veatch architects and engineers focus on achievable solutions designed to incorporate sustainable components while not compromising security or mission requirements.
As with many government or military projects, there are cases where commissioning and certification through a specific third-party rating system such as LEED is not a project requirement, or is simply not feasible due to specialized security or mission requirements. Black & Veatch nevertheless always takes steps to inform and educate our clients on the more pragmatic benefits of high-performance building design, such as improved energy efficiency over the lifecycle of the facility or the improved interior work environment.
Whatever the specific situation may be, in order to continually meet our customers’ needs and achieve our own goals of integrating better sustainability solutions into our architectural and engineering design projects, we start with green solutions first.
If we have the opportunity to affect site orientation, we automatically start with placing a building’s long face on an east-west axis and either limiting fenestration on the south side or controlling solar gain by utilizing shading techniques where and when we want more windows. We almost always utilize some form of high-efficiency windows. We also try to maximize clerestory windows on the north face, and it always helps to control the floor plate depth, as well, for both energy savings and improved daylighting and natural ventilation. These measures alone can cut normal annual energy usage by a significant amount.
On roof surfaces and in surface parking situations, we explore heat island reduction strategies that may not necessarily cost a premium, or even green roof applications, which help save energy and absorb rainfall. We look to capture rainwater when possible for landscaping irrigation or reduced runoff, and we always work to educate clients on the benefits of water-saving plumbing fixtures. We of course use energy-efficient lighting, but we try to make an otherwise default design used in virtually every facility more meaningful by coupling light fixtures with sensor controls. We try to do the same with connecting high-efficiency HVAC systems to enhanced controls and natural ventilation techniques.
Of course, the final design is meant to result in a facility that costs much less to operate than a standard similar facility, an internal environment that is much more comfortable and an outdoor environment that fits much better into its natural surroundings. That being said, our constant mission is to solve problems creatively, meet program requirements and engage clients in a meaningful design process without adversely affecting planned project costs, schedules, or the original program. Although this can be challenging, it is also no doubt the new “way” of designing the built environment. The green movement and a reinvented materials and construction market have simply forced a new design process paradigm that we believe is here to stay.
Besides mandatory LEED accreditation training for architects and engineers within our Federal Services Division, Black & Veatch provides an exhaustive array of ongoing sustainability best management practices training. Black & Veatch facility design architects and engineers also teamed with other environmental engineers, planners and a wide array of technical specialists throughout the company to produce two internal, custom-designed green engineering training programs: “Environmental Sustainability 101,” and “Green Engineering 201.” These two programs have become outstanding training tools helping to round out resources our designers have in hand to help inform our decision making.
Additionally, these programs have reached literally hundreds of professionals within the organization, driving home a valuable message of environmental stewardship and responsibility Black & Veatch strives to instill in all its professionals. This type of self-imposed design training rigor helps us continually meet our customers’ needs as well as achieve our own internal company goals of integrating better sustainability solutions into our architectural and engineering design projects. In today’s market, to remain competitive and produce sharp designs, it is simply expected that your practice must be “fit” in a similar sense as a sports team. If your players sincerely strive to be the best in the business, you are going to win more—not simply in terms of contracts, but with satisfied clients and a satisfied workforce.