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Green Building | Steel

September 29, 2004

U.S. green building a model of people-first design

BY PEG HILL

DCN CORRESPONDENT

An irony arose during the recent Green Building Opportunities Summit: People-friendly buildings were discussed in a freezing, drab, windowless meeting room at the Wyndham Bristol Place in Toronto.

Even keynote speaker architect Stefan Behnisch commented on how much energy could be saved if the room’s excessive air conditioning had been set just five degrees warmer.

Until breaks could permit attendees to slip outside into the unusually warm September sunshine, PowerPoint presentations of sun-speckled atriums and rooftop gardens were all that reminded the audience of green buildings’ benefits to their occupants.

One such example is the Genzyme Center in Cambridge, Mass. Richard Mattila is director of environmental affairs for the biotechnology and pharmaceutical corporation. He was the first speaker during the two-day conference and he warmed up the meeting room with his enthusiasm for the company’s new 12-storey headquarters.

“This is the first building I’ve been in that feels like it was built for people,” he said.

Genzyme sought a building that would give it maximum energy efficiency and employee benefits. Coincidentally, the architecture firm that led the project was Behnisch, Behnisch & Partner. It was designed from the inside out, looking first at what the users of the building would require and then designing out from that.

The result was the use of a filigree construction technique that reduced the building’s weight, as opposed to a steel frame, which allowed for wider spans between pillars and more open spaces. The building now contains 18 indoor gardens that use high efficiency irrigation technology. A rooftop garden cools the building through the summer and reduces night sky pollution.

A 12-storey atrium reflects natural light from the energy efficient glass surrounding the building. Rooftop heliostats follow the path of the sun and reflect light to mirrors that sends the sunshine down into the building, where glare is reduced by sunshades.

Steam is used for heating and cooling, resulting in energy costs that are 41 per cent less than comparable buildings, based on 2000 energy codes.

Sustainability is also incorporated into employee transportation. Indoor bike spaces are provided, along with subsidized transit passes and carpool incentives.

LEED was used as a guide for the centre’s design and Genzyme is waiting for its rating.

The cost of the 350,000 square-foot building was $140 million (U.S.), including the furniture and fixtures. Mattila broke out the construction costs alone to be about $109 million. The project began in 2000 when the site’s soil was remediated; the structure began construction in 2001 and the company moved in November of last year.

Mattila, while pleased with the dollar cost, measured the value more in employee satisfaction, increased productivity and reduced “presenteeism,” which he described as headaches and stress brought on by an uncomfortable work environment.

He acknowledged that the building does have higher maintenance costs to clean the reflective surfaces, but he suggested the energy savings will more than make up for that.

“The proof will be in the pudding, once we’ve been in the building one or two years.”

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