Sustainability Unnoticed

While many articles have been written on the emergence of green design and the countless discussions of green materials, green systems, and green principles, it is far less often that we take a step back and look at those parameters which truly address what makes up the essence of green design.

For centuries, mankind has designed and built within his environment in many different ways. The less technologically advanced he’s been – the more he has had to depend upon understanding the local climate, geography, and environment for his well-being. As we have advanced our building methods and means, the quantity at which we construct buildings, and the intricacies of our living spaces – we have created the path that has led us to suddenly stop and take more notice of what all of that has done to our environment. We have come to realize that we have built without thought of our surroundings or landscape for far too long, and that has resulted in harm to both ourselves and our earth.

To address the fact that while we can talk at great lengths about sunflower laminates, bamboo floors, recycled glass, fluorescent lighting, solar panels, etc. – we constantly overlook the very basic and most simple principles which have guided some of the most wonderful architecture of our time. From the centuries old Indian tepees and Tongkonan rice barns to the works of Frank Lloyd Wright, Peter Zumthor, and Rudolph Schindler there are striking examples of those who have understood how to embrace our built landscape with much more than merely addressing their environment, but weaving their architecture into it.

The sun, the wind, indigenous materials, and life. To understand these things is to understand that which is truly more green than green because it relates to nature and not product; and when weaved in poetry with that which celebrates and enhances the lives of those who live, work, play, and dream within the space one has the gallant opportunity to create architecture.

The possibility to create something worth keeping on this planet for your lifetime and many lifetimes afterward.

You see, in addition to being green in our design parameters – the greenest thing of all we can do besides not building upon our planet at all is to build something we would ever dread removing from it.

From the sun we breathe life – and to attempt to cover all that it embodies would be foolhardy as it has been described and discussed in more volumes and for more years than we could possibly count. Suffice it to say though – when we understand the pattern and power of the sun as it relates to the site in which we live or choose to build (or when remodeling, where we choose to locate functions or re-orient our lives) – than we have begun to understand the most primary of green parameters. To understand our lives in combination with both daylight and darkness. To enliven our existence by warm sunlight and enigmatic shadow. It is within our homes, offices, shopping areas and public buildings that the treatment and appreciation for the sun and its relation to our structures can create the greatest of gifts, and bring harmony to our architecture. How should the daylight stream through your kitchen in the earliest of mornings? What should a day at your desk ‘feel’ like? Why does shopping amongst clouds and the shadows of trees always attract more customers than the ubiquitous and enclosed malls? For the sun brings life and happiness, and when we design in conjunction with that strength we begin to truly create space.

Understand the seasons in which we live. Understand the plants that bring life to our properties and the winds which bring us natural ventilation. Design with the comprehension of cross ventilation and you will not need the largest and ‘greenest’ air conditioner for you will be able to exist with minimal man-made ventilation and maximum coexistence. The overhangs of our buildings, the location of doors and windows, the peaks of our ceilings, and the placement of our functions all combine to either make this coexistence ‘exist’ or not.

Local materials are local for a reason. They are indigenous to the area and thus a reflection of our place. You won’t see brick structures lined up along the California coast because they do not belong both in material and in reflection. They do not speak to be one with their environment, and to transport a material long distances to a place it does not belong only further exemplifies this. Be simple instead of overly extravagant and you will be greener. If we paint a picture made of the greatest and most wonderful works of architecture of our time – we will notice that they do not bend to fashion or fad, they do not choose to mimic or mock, and they refrain from fancy or folly. The spaces that we can visit now and hopefully forever – are quite simply, simple. They are at once poetic and life altering. They bring joy and an inexplicable sense of balance when we are with them.

They are green – not by the reverence to a point system or glamour of publication – but because it is at the very root of the most basic architectural principles. Design within the realm of, and appreciation to your surroundings – of your environment - and you will have created something that will make this landscape we call the earth better by its very existence.

Dynamic Glass

Dynamic Glass

The material is dramatic, sustainable, and bridges the interior of a building to its environment.

Dynamic glass, which tints electronically in response to outside conditions, is proving itself superior to static glass. With the intelligence to provide optimum natural light and comfort regardless of exterior conditions or time of year, dynamic glass has far-reaching implications for building design, ongoing building performance, and occupant experience.

Windows are commonly regarded as one of the least energy-efficient building components, responsible for up to 40 percent of the total heating, cooling, and lighting consumption. By making fenestration a responsive façade solution for solar control, dynamic glass has become a key component of high-performing buildings.

What Is It?
Dynamic glass switches between clear and tinted states on demand, providing glare and heat control while offering continuously unobstructed views. The system can function autonomously or be controlled on demand, enabling a user to tint or clear the glass according to preference. In automated mode, the system will automatically tint or clear the glass, adapting to environmental conditions.

The technology allows for control of individual windows or coordinated groups of windows. With a grouping capability, zones can be created to tailor the behavior of the glass for spaces with different uses or even within a single façade for optimal daylighting. For example, in a curtain wall design, the top course of vision glass could be set to 20 percent, admitting light for daylighting purposes, while the remaining eye-level glass can be set for a darker tint to decrease glare.

While the glass provides the tint, the system makes it intelligent. Predictive intelligence foresees the sun's movement and automatically adjusts each window's tint to anticipate the sun's solar load. The same intelligence then adjusts the tint level according to location, space type, weather, and user preference. Each window has local intelligence and knows its unique position, orientation, and condition. As a result, the intelligence function seamlessly manages direct glare on occupants while maintaining the intended views.

A focus on simplification and performance has driven a major rethinking of the dynamic glass electronic system architecture. In many cases, traditional complex wiring approaches have been replaced by a single line or cable, similar to a LAN network, to facilitate routing and reduce install complexity. Factory pre-terminated wiring with threaded connectors cuts labor time and adds to long-term reliability. Window control has been moved to intelligent nodes close to the window to optimize tint uniformity and allow maximum zone control flexibility, user control, and ease of future reconfiguration. Intelligence at each point, from the insulated glass unit (IGU) back to the user interface, facilitates maximum user flexibility and central or individual control.

Due to its interactive nature, dynamic glass reduces overall HVAC energy consumption and costs by limiting unwanted heat gain in summer but allowing beneficial passive heat gain in winter. Intermediate states convey additional benefits by saving lighting energy, thus allowing for optimal daylighting.

Dynamic glass can also contribute to operations savings in other ways, including reduction of fading in interior furnishings and fixtures. Daylight brings in UV radiation which causes fading. When tinted, dynamic glass blocks more than 99 percent of UV rays, increasing the service life of the equipment inside the building.

In addition to improved daylighting and thermal comfort, dynamic glass allows occupants unobstructed views even in the tinted state, a key to a host of benefits. Dynamic glass is consistent with biophilic design, which seeks to connect humans with the natural environment. The premise is based on the philosophy of biophilia, the apparent instinctive preference humans have for natural geometries, forms, and characteristics within our environments.

Talent without Engagement is a Void

“The workplace” as we know it is changing rapidly, and is constantly changing—this is nothing new.  Gone are the days where all employees commute to a common workplace and work under one roof.  Employees are now situated in all four corners of the globe working in different time zones.  There are a number of reasons why this is happening, but the single biggest reason is the explosion of technology, notably highly scalable and cost-effective web technology.  Nothing will ever replace the power of face-to-face human contact, but when you evaluate the pros and cons of technology, notably related to costs, the pendulum is swinging heavily towards the technology side.

So with the evolution of technology, is the evolution of the workplace.  What is the workplace today?  It’s wherever you are sitting, wherever you log-in, and is highly mobile.  It’s whatever you define it to be, your home office, coffee shop, car, couch, shared workspace, the main office headquarters and any combination of the above.

With rapid technology advancements are the increasing complexities that come with maximizing employee performance.  Complexities including multi-generational groups, blending of personal and work lives, increasing emphasis on personal customization and employee diversity, that is influencing work styles and team composition.  At the end of the day, and I have said this many times, is the number one driver of business success; that is employee engagement.  A positive correlation exists between levels of employee engagement and business performance.

Engagement 2.0

This is NOT about technology.  Here is my line of thinking… we know the following:

  1. The workplace is changing.
  2. Technology advancements are impacting the workplace—driven by rising costs.
  3. Employee engagement is, and will always be king to maximizing business success.

The question is, “what is the new role of the physical workplace”?

Employees still need the ability to connect, collaborate, problem-solve and create.  After all, they work in teams to solve problems, deliver business results and positively contribute to growth and viral experiences.  Yes you can do all of this using technology, but technology alone is insufficient.  That physical place where they have the ability to go and do their thing is still very much needed.

Office Space Shift

Driven by the thirst to reduce real estate expenses, increase productivity and collaboration, and possess a greater ability to adapt and flex to changes in the market, major corporations are re-thinking how they design their physical office spaces.  Firms are scaling back on corporate HQs—Microsoft, Whirlpool and many other major global corporations are knocking down walls and creating more open spaces using fewer square feet.  These changes are resulting in positive gains in things like talent attraction and retention, and overall employee productivity.

The Final Connection

Integrating technologies into how employees conduct their day-to-day business plus the shift in how core office spaces are configured, designed and constructed will yield optimal results from costs and employee productivity perspectives.  After all, the core reason why a company is in existence is to be profitable.  Yet, we know full well that it is not as simple as that.

The wrinkle in this is “engagement”—now, strategic integration of technologies plus strategically designed functional office spaces that enable maximum collaboration between employees will increase employee engagement, which will result in improved business performance.

Silence still Golden

Silence still Golden

As building systems continue to evolve, noise remains the same—acceptable or annoying. The former often goes unnoticed and the latter requires attention. Noise is the number one occupant complaint in many projects. Various studies indicate that noise can negatively impact occupants by ultimately lowering productivity and increasing stress levels. This “invisible” problem is loud and clear.

By properly addressing all noise sources, offices can become more productive, conference room meetings more effective, and overall occupancy more comfortable. A firm grasp of the basics can go a long way towards achieving spaces that allow occupants to maximize the intended use, whether it be sleeping, working, learning, playing, praying, or eating.

The Characteristics of Sound

There are several acoustical characteristics that occupants typically notice when entering a space. The first is often background noise, that is, how loud or quiet a space is. Another is how reverberant a space is. When there are surrounding occupied spaces, the noise isolation (or lack thereof) provided by building assemblies can become apparent. While these metrics can directly impact the occupants, they can also influence the decision to rent or buy a building or space. Class A office space, for example, typically achieves lower background noise levels than Class B or C, which is one reason why it commands a higher price per square foot. Integrating acoustics into the client dialogue early helps optimize the design process and end result for everyone involved.

Noise can be thought of in three distinct aspects—source, path, and receiver. Every project has these three aspects, though they vary in number (one source vs. many) and importance (the receiver is an intern vs. the CEO). In many cases, noise control products can be applied to improve various conditions. A key identifier, and simple principle to always remember - is that sound can travel much like light. Go into a room, turn off the lights, and turn on the lights in the surrounding spaces. Wherever there is light, there is the potential for noise to leak.

Air Transfer

Air transfer silencers can provide additional noise reduction to ensure that overall partition assemblies provide adequate noise isolation or speech privacy. For example, two adjacent rooms separated by a non-full height wall can be negatively impacted by noise flanking through the common ceiling plenum. As depicted below, this noise path can be reduced by using air transfer silencers at return grilles with the added benefit of reducing visibility into the plenum space. Projects often utilize non-full height walls between private spaces as a way to reduce cost. Unfortunately, if the resulting flanking path is not properly addressed, the relevant private space's effectiveness is also reduced.

Another common condition is when a full height wall (floor to deck) requires transfer air between spaces, but must maintain a specific STC rating. Mechanical room partitions, for example, are often designed to have a minimum STC-50 rating, but often also require penetrations for return air. One method for achieving both return air transfer and noise isolation requirements is to use a cross talk silencer, as depicted in the accompanying illustration. This product has lab-tested performance and can be sized appropriately to satisfy project design requirements.

Noise and light transmission are additional issues that are often overlooked during the design process. By addressing both of these issues, air transfer silencers allow for more flexible space layouts and mechanical equipment placement. They also can result in significant construction cost savings because of their simplified installation. Lined return boots are often recommended, but they have several drawbacks. For one, lined return boots are usually field fabricated with no reliable performance data. They also require additional labor due to support requirements and their height often limits installation especially in crowded or shallow plenum conditions. An air transfer silencer on the other hand can be installed directly below mechanical equipment in addition to having lab performance and minimal labor costs.


Solutions to most “noise problems” typically require the holistic evaluation of multiple paths with each requiring individual attention. By properly addressing noise issues, offices are more productive, conference room meetings are more effective, and occupants are more comfortable. All of the design criteria and terms described may not be directly relevant for every job, but each should be considered. Doing so will improve the end result, and provide more opportunity for project team integration throughout the building process. Most importantly, clients will be confident that all of their noise control concerns, not just the “usual suspects,” are addressed prior to construction. It is important to play an active role especially in areas where there is no clear owner. In many cases, this “gray area” occurs at mechanical and air distribution equipment “in” the occupied space, such as terminals and diffusers. Success is achieved when acoustics are prioritized. Clear communication between project team members on the desired acoustic environment and various available options lead to exceeding client expectations.