A Sustainable Behemoth in the Making – The Saint-Gobain/CertainTeed New Headquarters

Image 01There is an old saying “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”  Well, that is exactly what Saint-Gobain and CertainTeed are doing at our new headquarters in Malvern, PA.

This is a very exciting time for our Company as we ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to sustainability and performance of our own products.  We are engaged in a full renovation of a building that was the former home of a large insurance company but has been vacant for a decade..  With our building products we are transforming the building – inside and out – to a state-of-the-art sustainable, living laboratory for our products and systems that should qualify as USGBC LEED Gold.

Because this is our building it gives us the opportunity to practice all the things that we preach on a daily basis to the market about our products. This is an opportunity to create our environment, live in it and monitor how our products perform. It is also an opportunity for all of our sister businesses to come together and address challenges such as indoor air quality, managing office acoustics, daylighting issues and overall comfort throughout the work day.

This project has generated a great deal of excitement for all our employees and we will have a great deal to talk about over the next year in our blogs because it is a living, breathing example of building sustainably with sustainable materials and with an eye on the future.

There is no other building on the planet that will have this unique suite of dynamic products all working together to make a material difference in how we work so we can help others change the places where they work.

I hope you will check back frequently, follow our journey, along with the pains and woes that all people go through when building a building sustainably.  It should be educational and fun!

 

Sights to See While at AIA 2014

PoetryFoundationWhile there are a myriad of noteworthy buildings and architectural tours in Chicago, we turned to architecture critic for the Chicago Tribune, Blair Kamin, for a curated list of sights to see while in town. A Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, Kamin was a featured speaker at the Architect Live exhibit at the 2014 AIA Expo. His top recommendations include:

  • The Poetry Foundation building by John Ronan Architects
  • The Aqua tower by Studio Gang Architects
  • The Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago by Renzo Piano
  • The Sullivan Center, formerly referred to as the Carson Pirie Scott Building, by Louis Henri Sullivan

Other notable projects underway include plans by legendary film director George Lucas for a Star Wars museum and the Barack Obama presidential library. Seems like we should add another visit to Chicago in our travel plans. What are your favorite buildings in the Windy City?

A Celebration of Architecture

 

Eaton Center

Eaton Center

Architects are like invisible magicians. They add long-lasting intrigue, beauty, comfort and convenience to our surroundings, yet the impact of their work is rarely a topic of daily discussion. Our fast-paced lives keep us mired in chaotic schedules and to-do lists that might preclude the diurnal appreciation of our surroundings — all the more reason to take a minute and take note of National Architecture Week, April 6-12.

Spearheaded by The American Institute of Architects, National Architecture Week is an annual commemoration that aligns with the birthday of our nation’s first architect, Thomas Jefferson. It’s designed to recognize the talent and innovation of architects along with the positive contributions they make in our communities. There’s a number of ways to get involved:

  • Follow #archweek14 on Twitter. Upload pictures of your favorite home or building and add comments to posts that grab your attention.
  • Visit the CertainTeed Facebook page to see our curated list of favorite projects.

And, for ongoing inspiration — well beyond National Architecture Week — we highly recommend Architizer for its amazing photography. Of course, you are always welcome and encouraged to spend time here on our blog — we like to hear your inspirational stories all year round!

Acoustics – Designing Classrooms for Optimal Learning

Santa Monica Public LibraryWhat impact can you as the designer bring to a classroom setting given that you are not going to be teaching?  One of the things you potentially bring is the ability to impact the environmental acoustical value of the space.

The 21st Century classroom is a more diverse place than ever before. With the mainstreaming of children with learning disabilities, physical challenges and language barrier issues, it is more important than ever to have an acoustically efficient environment. To create a design which does not addresses the lowest common denominator just seems wrong.

This gives students a better chance of staying engaged. It is especially critical where younger students are concerned (K-5). They do not yet have the skills to fill in the words that are lost when listening to the teacher in a less-than-adequate acoustic environment.

I worked in ceiling construction earlier in my career and built hundreds of school classrooms knowing all the while that they were poorly designed spaces accountable only to the installed cost per square foot. I then moved into working with the architectural community in an effort to bring a better focus on the power of and necessity for efficient acoustic design. I have observed through numerous academic studies that the attention to acoustic design in classrooms has a significant impact on learning for all students; but especially early learners. I was also afforded the opportunity to observe this need for acoustic design close-up as the parent of an autistic child attending a public school.

Thanks to LEED taking an active part in acoustics and environmental design, this topic is now required for certification in a LEED for Schools project. It is our responsibility as designers, specifiers and advocates to put a human face on the critical importance of this topic.

I will be teaching a webinar on Classroom Acoustics on Tuesday, March 11, from 12:00 – 1:00 pm. I will cover issues such as: Signal to noise ratio – reverberation time – speech intelligibility testing – how all these metrics and academic testing have shown that a quieter environment is a better learning environment – and more. 

If this is a topic of interest to you, take advantage of this free webinar by registering here: Ceilings: Classroom Acoustics (GBCI Approved)

 

Wall Assemblies for Maximum Efficiency: How Many Layers is Too Many?

SimplexOPTIMABuilding professionals spend a lot of time dealing with production construction which has dialed in efficiencies and productivity to provide the maximum assembly for the cost per square foot.  The reality is in standard construction you build things in five or six layers. This is the standard in terms of building a wall system more efficiently and we have gotten it down to a science.  Generally a six layer home will give you a solid, energy efficient, comfortable home.

Occasionally, I work with builders on projects that remind me of possibilities beyond what is the status quo.  I recently had an opportunity to work with a builder who was building a custom home whose wall systems had 13 layers.  This wall had so much redundancy and robustness built into it that I just had to ask for a chance to visit the project and see this masterpiece being built.

This was the homeowner’s instruction: They wanted a thick wall, they wanted a silent wall, they wanted a highly efficient wall for them to own.  That’s one of the key’s to this discussion- the owner is focused on what comes afterwards- not what happened before. To achieve this goal the builder is employing a combination of traditional masonry materials and cutting edge products and systems.   

In a similar fashion, a project that CertainTeed has been involved with at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia with Penn State achieves a similar goal but in a lighter and perhaps less massive assembly – to create a highly efficient wall system that can provide comfort, improve indoor air quality, better acoustics but, and here’s the rub- to still be affordable by more typical consumers.  This was done by using a 2 x 8 construction – providing a deeper wall cavity – A Blown-in-Blanket Insulation System, Weather Resistant Barrier, a Smart Vapor Retarder and Air Barrier System, a Wallboard Solution, Rigid Insulation on exterior and Insulated Vinyl Siding. This created an R30.5 exterior wall.

In both homes, products were used to address acoustics, indoor air quality and moisture control.  Do you need 13 layers?  Probably not but the pressure is certainly going to be on what layers remain to do more than they have in the past.

Thoughts?

 

Small is Beautiful in this Contemporary Cabin from Simplex Homes

When you start to think about downsizing  you may want to consider modular construction if you are building.  At Greenbuild this year, the Green Zone exhibited a wonderful option.Simplex House

The Greenbuild Cabin, designed by Resolution:4 Architecture and built by Simplex Homes, was an excellent example of more efficient living similar to the types of residential options you would see at the Solar Decathlon.  Attendees at Greenbuild could see products at work in a modular one-room retreat that was aesthetically very pleasing.

The 806-square-foot cabin is designed to have a strong connection to the exterior, with abundant natural lighting achieved through low-e, Argonne-filled, double-pane glass. With a LEED Platinum certification as the goal, the cabin employs a number of green technologies, including rainwater collection, a greywater system, photovoltaic array, EPDM rubber membrane roofing system and a super-insulated envelope.

The cabin houses a fully functional kitchen and, through its creative use of space and natural lighting, invites residents to live large.  

SAGE Glass Saves Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center

portfolio_kimmel_n21During Greenbuild 2013, I had the opportunity to work  at the show which was a wonderful experience. One of my volunteer assignments was at the Kimmel Center which was a short distance from the convention center. Rather than walk, I decided to take a Pedi-cab which Saint-Gobain sponsored during the show days. The biker took me up the streets and people kept calling out to us about how awesome they thought the device was. We turned almost every head on the way to the Kimmel Center.

One of our Saint-Gobain company’s, SAGE, was presenting a case study for architects regarding a special renovation project at the Kimmel Center.  My job was to get everyone registered into the event. Luckily, I got invited to stay for the presentation.

 This is what I learned:

The rooftop garden at the Kimmel Center was completely unusable in the summer. The sun would bake everyone in the room if left up there for a long period of time. It was such a shame since the room has beautiful views across the entire city of Philadelphia which gives you the “on top of the world” feeling.

 The space could host beautiful weddings and parties – in fact, that was the goal of the Kimmel Center. The architects designed the building so not to obstruct any views of the city but that meant it was made completely out of glass. This made it a perfect project for SAGE’s electrochromic glass!

 Electrochromic glass is completely controllable! I watched as they changed the glass from clear to slightly tinted to completely dark. The temperature in the room dropped by 10 degrees at least, making it very comfortable in the room.  The glass can also be controlled in zones, which means that half the room can he tinted depending on the angle of the sun. It was a dramatic demonstration.

 There are many great examples of SAGE glass projects on their website.  It is well worth the visit.

Lessons Learned at the GreenZone Pedia-Pod

Screen shot 2013-11-26 at 11.29.23 AMAt Greenbuild 2013, Building Design + Construction magazine delivered a life-size GreenZone Pedia-Pod to the show, where more than 30,000 attendees had the opportunity to explore this unique facility. The 14×42-foot module was fabricated by NRB of Ephrata, Penn., using a permanent modular construction technique. CertainTeed was proud to included in the stringent sustainable product specifications, which included Sustainable Insulation, AirRenew IAQ Gypsum Board and Symphony Ceiling Panels.

While touring the facility, I also gleaned several eye-opening insights on healthcare design and construction trends:

Constant exposure to indoor lighting can impact children’s eyes — which are still developing. Patient controlled lighting or lighting that mimics a circadian rhythm can result in a better healing environment;

Patient rooms are becoming more family-centric by incorporating flexible furniture solutions. In the GreenZone Pedia-Pod, this was accomplished by the a wall of library shelving that rotated to reveal a hidden bed that would allow parents to stay with a sick child; and,

Modular medical units can offer more flexibility in providing care to the community, since they can efficiently be deconstructed and relocated.

If you missed the exhibit at Greenbuild, check out www.bdcnetwork.com/greenzone2013 to see photos and learn more about the project.

Greenbuild 2013: Ready, Set, Schedule

greenbuild-nation-20x20Throughout the year, I crisscross the country for a wide array of meetings and events, and the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo is most definitely a highlight in my travels — even more so this year since it’s in my home town of Philadelphia.

The USGBC posted the full schedule for the conference, which features a healthy roster of thought-provoking, forward-thinking sessions. I know that sessions fill up fast, so I was quick to plan out my itinerary. Here’s a few sessions that caught my attention:

Philadelphia Eagles – Go Green Program Overview

Last year, I was fortunate to take part in a behind-the-scenes tour of Lincoln Financial Field and was wowed by their sustainable achievements — operating a nearly net zero waste facility and leveraging renewable energy sources. Regardless of your NFL team of choice, the story behind the facility will offer valuable insights and lessons in establishing an environmentally responsible business operation.

Biophilia: Moving from Theory to Reality

In my opinion, biophila is one of the most fascinating design trends in the green building industry. Based on the instinctive connection between humans and nature, biophila tends to excite at a philosophical level, but can be challenging to implement in the built environment. In this session, a team of esteemed architectural and building industry experts will outline specific project requirements, design guidelines and performance metrics for real-life biophilic applications.

Atriums: Challenge or Asset to High Performance?

As a building scientist, I enjoy digging in to the technical nuisances of even the most granular aspects of a structure. While daylighting, aesthetics and pathways for natural ventilation often drive the decision to incorporate atriums into building design, these spaces can also offer a passive solution for smoke control that is energy efficient and cost effective.

The Navy Yard as a Sustainable Business Campus

The Navy Yard in Philadelphia has become a hotbed of sustainable construction, research and development. Through a robust team of public and private sector entities, the campus features LEED-certified buildings, innovative stormwater management practices, and industry-leading design and research projects for smart-grid technologies. CertainTeed has been involved in the GridSTAR project, one of the components of the campus focused on net zero energy in residential construction and alternative energy training, and look forward to getting a more holistic view of the initiative.

Life Cycle Safety: How it Supports Social Equity Goals

As a building products manufacturer, “life cycle” is a part of our daily vernacular. However, the overall health of a building goes beyond its physical components and occupants. While fewer in number, employees who construct, operate, renovate, repair and eventually dismantle green buildings typically face disproportionately higher risks from building hazards. Led by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, this session will demonstrate how these risks can be proactively minimized in the design phase.

Greenbuild is shaping up to be an incredibly hectic, but invigorating week. Headed to the show? Let us know what’s on your “must see” list.

 

The Razor’s Edge – Casual Greening versus Authentic Sustainability

It’s remarkable when you think about it: there are literally hundreds of courses, webinars, certifications, and trainings all geared towards the re-education of built environment professionals for the purposes of moving towards a sustainable future.

But the colleges who teach future designers, architects, engineers and construction managers continue to lag behind the curve when it comes to the development and promotion of sustainable curricula. Sure, you’ll find a plethora of courses that feature “green” additions to an otherwise traditional course or new “Sustainability” programs that are cobbled together from existing courses under the mantle of collaboration and interdisciplinary work. Part of the disconnect lies in the fine line that can be drawn between “casual greening” and “authentic sustainability.”

The Razor’s edge, shown below, demarcates a chasm between “Greening”, which can be categorized as the mitigation of damage that results from the construction habitation and demolition of built structures; and “regenerative”, which seeks to reverse the long centuries of damage caused by the design and construction industries. In this model, “greening” is an important step towards more ambitious and more effective sustainable design. 

 

Razor's Edge

As we move further into the 21st century, the signals of pronounced climate change become more apparent; rising temperatures, wild weather, finite fossil fuels, and catastrophic oil spills form the context of a new era in the history of humanity. The question then remains, can the universities ramp up their offerings to authentically address the challenges that lie ahead? The answer is yes, but. Yes, educators are generally open to new ideas and are interested in change, albeit at a slow pace. But university structures as they are currently configured do not encourage teaching and learning pedagogies that are increasingly inclusive, collaborative, and interdisciplinary.

Collaboration is inhibited by antiquated credit structures. More ambitious holistic sustainability courses are blocked by outdated divisions between disciplines and the connection between what is taught in school and what happens in the real world continues to remain as wide as ever. So, what to do?

A major change can come from industry itself by building deeper and more meaningful relationships with university programs. By offering expertise, small amounts of funding, and some face time, industries can entice collaboration across disciplines at levels not seen before, engage with students and faculty in thoughtful discussions on the future of sustainability and ultimately help to build the kind of work-force that will play a pivotal role in leading companies to increased profit while building a more resilient and sustainable future.

This is a guest blog post and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of CertainTeed Corporation