Living Building Challenge Series: An Introduction

In December 2016, Feldman Architecture pledged to the AIA 2030 Commitment and created an Action Plan as a road map to designing carbon neutral buildings by the year 2030. In our Action Plan, originally published in 2018 and updated annually, our studio selected a series of goals to focus our sustainability initiatives around over the next 3-5 years, one of them being designing and building a Living Building Challenge certified project. 

The Living Building Challenge is an ever-evolving certification program enacted by the International Living Future Institute. The program is considered the world’s most rigorous proven performance standard for buildings. The regenerative design framework aims to create spaces that, like a flower, give more than they take – connecting occupants to light, air, food, nature, and community. LBC certified buildings are self-sufficient and remain within the resource limits of their site and create a positive impact on the human and natural systems that interact with them.

The Living Building Challenge consists of seven performance categories, or “Petals”: place, water, energy, health + happiness, materials, equity, and beauty. Based on the building’s performance in these categories, 3 certification pathways are available to pursue, Living Building Certification, Petal Certification, and Zero Energy Certification.  

Feldman Architecture is excited to announce that as of this summer, Curveball will be our first project to attempt to achieve a Living Building Challenge certification. Situated in the Santa Lucia Preserve, a 20,000 acre land trust, the design for Curveball prioritizes sustainability, flexible spaces, and connection to the outdoors, artfully placing two gently curved forms on an open pad within a grove of oaks folded into a steep site. The design respects the existing landscape, and orients public and private spaces towards both distant views, as well as intimate moments with dense tree canopies.

Prioritizing fire resiliency and sustainability, our design envelops the building in durable, low-maintenance modular weathering steel panels and aluminum windows. The eroded material aesthetic reinforces the conceptual merging of architecture and landscape, and a green roof seamlessly emerges the structure from the hillside.  

With Curveball, we aim to achieve full Living Building Challenge certification, however, as this is our first attempt at working within the constraints of this rigorous program, we may pursue a Petal or CORE certification. At this point in the process, the potential challenges include access to solar energy in a densely treed site, access to water, and materials selection – the design may not include any redlist items.  

We are fortunate to be embarking on this certification process with a group of extremely talented consultants, listed below. We look forward to sharing our progress along the way, highlighting our challenges and successes with our community. We hope our journey encourages others to engage with regenerative design, as well as to crowdsource best practices in the certification process.  

Landscape Architect: MFLA
Structural Engineer: Daedalus Structural Engineering
General Contractor: RJL Construction
Mechanical and Energy Consultants: Positive Energy 
Civil Engineer: L&S Engineering
Surveyor: Whitson Engineers
Geotechnical Engineer: Haro Kasunich & Associates
Sustainability Consultant: Corey Squire, Department of Sustainability
LBC Consultant: Phaedra Svec, McLennan Design
Water Systems Consultant: WaterSprout
Planting Advisor: RANA  

Sustainability Update: 2030 Commitment

We are excited to announce the results of our AIA 2030 Commitment data reporting for 2021. Our combined portfolio, which includes 11 projects totaling over 42,000 square feet, came in at an overall predicted 98.13% EUI (energy use intensity) reduction, far exceeding the current goal of 80%, and just below our ultimate goal of 100% EUI reduction (or achieving net-zero energy use) by the year 2030. 75% of our projects reported from last year met the 80% target, with 5 projects predicted to achieve net-zero energy use. Our findings indicate that a drastic reduction in our projects’ gas use combined with increased PV production made the biggest difference in a nearly 30% jump in our portfolio over previous years.

While this data only represents predicted energy use and post-occupancy data will need to be collected and analyzed, this is a huge step in the right direction towards our commitment to reducing our work’s carbon emissions and a net-zero energy future. Stay tuned as we continue to report our progress and findings on our blog. Onward!⁠

 

Sustainability Update 2022

Looking forward to 2022, our committee has listed three primary areas of focus: Sustainable Design Workflow, Education and Knowledge Sharing, and Strategic Planning. By setting goals within each of these areas, we hope to continue to refine our internal processes, increase our general firm knowledge on sustainable design best practices, products, and systems, all of which will work to align our overall initiatives with our firm’s strategic goals.

In terms of our in-house workflow, our committee plans to continue to improve our project checklist and increase transparency for our project teams. Check-ins will continue to take place at regular intervals throughout the design process to reinforce our standard sustainability practices and goals. We also plan on auditing our process documentation with a consultant from the Department of Sustainability who will assist us in further refining our focus.  

More specifically, our committee is largely focused on better understanding our projects’ carbon footprints, accounting for both the embodied and operational carbon that results from their construction and use. In efforts to develop a better understanding of our projects’ embodied carbon, we’ve continued our deployment of Tally on select projects, an embodied carbon measurement software, while also beginning to analyze typical building assemblies that are common in our work.

Life Cycle Assessment study of the embodied carbon in building components using data from Tally


Regarding our buildings’ operational carbon, we intend to begin leaning more heavily on post-occupancy energy use data to not only have an accurate accounting of a project’s actual energy use, but also to better predict the energy use of future projects early in the design phase. As we continue towards our 2030 goal of net-zero operational carbon for all new projects, it’s becoming clear that we must not rely solely on theoretical modeling alone.

And although we’ve identified that bringing a higher level of organization and carefully vetting and documenting our processes are key to us realizing our goals, we also feel that a big part of furthering our sustainability initiatives depends on keeping our entire staff educated on current and emerging sustainable technologies and products, through the sharing of our own research as well as engaging with our peers. This year, we plan on holding quarterly sustainability focused information sessions and presentations with the entire firm as we continue to develop a deeper understanding of our practice’s roles in the bigger picture of climate awareness. In terms of Strategic Planning, this will also allow us to better align our firm’s strategic and sustainability goals, further engraining sustainability as a cornerstone of our firm’s future.

Earth Day Sustainability Update

This Earth Day, we are reflecting on the current state of our world and our community. As an organization, we are committed to sustainability now more than ever, and more conscious of how the rapidly changing world around us affects not only the spaces we design, but also our team that so beautifully designs them.

With COVID 19 changing the status quo, it’s a good time to reflect on our mission and our values. It also seems like a great time to highlight a few updates about our 2020 sustainability efforts, and to refresh our passion and commitment to leadership in the sustainability space.

As a milestone year in our industry’s journey towards carbon neutrality by 2030, we are happy to report our progress in a newly updated Action Plan. In December of 2016 Feldman Architecture signed onto the 2030 Challenge and AIA 2030 Commitment, two programs that are promoting a vision that calls for all new buildings, developments, and renovations to be carbon-neutral by 2030. As part of this commitment Feldman Architecture’s Sustainability AOE has crafted this Action Plan to serve as a roadmap to help us achieve our goals, as well as to encourage more sustainable practices within the firm. In it we outline short and long-term goals in areas that go beyond just sustainable design, including community outreach and office culture.

This year, we are releasing a 2020 update to our sustainability Action Plan on Earth Day– outlining our progress from the past year and highlighting both what we have achieved and where we can improve. A highlight includes our recently launched Zero Carbon Operations Plan for our office. ⁠

Secondly, this spring, Jonathan Feldman was appointed to the AIA California COTE (Committee on the Environment) which works to educate and inform the design community about environmental and preservation issues and advise the organization on policy matters affecting the practice of architecture. Jonathan is excited to be serving on the communications subcommittee, working alongside peers to drive our industry in a sustainable and responsible direction.

And lastly, we are excited to say that our newly appointed Sustainability Integration Leader, and longtime FA Associate Ben Welty, is working with AIA SF on programming for their Sustainability Symposium this fall. Stay tuned for more!

 

2019 Sustainability Check-In

With 2020 just days away, it’s a good time to reflect on our big picture sustainability objectives as a firm, and acknowledge all that we have accomplished over the past year- keeping in mind our goal to be Carbon Neutral by 2030.

This year, our goal was to pass our Title 24 Energy models by a minimum of 10%. In 2019, we averaged a 13% compliance margin across our reporting portfolio.

Translating this information into our 2030 reporting and looking through the lens of the EUI (Energy Use Intensity) of our project portfolio, in 2019 we averaged a 68% reduction from baseline energy use. Although this did not meet the 2030 goal of a 70% reduction, we did improve by 4% over our 2018 reporting portfolio. Each year, we are moving closer and closer to the baseline target, which is rising to 80% in 2020.

This year, we also created an internal sustainability checklist to track project goals across a variety of phases. Our team is working on integrating conversations early on in the design process, outlining sustainability goals and ways to improve our building’s energy and thermal performance. We now use Sefaira, an energy tracking and modeling software, to perform energy and lighting studies for each of our projects – bringing energy performance into the design process at the project’s conception.

Furthermore, we now look at our projects in terms of their Carbon footprint, both operationally and embodied. Thinking more holistically about our project’s CO2 footprint, instead of just their EUI, allows us to weigh the gas and electric usage differently in each of our projects, giving us a better sense of how close we are to our 2030 Carbon Neutral goal. Stay tuned for an update on our carbon metrics in the first quarter of 2020!

– Sophia Beavis Duluk 

 

Water You Doing With Your Water?

By Johnny Lemoine

Greg Fitzsimmons, who’s up there as being one of my favorite comedians, has a hilarious bit about water. It goes a little something like this…

“In America we have so much water it’s a joke. We have fun – we play! We have water parks. We squirt it down tubes and roll around in it… and shoot it. We have fountains. What IS a fountain?! It’s just us blasting water in the air, like (insert profanities here) look at all this water!!! We don’t even need it! And what do we do at the fountain? We take money we don’t need, and throoowww it in!”

He then goes on to play out a scenario where a child from another country, a much more deprived country, would come over to the United States and see what we’re doing with our water, like “what is this beautiful porcelain bowl filled with “cooool, cleaaan water?” He continues to go on and on about how we flush our waste with incredibly clean, potable water, and how ridiculous of a concept this happens to be.

When it’s put into joke-form, it becomes very, very clear that we have a huge issue here in the United States and in most other countries in the world. Although as funny as his bit is, it’s the absolute, disgusting truth. In the United States, on average we currently flush 4,757 gallons of drinking water down the toilet, per person, in one year. With our population growing at a rapid pace, our aging and costly water infrastructures and the price of water increasing 5% yearly, extreme droughts, all-too-frequent natural disasters, we really need to rethink how we use, and reuse, our water.

Here’s Greg’s scene if you’re interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJ9s8feSLOY.

Just a seven minute bicycle ride from our office, I recently found myself in an old renovated warehouse with about sixty others at a day-long summit listening to some passionate folks from the Bay Area discuss something I take for granted every day, water. The Water Reuse Summit was hosted by the William J. Worthen Foundation, and was quite fascinating in terms of policy.

It began with Senator Scott Weiner, who gave a small, yet somewhat inspiring speech about how our overall sense of urgency has just simply not been there when it comes down to reusing our water in the progressive state of California. He continued to discuss what policies he had been working on to put into place to help make California more progressive in terms of water reuse, and what we had to do to survive our continued droughts (and recessions, since water is becoming quite pricey). One of these policies is Senate Bill 966, or “SB 966.”

Without state policies, there is no guidance on what the appropriate water quality standards are for reusing water in buildings. Jurisdictions have been very reluctant to permit these systems in the past when proposed at the local level because they have no idea what is appropriate or safe. SB 966 directs the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to develop regulations creating risk-based water quality standards for the on-site treatment and reuse of non-potable water in commercial, mixed-use, and multi-family residential buildings. This will assist local governments in developing oversight and management programs for onsite non-potable water systems, and to make it easier for all of us to start reusing water on-site and to get through the permitting process successfully, with a bit more confidence.

This is great news, yet this is also somewhat upsetting that in the year 2018 we’re finally making some strides in California to allow this process to happen safely, especially since the technology and precedents have been in place here since the late ‘20s. Los Angeles County’s sanitation districts started providing treated wastewater for landscape irrigation in parks and golf courses in 1929. It’s pretty ironic that I learned about this Senate Bill being put into place, and how revolutionary everyone made it out to be, at a conference in the city of San Francisco not far from Golden Gate Park, which is the same city that is home to the first reclaimed water facility in California. Actually, located in Golden Gate Park in 1932, the city reused its wastewater on-site for irrigation throughout the park’s landscape, but it shut down over forty years later as a result of some new regulatory changes. Now there is a new wastewater treatment plant, scheduled to be completed by 2021, to be in Golden Gate Park, again, that will reuse its water throughout most of its land. Hopefully this time around it lasts, and future regulation changes can work with older technologies, and we can stop playing this expensive game. The new wastewater recycling system costs $214 million.

I’m not sure why the United States is so behind in regards to recycling its precious water, and I’ll never be able to answer that question, or why people in Flint, Michigan don’t have treated potable water in 2018. What I do know is that we need to up our game and start thinking about this in a much more dire and creative way. This water reuse summit certainly hammered that notion home. I think that regulations like SB 966 will keep being put into place across the country if we take advantage of what they have to offer more often. We need to be more diligent about reusing our water locally, especially for architects with implementing water reuse into our projects on-site. Look, Israel has already recycled 90% of its wastewater successfully since the ‘90s, and Namibia, the most arid country in southern Africa, has been safely drinking their recycled water since 1969. Meanwhile, Australia mines for sewage to treat their wastewater.

Every drop of water we drink, use for showering, what we use to flush toilets with that “cooool, cleaaan water,” and what we use to grow our food, every drop, has been recycled many, many times before. Most of the water we’re currently drinking is already recycled from upstream, and is coming from other people’s waste to begin with. Actually, our water is said to be older than our sun, which is 4.6 billion years old. It’s not new. In fact, it’s ancient. It’s already reused. Therefore, we really need to get over the “yuck” factor of reusing water and to do a greater, more efficient job of educating our clients, and really everybody around us (that includes ourselves), that this is the right thing to start doing at a very early phase in the project and that it’s not all that disgusting. This is especially true for non-potable uses like irrigation and cooling, and most definitely true for flushing down our poop in our porcelain thrones. I’m not sure if it’s financially feasible for everybody to start doing this, but I do know that we at least need to start having this conversation a lot more often, educating ourselves and others, and to start thinking about this from the very beginning of our projects. No more “yuck” factor. More education. We shouldn’t be taking water for granted any longer.

Please check out this very informational water reuse practice guide from the William J Worthen Foundation:

https://www.collaborativedesign.org/get-the-guide

And here’s a guidebook from SFPUC’s website that’s pretty informative:

https://sfwater.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentID=11629