Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Downfall of LEED: Where Would You Rather Work?

Last week I was out of the office on site with a client and then in the HOK St. Louis office. During my tours, I found a great example of how achieving LEED Certification doesn't actually equate to having a good workplace.

The client office (LEED-CI Silver):

Note: photograph is similar to the office, not the actual office due to security regulations. The actual office has prettier carpet, nicer lighting, and plainer doors...but you get the point.

The HOK St. Louis Office (LEED-CI Certified):

While the client office had ticked off enough points to achieve LEED Silver, it clearly missed any points for daylight and views. Walking through the office was like being in a maze: beige hallway after beige hallway of doors. I found myself completely turned around on more than one occasion, and also craving a bit of sunlight!

The HOK STL office, on the other hand, is completely open seating for approximatley 300 people. Some of the sustainable principles used in this facility include:

  • Building or Structure Reuse
  • Commissioning
  • Construction and Demolition Waste Recycling/Reuse
  • Daylighting (daylight factor of 2% in at least 75% of spaces)
  • Efficient Lighting
  • External/Internal Shading
  • Local Materials
  • Low-Emitting Materials
  • Recycled Materials
  • Renewable Materials
  • Salvaged Materials
  • Views
  • Transit-Oriented Development

Although it has a lower level of certification, the HOK STL office would be a much more pleasant workplace for me. What about you?


Sustainable Thoughts said...

I ran across your blog while researching ideas for my own site. You've got a lot of great content and interesting posts.

You make a great point about LEED buildings and green design in general. We teach LEED Courses and students ask us what LEED and Green Building really means. At the end of the day, LEED and Green Design is geared to expand the design criteria of a building. This expanded criteria includes resource efficiency, health, and societal impact but it also STILL includes the fundamental design criteria that we've always built into our structures (like size, cost effectiveness, sturdiness, etc.). Hopefully, in a few years time what we now consider to be "Green" will become standard building design. The only question then is what happens to the USGBC?

Everblue Energy

PS - I like the dual flush toilet lid post as well.

Green-A said...

I think the fundamental point of LEED is often missed. I just attended a 'hidden risks of green building' seminar that showed numerous examples of building failures due to inadequate protection from moisture in buildings - a problem that I would point out is common in green and brown buildings alike. LEED cannot take the place of building codes, client wishes and GOOD DESIGN. The example you show, Millenial, of a beige-corridor ridden workplace would have been designed that way with or without LEED. The resulting space is a manifestation of the clients desires and the designer's implementation of that. Newsweek recently ran an article about 'ugly' green buildings. There are many ugly buildings out there, oth brown and green. I think LEED has become a scapegoat for problems that likely have more to do with a population mired in traditional perspectives of the workplace environment, the incompetance of designers to design good building envelopes or contractors to construct well-designed envelopes, and the general mediocrity in design that prevails. LEED is not intended to solve all design woes; it is intended to make the built environment more energy efficient, water efficient, transit-accessible, healthier, etc. It is not a system based on aesthetics nor can it replace well-trained permit reviewers and building inspectors. Maybe there are high expectations for LEED in the general population, however people need to be realistic about the intent of the certification program. The USGBC's misson is to transform the marketplace, to drive increased availability of greener building products and services, and to bring down the cost. In that, I think it has been enormously successful and I hope that it will be accompanied soon by improvements in design and construction practices as well - but these improvements must also be driven by the market.

joelmckellar said...

I clicked on comments to leave a post that turns out to be almost identical to what green-a just said, so I'll mostly just second her comments!

LEED is a rating system designed only to provide us with a common measuring stick by which to compare the environmental attributes of diverse buildings and give us a means by which to measure and compare different sustainable solutions within a project. Poor design can not be overcome by a rating system.

Real Life LEED

Jodi "Millennial 4 Earth" Williams said...

Great comments - perhaps I should amend my post...what I find frustrating is that many people think that LEED automatically = good design. And it is very clear that it is easy to have a bad design that is still "certifiable."

Perhaps the system could be amended in some way to better direct good design? Or, more education to the public that just because a building is green doesn't mean it has a good workplace?

Kevin said...

While LEED may be nothing more than a rating system, I think this example raises an interesting dilemma about the flaws in the system and public perception of LEED. One would think that a building which has achieved a higher rating would, in all of the major LEED focuses, rank higher than one which has achieved a lower rating. In this case it includes the use of natural light. Clearly that isn't the case in this example, nor am I convinced this is a unique situation.

Should you be able to check most things off in one area and scratch the surface of another and still achieve a higher ranking? In my opinion, no. The system either needs to be refocused or better described so the common person doesn't hear the hot phrase "LEED certified" and automatically think that it is a great building -- which is starting to become the norm. I think that the rating system was designed for a different time -- now with the increased focus on the greening of buildings, and the insertion of these phrases and terminology into mainstream vocabulary, LEED probably needs to be rethought and designed in a way where we know that LEED gold building is in every way superior in it's environmental goals than a LEED silver -- not just way better in a few, mostly better in a majority and sub-par in a few.

Green-A said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Green-A said...

Kevin, perhaps the re-weighting of LEED credits will help to prioritize certain critical elements. To be honest, though, for some projects daylight and views aren't appropriate. for example, some programs have light-sensitive tasks (labs, auditoria, e.g.) for others, views might not be feasible (lawyer's or accountant's office might need provicy from open office space; we're working on a morgue where views are impractical). Granted, these could be exceptions, but I think that LEED is intended to be flexible and broadly applicable to a variety of project types. The burden/responsibility falls on the design team to seek the strategies most suited to the tasks, program, occupants, budget, schedule etc. Some teams may underachieve in terms of daylight and views, but if they really knock it out of the park on energy savings, would you really deny that it is a greener building or space in its own right?

I agree with Millenial, many confuse LEED with good design, when it should merely indicate an above average approach to sustainable building design and constuction methods.

It seems to me that it is our expectations, rather than the rating system, that are flawed.

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