Tag Archives: architect’s

Could the Solution to Our Housing Crisis Be Your Corner Office?

There’s no question we are re-evaluating the role of the office. Telework was already on the rise prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, but now opinions are more conclusive. Companies are discovering remote work to be remarkably successful and sometimes even more productive. In response, discussions around offices downsizing, or decentralizing into multiple, smaller spaces have picked up speed. Some are calling into question the need for a physical office at all. Like many metropolitan areas, the DC office market has taken a hit, with vacancies reaching an all-time high of 15.2% in the second quarter. Meanwhile, supply has continued to increase with the delivery of new office buildings. As companies begin to downsize or sublet unnecessary space, it begs the question, what will we do with these empty buildings?

With a looming housing crisis and general lack of affordable housing impacting major cities across the country, an often-proposed solution is to convert older, underutilized office buildings with more modest floor plans – usually constructed in the 1950-1960s – into residential buildings. In cities like New York and Baltimore, these types of conversions are well underway, but DC had been slow to jump aboard the trend. However, since Mayor Muriel Bowser announced her goal to build 36,000 new units – 12,000 of which will be affordable – by 2025, the DC government and several local organizations, including the Downtown BID and the Golden Triangle BID, have begun to seriously explore conversions as a potential remedy to address affordable housing.

According to Gerry Widdicombe, Director of Economic Development of the Downtown DC BID, “Office vacancies are likely to continue given the current two million-plus square feet of office space under construction or renovation. In Downtown DC, our office vacancy rate is at 15.3% as of July 30, 2020. And we’re expecting it to rise to over 17% over the next 12 to 24 months.” The competition for owners to lease vacant space will be fierce in the foreseeable future, which could lower effective rents “either directly or by increasing rent concessions, tenant improvement allowances, and months of free rent,” he explained. Leona Argouridis, Executive Director of the Golden Triangle BID shared that her district is up to 17.4% vacancy as of last month. Adding that the neighborhood has 34 million square feet of office space, but less than 50 units of residential. “Given the current office rents for leased spaces, office renovation pro formas will show office net operating income per square foot to exceed residential net operating income.” But this might not hold true if rents decrease and, if they do, older office buildings will remain vacant until office demand picks up or we identify another use for them.

Laurence Caudle, Senior Principal and Director of Housing at Hickok Cole, asserts that this is an opportunity to prioritize diversifying and creating more walkable, activated neighborhoods. “Market conditions and previous zoning preferences have limited diversification in the Central Business District, creating dead zones outside of the regular 9-5 work hours, something that may be exacerbated by more people working from home in the future,” he says. “More mixed-use developments, with three-plus uses – like office, residential, and retail – would not only pave the way for more residential units and subsidized housing but create more economic opportunity and make neighborhoods more diverse and financially resilient.”

This is especially prevalent in the Central Business District and along K Street NW, a notoriously rigid area known for its abundance of office space. For decades, K Street housed some of DC’s more prominent companies but has conceded several leases in recent years to the newly developed waterfronts in addition to Northern Virginia, the city’s long-time competitor for new office tenants.

In other areas of the city, like 14th Street NW and Adams Morgan, zoning gives preferential treatment to residential buildings over offices, creating an imbalance between daytime and nighttime traffic. “These neighborhoods have a thriving nightlife, predominantly dominated by bars and restaurants because so few people are there during the day,” adds Laurence. “That’s fine, but wouldn’t it make for a more stable economic landscape if there were more offices in the area? That would ensure restaurants and other retail had patrons 24/7. Instead, activity along 14th Street dies down during work hours. That’s income lost for anyone with a storefront.”

Historically, the operating cost for offices has been less than housing operating costs so, in office-designated zones, the main way in which developers can see a greater return through a conversion is if they add more density and create additional rentable square footage. But a combination of height, and in some cases floor area ratio (FAR) restrictions in the city makes that a far more challenging task. Furthermore, some office owners have never owned residential properties or are not allowed to own them because they are office-owning real estate investment trusts or office restricted investment funds. In that case, Gerry pointed out, “There are the transaction costs of selling to a residential developer. City incentives could help cover this cost and others, including buying out a few office leases, installing plumbing for dozens of kitchens and bathrooms per floor, and possibly cutting out some density to achieve better lighting required by the residential market.”

Last year, a city-assembled task force developed the Office-to-Affordable Housing Task Force Report, identifying ideal locations according to vacancy rates, while summarizing the barriers keeping developers at an arm’s length. Until recently, the DC office market was thriving and relatively stable, making vacant buildings ripe for conversion few and far between. Though challenges remain, including a lack of financial incentive, the good news is that recent zoning changes allow a mix of uses, including residential, in downtown zones.

“A demand for activated environments has climbed to the top of many tenants’ wish lists. More and more of our projects are going outside of central DC because tenants are enticed by the energy of The Wharf and Navy Yard, neighborhoods that pretty much have it all,” says Laurence. “Now that it’s become more apparent how much time we waste in our cars, on public transportation, and commuting around the city, people value walkability more than ever – whether that be walking to work or the grocery store.”

The pandemic has accelerated behavioral trends across the board and fundamentally changed the way we live and work. DC can use this opportunity to capture underutilized space and meet market needs more efficiently by reimagining downtown areas that are remnants of old market trends and zoning regulations that discourage walkability in addition to offering incentives that make conversions more attractive to developers. These changes would create new jobs and attract new residents to DC’s core, ultimately stimulating the economy for a post-pandemic recovery. More housing, in general, would drive down prices and encourage more of the population to settle down, through a development strategy that prioritizes diversification over gentrification of existing neighborhoods. The District is – and has been – evolving. As members of the real estate and design community, let’s take advantage of available infrastructure and invest in a development program that will help DC thrive.

The Power of Purchase: Investing in Consumer Values for Long Term Success

With the internet at our fingertips, consumers are highly aware of their purchasing power and attuned to the policies, principles, and values of the brands they support. When it comes to major social issues, consumers don’t just want companies to address them in a statement. They demand action and accountability, expecting to see radical improvement throughout the supply chain. And they’re applying this level of scrutiny to most aspects of their life: from what they eat to who they vote for. 

The narrowing gap between commercial real estate (CRE) firms and the end-user suggests that our industry is no exception. While most CRE firms have adopted a value-based approach for their corporate branding strategy, according to Sarah Barr, Director of Hickok Cole Creative, “The movement towards informed consumerism requires firms to embody their mission, wholeheartedly through philanthropy, hiring practices, and partnerships.” She adds,  “This is an opportunity to reflect on core values, improve processes, and embrace transparency for future growth and success.” 

When done effectively, CRE businesses can build brand equity and cultivate deeper connections with their end-users, who in turn serve as brand advocates, and valuable outlets for sourcing ideas and keeping abreast of major trends. Most importantly, purpose-driven brand strategies can influence how residents select their apartment communities or how tenants select their workplace. 

Comparatively, potential residents and tenants may look beyond unit and office layout, pricing, and amenities, to conduct their own research into the property development teams, construction materials, and how the building is marketed.

“Consumers want to see commitment,” says Sarah. “How are you evaluating your supply chain to ensure your building’s brand purpose and story stack up? And once the building is complete, how does it live that purpose on a day-to-day basis?” 

She references NOVEL South Capitol, co-developed by Crescent Communities and RCP, and managed by Bozzuto, whose brand strategy centers around being a community-driven and community-focused third place. The apartments sit above Chef Erik Bruner Yang’s ABC Pony, which at the onset of COVID, pivoted to help keep restaurant workers employed preparing meals for healthcare heroes, firefighters and those in need through a project called Power of 10 Initiative.

NOVEL publicly aligned itself with the project on social media and provided Erik an extended platform to promote the effort with an Instagram takeover and ongoing social media integrations. Through the takeover, followers and residents were able to connect with Erik’s story, learn more about the initiative, and if compelled, donate. “Though NOVEL is not directly tied to Power of 10 Initiative, Erik is part of NOVEL’s community and it’s who I think about when I think of NOVEL. The project aligned with NOVEL’s community-focused strategy, creating a sense of pride for current residents and interest for potential residents who want to be part of something bigger,” she concluded. NOVEL has continued to have programs to support their community through this strange time that goes beyond the traditional experience, as well as promoting the unique benefit of Erik’s restaurant just downstairs for a full work-from-home menu.

Apart from growth potential, your decisions can drive real change. Take LEED for example. At the start of the certification program, LEED played a major role in differentiating buildings in the marketplace. Organizations who identified as sustainably-focused began to seek out LEED-certified buildings as one way to solidify their commitment and live out their purpose—helping LEED grow in popularity and pave the way for other sustainability and wellness programs like WELL, Fitwel, and the Living Building Challenge.

It won’t be long before most tenants take into account what their broker, building owner, and property management team stand for when their lease is up for renewal. Whether you define the end-user as an association, commercial tenant, resident, dog-lover, decision-maker, social advocate, or a good neighbor, their decision-making process lies with the collective stories you tell and live. “This is no longer walking the walk,” Sarah adds. “It’s running an ultra-marathon.”

Hickok Cole Awarded DOEE Net Zero Energy Study Grant

This continues the forward-focused design firm’s development of net zero energy design acumen for projects in the DMV.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 13, 2020) – Today, Hickok Cole announced it received a $20,000 grant from the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) and with funding provided from the Green Building Fund. The funds will facilitate early design assistance supporting the pursuit of net zero energy performance renovations for an existing commercial office building in The District. The grant period will run through the end of September this year and yield a case study for DOEE’s use.

Spearheaded by the firm’s High-Performance Design practice, Hickok Cole applied for the grant shortly after being engaged by the office building’s management firm for a full Conceptual Design process. This marks the firm’s third major net zero energy focused project since the American Geophysical Union (AGU) headquarters renovation, Washington, DC’s first-ever commercial office renovation targeting net zero energy.  

“We’re thrilled to be awarded the opportunity to further explore net zero energy performance,” said Holly Lennihan, RA, LEED AP, Senior Associate and Director of Sustainable Design at Hickok Cole. “Thanks to the DOEE and Green Building Fund grant, we can test the application of these design strategies and provide a path for our industry partners to engage in sustainable energy initiatives in the future.”

Initial grant activities include a design charrette in coordination with the engineers and general contractor. The project team will then create and study architectural and energy models, identify energy reduction opportunities, establish efficient building systems design and develop a conceptual budget in alignment with the renovation narratives generated during the charette. Throughout the four-month grant period, Hickok Cole will provide regular progress reports and conduct monthly meetings with the DOEE. Final deliverables include a case study created in collaboration with the client and grant team.

“The DOEE’s grant program is an excellent step towards achieving the climate action goals as outlined by the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Act of 2018,” said Yolanda Cole, IIDA, LEED AP, Co-Owner and Senior Principal of Hickok Cole. “As champions of high-performance design in the District, we’re committed to reducing the environmental impact of our industry and are proud to play a role in this historic movement.”

In June, DOEE also awarded Hickok Cole and MCN Build with the Design Build services for Kingman Island following the planning and feasibility study it conducted with the firm in 2017. The winning proposal presented a vision to enhance the island as “a unique educational and recreational asset for children and residents of the District, an oasis in the city that will protect critical habitats and species representing the District, and work towards the goals of a healthy restored Anacostia River and an engaged community.”

About Hickok Cole
Hickok Cole is a forward-focused design practice connecting bold ideas, diverse expertise, and partners with vision to do work that matters. Informed by research and fueled by creative rigor, we look beyond today’s trends to help our clients embrace tomorrow’s opportunities. We’ve called DC home for more than 30 years and are proud to have designed some of the area’s leading sustainable projects, including the American Geophysical Union’s net zero energy renovation and 80 M Street SE, the first mass timber commercial renovation in the District.

Hickok Cole Announces Headquarters Relocation to DC’s Union Market Neighborhood

The forward-focused design practice plans to relocate from its current Georgetown location in the spring of next year.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 3, 2020) – Hickok Cole announced today that it has signed a lease for a new 25,000 square-foot office, owned by Foulger Pratt in Washington, DC’s Union Market neighborhood. The 32-year old design firm has plans to move its 100-person staff from its current Georgetown location to 301 N Street NE by April 2021.

Image courtesy of Foulger Pratt

“We’ve loved being part of the Georgetown community for the past twenty years, so leaving is bittersweet. But, as the firm has grown and changed, so have our needs,” said Mike Hickok, Co-Owner and Senior Principal of Hickok Cole. “We’ve been searching for new space and have always felt the character of the Union Market neighborhood aligns with our creative culture. The move provides a unique opportunity to invest in what’s next for DC and contribute to the revitalization of one of the city’s most interesting new neighborhoods.”

Press House first came to Hickok Cole’s attention several years ago while they were designing an adjacent mixed-use project at 300 M Street NE. Since then, Foulger Pratt purchased the property and is developing a multi-building mixed-use project on the site. Hickok Cole approached Foulger Pratt to learn more about their vision for the property, eventually striking a deal to lease office space on the top two floors of the historic Press House building that gives the development its name.

“At our core is a drive to do work that matters,” added Yolanda Cole, Co-Owner and Senior Principal of Hickok Cole. “We pride ourselves on our local expertise and the ability to make an impact in our own backyard. This transition marks a pivotal moment as we design our new home to reflect both who we are today, and who we strive to be in the future. I am confident in the talent, creativity, and passion of our team to position the firm for the next generation of success.”

Built in 1931, the three-story industrial building originally served as home to National Capital Press, the company responsible for printing training manuals for the government’s War Department. Nearly a century later, Foulger Pratt is seeking to landmark the building and has preserved its historic character by maintaining and restoring the original façade, while adapting the interior to function as state-of-the-market retail and office space. Interior details, including the original mushroom columns on the second floor, will remain. The most distinctive feature will be the five saw-tooth monitor skylights. At their peak, the skylights span a total floor-to-ceiling height of 30 feet and provide an abundance of natural light throughout the space.

Image courtesy of Foulger Pratt

“We are thrilled that Hickok Cole selected 301 N Street as the location of their new headquarters,” said Cameron Pratt, Managing Partner and Chief Executive Officer of Foulger Pratt. “The historical architectural features of the building, centered at the heart of a rapidly changing Union Market neighborhood, provides the ideal setting for a leading-edge design firm like Hickok Cole.”

Hickok Cole will design their new interior office space to LEED Gold certification. Spearheaded by the firm’s Workplace Interiors practice, the new design will be informed by an internal vision and discovery process and seek to unify the entire design studio on one floor, in an open-office concept intended to promote collaboration, communication, and connectivity among sectors and services.

About Hickok Cole
Hickok Cole is a forward-focused design practice connecting bold ideas, diverse expertise, and partners with vision to do work that matters. Informed by research and fueled by creative rigor, we look beyond today’s trends to help our clients embrace tomorrow’s opportunities. We’ve called DC home for more than 30 years and are proud to have designed homes for some of the area’s leading organizations, including National Geographic, NPR, and American Geophysical Union, the first net zero energy building in the District.

The Future of Multi-Family: Design Implications for Healthier Living Post COVID-19

Well before the 2020 global pandemic, people were averaging 90% of their lives indoors. Now with mandatory shelter in place orders, social distancing, and encouraged remote working, this once appalling figure feels more accurate than ever. The unprecedented amount of time we’ve spent in our homes recently has fundamentally altered the role it plays in our everyday life, forcing it to serve more functions than ever before—high-performing workplace, flexible gym, stimulating school, entertainment hub, and safe haven. Stretching our personal space to its limits has shown a spotlight on what works and what doesn’t, and prompted the entire population to think more intentionally about how the residential environment meets their needs. How will this pivotal moment in history shape our relationships with our home, our community, and the environment as we look towards our return to society?

Following their webinar, The Future of Multifamily: Design Implications for Healthier Living Post COVID-19, Laurence Caudle, Rhea Vaflor, and GHT Limited’s Jim White, summarize the major design trends and solutions anticipated to hit multi-family development as a result of COVID-19.

HEALTH + WELLNESS

Digital Detox

Time spent working at home has meant that our daily commutes, team lunches, and run-ins at the water cooler have been eliminated – or replaced by virtual means. Between work, news, Netflix, Zoom happy hours, and social media, people are spending an exorbitant amount of time in front of screens, and it’s beginning to wear them down. Deprived of human interaction, people are craving DIY activities and connections with nature. As restricted access to shared amenity spaces lift, already highly sought after green spaces will become more popular than ever, serving as space for screen-time reprieves. To meet demands, we are exploring how rooftops, terraces, and courtyards in residential environments can evolve to accommodate urban farms and community gardens geared towards providing healthy, fresh foods to residents. The availability of these outdoor hobbies would support community wellbeing and relaxation while reducing the time residents spend in grocery stores or other enclosed market spaces.

Work from Home

Space comes at a premium in any big city, but lack of space while working from home is associated with poor ergonomics, decreased productivity, and increases in stress, migraines, and joint or muscle pain. The teleworking trend shows no signs of slowing down, placing emphasis on innovation and creative use of space as we approach the next chapter of multifamily design. To accommodate more time spent working at home, we expect to see an increase in dual purpose rooms and flexible furniture, including built-in desks and bookshelves, walk-in closets that double as office space, or flip up desks at windows sills that double as storage space. Shared amenities will include multiple co-working lounges throughout the building with access to natural light and widely dispersed workstations with excellent acoustics, in addition to outdoor work spaces immersed in greenery.

Indoor/outdoor fitness center at The Jamison at Dakota Crossing in Washington, DC

Exercise

Co-working is not the only amenity evolving towards increased outdoor use. With fitness facilities and amenities closed during the pandemic, many residents have adjusted their exercise regimen, picking up jogging and cycling outside as a result. Some have gotten creative by utilizing staircases for sprints and squats or taking to Zoom for streamed workouts in their living rooms. To accommodate new styles of exercise and ensure proper sanitation of all work out spaces, we expect to see more variety in fitness design including indoor/outdoor features, an increase in smaller, segmented interior spaces with streaming capabilities for private use, as well as fewer cardio stations that sit farther apart. If a new fitness facility is not an option, management might consider investing in the aesthetics of stairwells – fresh paint, engaging wall art – to encourage their use, both as an alternative to elevators and for exercise.

EQUITY

Safety

Coronavirus has emphasized the effect of socioeconomic factors on human health and we must implement procedures to guarantee clean air and a safe environment for all. Studies show that air pollution is linked to higher rates of Coronavirus deaths while exposure to air pollution is typically linked to lower income neighborhoods and communities of color. To mitigate the spread of germs and bacteria, we anticipate air quality tests and filtration processes will be held to a higher standard moving forward. Increased air filtration can lead to higher upfront and operational costs, so engineers will be called upon to utilize innovative strategies to provide higher filtration without increasing energy consumption. Developers and operators should play an active role to ensure residents across their portfolio have access to clean air. Further care should be taken as they relate to minimizing and eliminating indoor contaminants by selecting materials with low volatile organic compounds (VOCs), easy to clean high touch surfaces, and green cleaning products.  Finally, building operators can incorporate signage that highlights the importance of indoor air quality, water quality, and natural light to their occupants, as well as communicate what actions they’re taking to maintain a healthy environment for their community.

Activity room and computer lab for children and teens at Plaza West in Washington, DC

Technology

Access to the internet is no longer a luxury but a vital part of our existence in society, a fact that has become more prevalent in our socially-distant world. Those without internet access are disproportionately at risk of missing out on educational and career opportunities. Residential environments may consider incorporating Wi-Fi or broadband into their utilities or amenity services. Additionally, they may offer desktop computers for public use or tablets and laptops for rent.

COMMUNITY

Social clubroom amenity space at Fort Totten Square in Washington, DC

Internal

Social distancing has generated a deeper appreciation for real life experiences and human connection. Despite living in isolation, we continue to host virtual graduations, reunions, and happy hours. We’re reaching out to old friends, keeping in touch with distant family and forming stronger bonds with our community through volunteer work. While video chat, phone calls, and social media have helped keep us connected, they’re no replacement for face-to-face interaction. As we emerge from this experience, we expect to see a surge in social activity and multifamily should be prepared to meet demand with amenity spaces and programming that promote community building, entertainment, and collaboration among neighbors in a safe and meaningful way.

External

The pandemic has underscored some of the more glaring inefficiencies within urban planning. Traditional zoning policies segregate business districts from residential ones, resulting in economic dead zones and a disparity between areas with tall, dense development and areas with 2-3 story low rise development, further contributing to a lack of available and affordable housing. One solution is to establish zoning adjustments that would allow for more diverse developments or hybrid opportunities, developments that combine residential and commercial use. Not only would these opportunities help breed safer and more economically active communities, but they could help prevent the creation of hot-spots or vulnerable areas with higher walkability scores and increased accessibility to 80% of our basic human needs, including schools, parks, retail, and above all, healthcare services.

A recording of the webinar and a copy of the presentation are available for download, here.

Re-framing the Carbon Conversation

As the building and construction sector improve operational carbon efficiency to address global GHG emissions, embodied carbon will make up an increasingly significant share of a building’s total life cycle emissions (up to 50%, from approximately 28%, today). While policy and code changes are on the horizon, it’s clear we need immediate action if we are to reverse the damage already inflicted by the built environment.

In honor of Earth Day this month, we asked our partners to share what steps they believe the industry can take today to help move the needle towards carbon neutrality and net zero carbon projects.

Lindsey Falasca, RA, LEED BD-C, Director, High-Performance Building Hub at Institute for Market Transformation

“Investors drive demand on the front end – informing building owners and developers about their priorities and expectations. More than ever, investors are prioritizing ESG goals and requiring building owners to report against sustainability targets. Tenants are the customers on the back end – and they need to use their consumer power to demand spaces and buildings that meet rigorous sustainability requirements. This consumer demand, while increasing, has not hit scale yet.

There is potential to increase demand for high-performance buildings in both groups, but the key is to talk about concerns that resonate. Investors care about their reputation and about remaining in business no matter what climate or natural disasters strike. Tenants generally don’t choose buildings based on performance; for them, it might be more important that a building is beautiful, resilient to power disruption and designed to keep them healthy and safe. Environmentalists in the building industry need to translate the benefits of high-performing buildings into value for those who have the power to influence the outcomes.”

Joël Onorato, Project Architect at Hickok Cole

“Not only does embodied carbon make up an increasing share of total carbon, but as things currently stand, embodied carbon is projected to represent 50% of the global carbon emissions for new buildings from today by 2050. In other words, at least half of the impact of new construction, in the timeframe that matters to fight climate change, is in building materials.

Reducing embodied carbon can be done at the material or component level itself, as with the composition of concrete, and by implementing the circular economy. Circulating materials minimizes the volume of production and therefore emissions, as they get reused and recycled, while generating revenue in new ways. Even better than reducing carbon is storing it in natural products such as straw or sustainably sourced wood. Many solutions are available now, and at little cost, but they require changes in habit. This is why, progressively, governments should procure only zero or negative carbon materials, while projects, owners, and manufacturers explore the value that lies within the circular economy. As designers, we should continue talking about embodied carbon and be proactive in advocating for low carbon design solutions.”

As designers, we should continue talking about embodied carbon and be proactive in advocating for low carbon design solutions.

Melanie DeCola, Manager, Architectural Research, The American Institute of Architects

“The AIA has pivoted its mission, slightly to be primarily climate focused. The COTE Top 10 has now been re-established as the Framework for Design Excellence and is being included as criteria for awards across the organization. The AIA has also created a spreadsheet for architects to download and input predicted and measured data in order to understand the carbon impact of their projects; this spreadsheet directly matches the 10 categories in the Framework.

The AIA has also made a formal commitment to climate action, with both its 2020 President and CEO signaling this shift. And we are creating new resources and tools to support architects who are engaged in high performance building and wish to further reduce the embodied carbon footprints of their projects. These include an embodied carbon tracking tool being embedded in the latest version of the DDx and a guide for architects entitled, Buildings that Last: Design for Adaptability, Deconstruction, and Reuse.

We’re also planning the 2020 Intersections Research Conference this fall, in conjunction with ACSA, which will be entirely focused on issues around carbon and carbon management. This will be a chance not only for architects to come together and share the knowledge needed to solve some of these massive planetary challenges and share lessons learned, but for academia to present the latest research on life-cycle analysis, decarbonized grids, materials science, and more.”

Mark Fretz, Associate Director of Outreach, Research Assistant Professor at the University of Oregon

“Designing for carbon is designing for health. We need to reframe the conversation of carbon in buildings to be less abstract and technical and more about the health of individuals, communities, and the planet impacted by GHG emissions.

At the University of Oregon, we launched the Institute for Health in the Built Environment to synthesize these vast scales of health, through radical interdisciplinary and industry relationships that move beyond typical integrated design practices to connect architects, engineers and contractors with biologists, chemists, physicians, and environmental health experts. Through our industry research consortium, Build Health, we are developing and conducting an impactful research agenda together with design firms, such as Hickok Cole, manufacturers and other built environment stakeholders, who can then translate the findings into design, construction and operation practices. Furthermore, through Build Health, design students here at the University of Oregon have the opportunity to work with industry to visualize and design for the unseen in buildings, including performing whole-building life-cycle assessment (WBLCA) on real projects to identify sources of high embodied carbon and develop lower carbon alternative solutions.

This ecosystem of research collaboration across industry and academia, coupled with the integration of research findings into design education, will be how we move the needle towards carbon neutral and net zero carbon projects now as we focus on developing healthier individuals, communities, and planet.”

Designing for carbon is designing for health.

Chris Gorthy, Project Executive at DPR Construction

“The most straightforward way to reduce embodied carbon now is by repurposing existing buildings or using existing materials to build new buildings so you aren’t using a bunch of energy to harvest new materials.  These methods can make economic sense for developers now, using smart design and construction methods to keep costs down.  Until embodied carbon is linked to some kind of cost metric, it’s not going to be widely adopted.  Once that happens, there will be a tipping point where demand for materials that encase or sequester carbon increases dramatically. 

In the meantime, our industry can invest in material research, mock ups, tests and use cases for new or re-discovered building materials that encase or sequester carbon.  A prime example is mass timber, which is rapidly gaining traction in the design world for its aesthetic beauty and sustainable properties.  An emerging example is alternative cement, or cement made of fly ash (fine particles formed when coal is burned in power plants) in lieu of the traditional carbon-intensive burning of limestone.  At DPR Construction, we are investing in these methods and collaborating with our industry colleagues to research and raise embodied carbon awareness.  For example, we contributed to Integral Group’s “The Total Carbon Study” back in 2015, which established key metrics for whole building life-cycle elements.  More recently, we built our sixth net zero energy designed office out of mass timber in Sacramento. There’s a lot to consider when developing real estate, and we are working to ensure embodied carbon is part of the conversation.”

Holly Lennihan, RA, LEED AP, Director of Sustainable Design, Senior Associate at Hickok Cole

“In our culture, we use the phrase ‘paradigm shift’ readily and, most likely, too superficially. Having said that, I believe that designing with the intent to minimize the embodied carbon content of our buildings, is a radically different approach to creating architecture – a real paradigm shift!

What does this approach look like? It places value on the source, production process, and inherent qualities of each material that will be used and specified. This background data—the amount of energy used to create and ship a material to a job site—does not even fully exist yet. Modelling the amount of carbon in a building is another tool just now emerging. Designers will develop a new lexicon of materiality. For one client, we created imagery of local materials at the early concept phase. The standard and expected interior finishes—especially those that convey expense and exclusivity—will evolve. Beauty will still be the elusive goal. The palette will merely have been updated to something better for the planet.”

Beauty will still be the elusive goal. The palette will merely have been updated to something better for the planet.

Katie Rothenberg, LEED AP, Managing Director at Paladino and Company

“There are three BIG steps that the industry must take. The first is that owners must buy the maximum level of green power available through their local utility. The cost of renewable energy is increasingly a bargain compared to efficiency savings through cutting edge building design. You can have both, so commit to renewables! Next, designers must eliminate combustion on site. When you look at the Global Warming Potential (GWP) contribution of leakage in the natural gas delivery grid, it doubles the impact of the fossil fuel burned on site. Stop setting things on fire and promote electrification! Finally, Contractors and manufacturers must require Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and volume takeoffs for all materials significantly contributing to the project’s embodied carbon. This will require commitment from owners with designers’ specifying accordingly. You cannot manage what you do not measure!

Implementing these steps requires patience, but if we want to slow global temperature rise, we must do this important work now, before it’s too late.

Linda Toth, Senior Consultant at Arup

“With a recent increase in my time for introspection, I was thinking back (nearly a decade now) to the first time I tried to wrap my head around these vague definitions of ‘Zero’ targets, while completing a campus zero waste strategy during a Graduate Assistantship. How on earth was I supposed to develop a plan for an entire campus to divert all of their waste? Only to learn that zero waste was widely accepted to mean only 90% diversion – signaling that close was good enough. A more complex language has since emerged with operational energy. Which NZE/ZNE/ZE definition will you follow? Are you including source energy calculations, or is site energy good enough? 

Coming back to current day, embodied carbon is now starting to get some air time, not on every project, but gaining some ground every week. On a recent Living Future webinar, the term, Integrated Carbon, was used to emphasize the importance of evaluating embodied and operational carbon in tandem throughout the design process, not allowing them to stay in their current silos. Ming Hu’s recent book, Net Zero Energy Buildings: Predicted and Unintended Consequences introduces the term, Zero Impact Buildings, which also highlights the need to include calculation of occupant transport choices. While I don’t have the perfect phrase or term to use today – I challenge our design community to take the rest of 2020 to tackle the linguistics challenge of clearly and consistently communicating carbon management impacts throughout design, construction and operations of buildings. When we talk about carbon, we will talk about ALL carbon impacts and possible reduction strategies, not just the ones that will earn the project a new plaque in the building lobby after a year of operation.”

I challenge our design community to take the rest of 2020 to tackle the linguistics challenge of clearly and consistently communicating carbon management impacts throughout design, construction and operations of buildings.