Green Office Building Goes Back to the Future

By Scott Thompson
Building Green
February 22, 2007

For a building that will be one of the West Coast’s most energy-efficient,
the Terry Avenue office building is mostly low-tech, at least from a
heating, cooling and lighting standpoint. And that’s fine with us.
The project — a First Western Development project that Rafn Co. is now
constructing — is Seattle’s first substantial modern office building
without air conditioning in half a century. This and other design elements
will substantially reduce operating expenses.

In fact, we calculate that the 40,000-square-foot building, located on the
corner of Terry Avenue and Thomas Street in South Lake Union, will consume
30 percent less energy than a traditional office project of a similar size.

Passive design strategies can have a significant effect on energy
performance. Orientation, shape and natural lighting are critical
components of a successful sustainable structure.

To promote natural ventilation and lighting, the design evolved into an
open-air court scheme, with the building entrance at the corner. The
four-level structure wraps around a court with floor plates that are 35
feet deep — narrow by current office standards.

Weber + Thompson’s Terry Avenue office building is designed to
consume 30 percent less energy than a traditional office project of a similar size.

Operable windows and vents along all the facades will promote good air
flow as the hot air collects in the courtyard and rises, creating a cross
breeze inside.

The system’s heart is the central courtyard. This semipublic/private open
space will be the common outdoor gathering area for the building’s
occupants, with grade-related retail spilling out onto the sidewalk.

Ideal climate

The thought of a new building without air conditioning in an ever-warming
world might cause some to dismiss the project as unrealistic. We beg to differ.

Most commercial buildings constructed prior to mid-century were designed
based on these simple principles.

With our temperate climate and relatively low humidity, the Northwest is
ideal for passively cooled structures. Extensive thermal modeling
conducted by Stantec Engineering concluded that there may be only 18 to 20
hours a year when the temperature will climb above 80 degrees inside.

Because the benefits of fresh air, natural light and control over personal
work environments were staff priorities early on in the design process, we
decided that the inconvenience of a few warm afternoons a year is
something we can live with. This will be a building where we will actively
participate in the comfort levels of our workplace, much like we do at home.

In addition, each exterior facade was designed as a response to its
exposure. Fixed sunshades, or “sunglasses,” will be attached on the east
and west sides, and operable exterior mechanical louvers will be hung on
the northeast angled facade and in the interior court.

Green features

The structure will be steel frame and fly-ash concrete construction with
an integrated aluminum commercial window wall system on the exterior. All
components will contain a large percentage of recycled materials, and the
roof will be a light PVC membrane for reflectance.

Daylighting models were tested extensively at the University of
Washington’s Daylighting Lab to ensure even lighting throughout the interior.

Other sustainable features in the Terry Avenue office building are
low-flow plumbing fixtures, waterless urinals, a highly efficient
hot-water heating system and perimeter hydronic radiant heating that is
individually controlled. With only one elevator, the use of stairs will be
encouraged by making them visible and accessible to users and visitors.

The exposed structure minimizes the use of finish materials, and good
indoor-air quality will be achieved by using low-VOC paints, adhesives and carpet.

Additionally, the South Lake Union streetcar will run directly in front of
the building, encouraging all of us to stay out of our automobiles. The
corner of Terry Avenue and Thomas Street will be a special urban place
where pedestrians, low-intensity traffic and public transit will intertwine.

The Terry Avenue office building will be completed in March 2008, and we
anticipate LEED gold core and shell certification.

Our goal is to construct a place that promotes a healthier environment by
using energy, water and other natural resources more efficiently, which,
in turn, will reduce our impact on the environment.

A sustainable building uses design and technology that works with nature.
It promotes a sense of community, a sense of place. This vision is at the
core of our practice.

Scott E. Thompson, AIA, is a founding principal of Seattle-based Weber +
Thompson, a full-service, West Coast design firm specializing in
architecture, interior design and planning.


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