Innovation from the Innovators

Metropolis asked some of the world’s most forward-thinking architectural and engineering firms to name their newest green products and systems. Their responses provide a snapshot of state-of-the-art green building.

As the LEED ratings system grows and more stringent codes are implemented (such as the Cal­i­fornia Green Building Standards Code), a new gen­eration of innovative building products and technologies has emerged. Today’s green architecture must address increasingly complex systems in a sustainable and socially responsible fashion. With energy costs rising, developers and architects need to maximize a building’s potential in ways that call for even smarter solutions. Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture’s design for Mas­dar Headquarters, in the United Arab Emirates, for example, has wind towers that support a large roof canopy and also ventilate the building, creating a comfortable microclimate. And firms like Arup and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill are partner­ing with manufacturers and suppliers to develop new technologies and applications such as microturbines, prefabricated flooring systems, and the next generation of photovoltaics. We asked 11 lead­ers in sustainable building to identify an inno­­vative building product, technology, or application that they used in a recent project. We think their responses—which range from an office space en-tirely lit by LEDs to a “green screen” that helps reduce temperatures by as much as 20° F—will inspire anyone to see the long-term benefits of innovative building. —Paul Makovsky

View Images
FIRM: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture
LOCATION: United Arab Emirates
INNOVATION: Wind towers
Planned as part of the world’s first car-free, no-waste,
zero-carbon city, the 1.45-million-square-foot Masdar Head­­quarters is being designed as a positive-energy building, with solar power providing an estimated 103 per-cent of energy use. The central feature of the design, by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, is a staggered arrangement of 11 wind towers that ventilate the building, support a canopy roof bearing an array of photovoltaics, and create large garden courtyards in their wide bases at ground level. Inspired by traditional Islamic architecture, the towers are bell-shaped to maximize their cooling function: winds entering at ground level will spiral up the cone, drawing cool air belowground. Warm air is exhausted through the open tops of the towers, which are chamfered to limit direct sunlight and minimize hot des­ert winds. (Temperatures in Masdar, which is close to Abu Dhabi, can reach 115° F.) Cool night winds from the Persian Gulf will be drawn in via facade panels, which will be closed off during sandstorms. A research team evaluated the environmental impact of the design options; its work can be seen in the use of recycled steel rather than concrete for the structure (cement requires heat-intensive manufacturing) and a construction schedule that builds the wind towers and roof first so that the rooftop photovoltaics can provide enough power to finish the rest of the building. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2010.

View Images
FIRM: Busby Perkins + Will
LOCATION: Victoria, British Columbia
INNOVATION: Water-management system
During rainstorms, residents of the new Dockside Green development will be treated to the percussive cascade of rainwater coursing off the roofs, down the aqueducts that line the entry stairs, and into the reed beds of the ponds below. This unusually visible storm-water-collection system is part of a management plan that aims to reuse one million gallons of water a year. Whereas the rest of the city dumps its sewage in the ocean via the Strait of Juan de Fuca, this privately run, mixed-use development, currently under construction, has established a local sewage-treatment plant that handles 100 percent of the black water on the site, turning it into graywater for green-roof irrigation, toilet flushing, and replenishing the landscape’s system of ponds. According to Robert Drew, an architect with Busby Perkins + Will, the project has caught the attention of Calgary, Alberta (among other Canadian cities experiencing massive sprawl), where wastewater is traditionally piped over great distances at a cost to developers and taxpayers. “Here you don’t need to pipe anything anywhere,” Drew says. “It’s a win-win situation, as the developer doesn’t have to pay to get it out through the pipes.” The plan helped earn the development LEED Canada Platinum certification, with the most points on record (63), when the first phase was completed earlier this year.

View Images
FIRMS: Behnisch Architekten and Nimbus
LOCATION: Hamburg, Germany
This layered and translucent interior addition to Hamburg’s Chamber of Commerce, known as the “House in a House” (Haus im Haus), claims to be the first structure in the world to be entirely lit by LED lamps. The design adds five new levels to the Börsenhalle, a neoclassical building on
Ham­burg’s Adolphsplatz, providing space for a business-start-up center, consultation rooms, a club, exhibitions, and meeting rooms. The top floor has views of the city through the building’s clerestory windows. To maintain the architecture’s transparency, Behnisch and its collaborator, Nimbus, developed an energy-efficient and low-maintenance lighting system using approximately 160,000 LEDs. The building’s wide overhangs, at heights of up to 52.5 feet, mean that scaffolding is necessary to change lightbulbs, but a vault beneath the ground floor rules out the heavy loads of conventional scaffolding solutions. LEDs use around four times less energy than incandescent lights and have a much longer lifespan. Arrayed in 387 modules, they cast a uniform light that can be controlled so that corridor and meeting areas are illuminated with different intensities. Programmed sequences are able to move the light across the ceiling like clouds in the sky.

View Images
FIRM: Kiss + Cathcart Architects
LOCATION: The Bronx, New York
INNOVATION: Green screen
Inspired by the cooling and filtering effects of the microclimates in a mature forest, the “green screen” being designed by Kiss + Cathcart Architects for a new public building in the Bronx will add a layer of moss to the walls and surround them with a mesh screen of growing vines. The single-story structure in Starlight Park, part of the city’s regeneration of a heavily polluted section of the Bronx River, will be a headquarters for the Bronx River Alliance. Working with Paul Mankiewicz, a biologist at the Gaia Institute, Kiss + Cathcart developed a rainwater-collection system that draws from an adjacent parking lot and the building’s roof to irrigate the green screen and surrounding landscape. Depending on wind speed and humidity, the screen, which sits about four feet from the wall, could help reduce temperatures by as much as 20° F. With the help of photovoltaics, the screen will help the building meet its expected net-zero energy goal. According to Gregory Kiss, a Kiss + Cathcart partner, it also acts as an instructional feature (its rainwater-collection system includes a small holding tank in the building lobby) and an air filter—especially important in an area with some of the highest asthma rates among children in the country.

View Images
FIRMS: Grimshaw Architects and Jackson Architecture
LOCATION: Melbourne, Australia
INNOVATION: Exhaust-venting roof
Inspired by the great sheds of the U.K.’s Victorian-era railway stations, Melbourne’s $500 million Southern Cross Station, which was completed last year, features a billowing, dune-shaped roof that provides energy-efficient natural ventilation. Much as the iron-and-glass stations of the 19th century had both functional and symbolic purposes—dealing with train exhaust and celebrating rail travel—Southern Cross was designed by Grimshaw and Jackson Architecture, a local firm, to ventilate and extract diesel fumes by mostly nonmechanical means as well as give the city a grand gesture. Anticipating a rise in demand for public rail, the block-long station connects the city center with the Docklands water­front and offers regional and interstate connections for trains and buses. In hot weather, the building acts as a large parasol; the glass walls don’t quite touch the ground, so air can pass through freely. The prevailing winds also draw hot air and fumes from the roof through vents at the top of each peak. Because of the roof’s complex geometry, the architects relied on rapid prototyping to ensure that the truss sections could be prefabricated at a reasonable cost. The roof was made from metal decking, with strips of a translucent polymer over the main spine trusses bringing light into the main station area. Still, the roof is more about providing shade than light, accord­ing to Mark Middleton, an architect at Grimshaw. “Influences include the desert landscape of Australia,” he adds, “which inspired the rolling, dunelike roof and the color of the internal cladding.”

View Images
FIRMS: Hopkins Architects and
Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas + Company
LOCATION: Rice University, Houston
INNOVATION: Prefabricated bathrooms
Among the most progressive decisions in the design of Rice University’s two new dormitories was the use of prefabricated bathrooms, which reduce both waste and energy consumption. Designers at Hopkins Architects and Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas + Company chose prefab because it offered better quality control and a faster production schedule, and it also cost less. Beginning life as six-by-eight-foot glass-reinforced plastic shells—made by Off Site Solutions, a U.K.-based restroom designer and manufacturer—the units are fitted with light fixtures, sinks, and toilets at an assem­bly plant in New Jersey and then shipped to Houston, where they are slotted into the new residences. The bathrooms have a white, self-finished interior and earned a place in the Museum of Modern Art’s recent exhibition Home Delivery: Fab­ricating the Modern Dwelling. “They’re as sleek as an iPod,” says Jane Cady Wright, an architect at Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas. “They’re clean and simple, and those who have the pods won’t have to share a bathroom with more than one other stu­dent.” When they open next fall, the residences will each provide 228 additional student rooms on the university’s north campus. LEED certification is anticipated, thanks in part to green-roof terraces, low-flow showers, and energy monitoring.

View Images
FIRMS: Foster + Partners, Stanhope, Arup, and Grants of Shoreditch
INNOVATION: Technik Floor
When laying down flooring in commercial spaces, designers will often use a heavy, wet material to create a uniformly even surface. For Willis’s new headquarters at 51 Lime Street, Foster + Partners applied a prefabricated dry-lay system called Technik Floor that was developed by Stan-hope, Arup, and Grants of Shoreditch. Made of a gypsum board (which is 95 percent recycled) and a thin layer of granite, with triple-tongue and grooved edges that are glued together, the floor was used in the elevator lobbies of both of the headquarters’ two buildings. The stone was prebonded to the boards and then brought on-site to be glued to a standard raised-access flooring system. The prefab design saves time and eliminates the need to move wet material through the construction site. A recent study on the product determined that, for every square meter of the system used, carbon-dioxide emissions were reduced 43 percent when compared to a traditional screed solution with sand and cement bedding.

FIRMS: Perkins Eastman and Dewhurst Macfarlane and Partners
INNOVATION: Load-bearing glass
The price of innovation is often measured in years. Case in point: the TKTS ticket booth in Times Square. Originally the product of a 1999 competition won by a pair of young Australian architects (now Choi Ropiha), the project finally opened earlier this month, after overcoming a series of obstacles: the eco­nomic downturn following 9/11, budget shortfalls, budget overruns, a bankrupt contractor, and the bureaucratic hassles typical of buildings in the public realm. But the booth was also the captive of its own grand ambition. It is a first, according to its engineer: an “all-glass load-bearing structure.”
The building is a kind of public amphitheater, with a series of 27 red steps (also made of glass) rising as a single piece of architecture over a fiberglass shell at the north end, which houses the ticket booths. “We’ve never really done a structure as large as this, all in glass, without any structural load-bearing metal to help support it,” says Radhi Majmudar, a principal at Dewhurst Macfarlane and Partners, the engineering firm that helped Perkins East­man realize the design. The load-bearing walls are two-inch-thick glass, laminated with SentryGlas Plus, a superstrong interlayer that DuPont claims is up to 100 times stiffer than conventional laminates. “Glass has very strong compressive properties,” Majmudar says. “The challenge was not whether the glass could carry the load but whether it could be transferred.”

View Images
FIRM: Pelli Clarke Pelli
INNOVATION: Prefabricated curtain wall
The most innovative feature of the Visionaire, a residential building in Battery Park City, is what Pelli Clarke Pelli describes as a high-performance prefabricated curtain wall. Combining ribbons of terra-cotta with insulated, high-reflecting glass and a top-level photovoltaic array, the curtain wall meets the aesthetic demands of the Battery Park City Authority by echoing in terra-cotta the neighboring structures’ brickwork. It avoids some of the problems that conventional brick walls have with rain penetration; the design allows air to flow behind the terra-cotta, equalizing pressure and effectively creating a rain screen. The photo-voltaics, expected to produce around 34,000 kilowatts of energy every year for the building’s common areas, also benefit from the curtain wall, since air movement behind the panels cools and improves the efficiency of solar cells. Craig Copeland, an architect at the firm, says the facade was prefabricated in roughly 4-by-11-foot sections and lifted into place. Deciding on an optimum size for the sections was a challenge: “We tried to find the sweet spot between making it big enough to limit the number of units but small enough to fit on a hoist,” Copeland says. The design team—largely assembled from the group that worked on the firm’s LEED Gold–certified Solaire apartment building in the same neighborhood—worked closely with the sustainable-design consultancy Atelier Ten, which provided a close analysis of wall types, materials, and environmental impact. The firm is developing similar rain screens for at least one other building, an indication of terra-cotta’s performance and visual appeal. The Visionaire will be completed next spring.

View Images
FIRM: Arup
INNOVATION: HIT photovoltaic cells
Once, using photovoltaics meant tacking a few panels on a building after it was nearly complete. Not so with Arup’s solution for the Vauxhall Cross Interchange, a London transportation hub near the Victoria rail station. The challenge was to create a people-friendly design that would help clear up traffic congestion. The firm’s dramatic solution, a sinuous building that looks like a cross between a ski jump and a futuristic roller-coaster, not only protects people and allows air to pass around buses; the canti-levered roof also uses state-of-the-art photovoltaics. One hundred sixty-eight of Sanyo’s 180-watt photovoltaic modules, which are oriented at precise angles to maximize their effectiveness, cover more than 2,100 square feet of roof. The combination of mono- and polycrystal-line technology is tailor-made for London’s frequently overcast skies. “The PVs are completely integrated into that construction as a last symbol of environmental celebration as it moves toward the public domain,” ex-plains Mike Beaven, a principal at Arup. A digital board explains energy usage and carbon offsets to passengers. Three years after the building opened, bus ridership in the area has increased, and the photovoltaic cells capture enough solar energy to provide one-third of the 24-hour station’s energy needs.

View Images
FIRMS: Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill and Jaros, Baum & Bolles
INNOVATION: Microturbines
A lesser-known feature of SOM’s sleek, silvery-glass office tower is a small steam-power system that taps into New York’s heating infrastructure. Working with the engineering consultancy Jaros, Baum & Bolles, the firm installed two microturbines above the building’s loading dock; in tandem with traditional valves, they harness the energy of the high-pressure steam that runs underground. The microturbines generate 226 kilowatts per hour, which is distributed in the core and shell areas—toilets, lobbies, and elevators, for example—of the 52-story building. According to Nicholas Holt, the senior technical coordinator for the project, many green technologies were considered for the building, which opened in 2006, but passive strategies (such as the steam system) ultimately played the largest role. Those included maximizing daylighting to reduce the costs of artificial illumination and using a ceramic frit on the glass to minimize solar heat gain in summer. The micro-steam-power system, using technology made by Carrier, is the first commercial application of its kind in Manhattan. One final benefit is that the quality of the power it generates is typically less prone to spikes than conventional grid power.

Recent Programs