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Ask an Expert: How does Wold design sustainable government facilities?

Sustainability is top of mind in the architecture and design industry today. As a top-ranking Government Building Architecture Firm recognized by Building Design + Construction, we understand our duty to offer clients and partners sustainable solutions that enhance their facilities while minimizing environmental impact. Whether it be achieving energy efficiency, durability or promoting healthier indoor environments and community resilience, our team understands the importance of staying up-to-date on the latest trends in modern design for the betterment of our planet.

The journey to a more sustainable future depends on bringing each and every client along to stretch their understanding and challenge what they want to achieve. Centering conversations on environmental impact will lead to more sustainable outcomes, and as part of our commitment to a resilient future, our firm is a proud AIA 2030 Commitment participant. To work toward the goal of delivering carbon-neutral buildings by the year 2030, we prioritize dedicating time, expertise, and resources to create a more sustainable future.

As innovative architects, we consistently identify opportunities to incorporate eco-friendly materials and energy-efficient technologies into designs. Among the solutions are the use of recycled materials, integration of energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, frequent adaptive reuse and application of design metrics such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program. Our team is committed to creating supportive environments that make a difference in the communities we serve while being mindful of their impact on the world around us.

We recently chatted with Aimee LaLone, a principal in our Colorado office with extensive government facility improvement expertise, to talk about considerations for implementing sustainable solutions in facility design, how they make an impact and how they are evolving in today’s society:

1. What is sustainable design, and why is it important?

Sustainable design is just good design. It approaches building design with technologies, materials and processes to maximize energy efficiency and reduce negative impacts on the environment. It’s a mindset all architects and engineers must have in today’s planning to build with future generations in mind!

2. How does Wold integrate sustainable materials, construction techniques and designs into its projects? Is there a project you’ve been a part of at Wold that highlights this?

Every product that becomes part of a building is specified by the design team. Throughout the design process, we carefully review the options for material selection, operational efficiencies and life-cycle cost to ensure the operational and sustainable success of the facility.

I’ve been part of several diverse projects with sustainable goals, from schools to government facilities. One educational example is the Manzanola K-12 School Renovation/Addition. Through the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS), a nonprofit collaborative of school districts, architects, builders, building scientists, health professionals and consultants dedicated to fostering healthy learning environments, the school achieved CHPS Verified™ recognition. Criteria for this recognition are based on industry best practices with proven techniques that reduce operating costs, achieve higher student performance, increase daily attendance, improve water and resource efficiency, and minimize the environmental impact of school facilities.

From the government side, I’ve also worked on the City and County of Denver Jail Housing project, which achieved LEED Silver certification. The project as a whole was an innovative approach to jail design, emphasizing rehabilitation for women in a trauma-informed environment while ensuring the materials, transportation, landscaping and other design aspects were sustainable.

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3. What are some challenges you face when implementing sustainable design principles, and how do you overcome them?

One challenge with selecting the major mechanical/HVAC system for a new facility is balancing the up-front construction cost with the long-term operational savings. We can conduct a life-cycle cost analysis for each design option being considered, but we have found it’s critical to begin early in a project. This helps us better identify the Owner’s energy usage goals and any overarching goals and standards for day-to-day operations and maintenance in the future. It’s especially beneficial to evaluate multiple scenarios for comparison before design development to find the right balance between these important priorities.

Another challenge we often encounter is ensuring that the materials we select during design are available during construction, and when they are not, finding an alternative product that meets all of the requirements. For example, we recently specified a carpet product during design that met both third-party measured standards for reducing carbon dioxide emissions and the Owner’s requirements for cost and aesthetics. Unfortunately, when the project was about to start construction, we learned this particular product was being discontinued by the manufacturer. Following additional research and partnering with the contractor and owner on other options, we were able to find a great alternative product to meet all of the goals.

4. How do you approach balancing aesthetic considerations with sustainability goals in your design plans?

Rarely do these considerations conflict with each other! There is a growing need and appreciation for incorporating sustainable design into projects today, so the availability of sustainable products is immense. We also often find that building owners want to showcase their sustainable projects as an example of environmental stewardship in their community, making them more open to aesthetic and sustainable design elements upfront.

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5. What emerging trends do you see shaping the future of sustainable design in architecture, and what excites you most?

We’re seeing a rise in interest in Net-Zero design, where a building is completely independent of the energy grid for its operation. To achieve this, multiple design strategies must be employed to reduce the amount of energy required by the building and to produce energy on-site with equipment like solar panels. Our firm has committed the resources and developed the processes and expertise to achieve a net-zero project outcome, and we’re excited to see this happening on more projects!

Over the past 20 years, I’ve seen attitudes among our clients shift from “Let’s have a long-range plan that will provide for our needs for the next 25 years,” to “We have a sustainability action plan that goes hand in hand with our long-range plan.” Not only is this trend changing mindsets on the front end, but clients are more open and energetic to discussing specific energy use goals and detailed documentation of strategies employed in each construction project. I think this will continue as general knowledge and appreciation for the values of sustainable design increases. I’m really excited about the opportunities for innovation.

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