Urban Green Council: Standards and requirements have been improving for some time now—how do the latest changes differ from previous ones in terms of how projects are run?
Julie Nelson: With each change of building performance requirements, our industry rethinks the design process and the way that clients, architects and engineers work together. I don’t think it is accidental that these code changes are happening at the same time that the integrated design process is being recognized with points in LEED v4 and in the WELL Building Standard. Engineers and architects will need a more robust working relationship with collaboration starting at the beginning of a project, a shared design process and a deeper emphasis on construction quality.
Architects will need to develop new skills and competencies with energy modeling—both early phase “shoebox” energy modeling and full energy modeling in collaboration with engineers. They’ll have to be much more conversant in things like load calculations and energy conservation measures. The study of mass/glass ratios, solar insolation and zoning envelope should occur simultaneously and be integrated with mechanical system selection. Greater “LEED-literacy” across the design and construction team is needed to ensure the work of meeting requirements of LEED certification is better distributed across the project team and not as siloed.
UGC: Do the new local laws open up opportunities for you to try anything new or interesting that a lack of demand may have prevented previously?
JN: When the city mandates better performing buildings, it encourages an environment of innovation and risk-taking. When my firm designed the first publically funded LEED Platinum project in the city, the Administration Building at the Queens Botanical Garden, we met the requirements for Platinum certification with innovations in water conservation (including gray water reuse and onsite storm water retention), energy performance (including geothermal wells and PV), as well as landscape/architecture integration (including green roofs). At the time, in the early 2000s, there were very few examples of these elements in NYC and limited local expertise, so we collaborated with engineers and designers from Germany and Chicago, and consulted with Smith Group in D.C. who had recently completed the first LEED Platinum building in the world, the Philip Merrill Environmental Center at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Because of the city’s commitment then, this kind of approach is considered the baseline today.
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Queens Botanical Garden Administration and Visitor’s Center was the city’s first publically funded LEED Platinum project, meeting requirements for certification with innovations in water conservation, energy performance, and landscape/architecture integration.