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ZGF Environmental Design Earns LEED Status
Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce, June 22, 2000

The Bren School of Environmental Science & Management earns its keep by training scientists and professionals to identify and solve environmental problems. So it made perfect sense for the school, part of the University of California at Santa Barbara, to choose an environmentally conscious design for its new building.

The building, designed by Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership, is one of the first 12 buildings in the country to receive LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the first comprehensive rating system to set national standards for green design, building and construction.

While the planning for LEED certification has been a topic of discussion and speculation since the council formed in 1993, the actual certification standards didn't debut until this spring.

"It's one of those things that has been anticipated for a long time," and Greg Bell, a consultant to the council. "As a result everyone thinks it's been around for a long time."

The program is so new that some of the projects in the first batch of certified buildings aren't even built. The Bren School, which recently broke ground, has a target completion date in 2001.

LEED certification can be earned in one of four categories: bronze, platinum, gold, or platinum. The platinum designation indicates projects that meet the strictest requirements in the program.

The Bren School received its LEED certification based on components incorporated in the building design, but the actual level won't be determined until the building is complete, said Randy Leech, ZGF's partner in charge of the project. Leech works out of the firm's Los Angeles office, which was responsible for most of the school's design.

"What level we reach remains to be seen," Leech said. The final sustainable level of the school building still hinges on several factors, including cost of green products and technologies.

The school is state funded, which means the project must adhere to strict budget levels. But some green features - like fuel cells as a source of electricity - are expensive, Leech said. Whether the fuel cells can be incorporated in the actual building depends on whether the school can obtain funding from a local utility company.

"Its about education," Leech said. "That's one of the challenges of this project." In California, environmentally sensitive codes have dictated building projects since the 1970's. THe LEED program takes those codes one step further by providing a menu to guide building efforts in several different areas, including:

Site development - a range that covers the initial site location to what plants will be used in landscaping.

Building location - including how the building is positioned on a site in relation to natural components like the sun.

Water use - including water efficiency throughout the structure, how wastewater is handled and what happens to rainwater runoff.

Energy use - a range that includes to what extent alternate and renewable forms of energy are incorporated into the design.

Building materials - measures the use of recycled, indigenous and sustainable products and even includes recycling plans for future building occupants.

Indoor air quality - including how fumes from carpet glues and other possibly noxious materials are aired from the construction site.

For the Bren School, designers incorporated several techniques related to each area. The building's location near the ocean eliminated the need for air conditioning. Instead, operable windows will allow ocean breezes to flow through the building for natural cooling. Office furniture is made from husks and newspapers. Old tires have found new life as floor tiles. Toilets flush with reclaimed water.

Using green concepts in design isn't anything new to ZGF. "Almost all of our projects incorporate some green or sustainable features, whether that deals with energy, lighting or siting of the building," said ZGF principal Deb Barbour. "But Bren Hall went a little further." Bren Hall was the name of the school several years ago when the architecture firm began its original design for the project.

The focus changed after UCSB received a construction contribution from Donald Bren, chairman of the Irvine Co. and a staunch supporter or environmental habitat and wildlife conservation. "It was really Bren and a school board formed under him who had a strong desire to make sure the building was a role model in every way possible," Leech said.

The "greening of Bren Hall" led to a new name - the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management - and a new design. The shift required ZGF's project team to revisit its design, a venture that lead to higher quality of sustainability than anyone had imagined. "We didn't start out attempting to achieve a targeted (LEED) level, but as we got further into research and documentation, we found more and more things we were able to do," Leech said.

If all of the design aspects make it through construction to the finished building, Leech estimates the project could qualify for a gold rating. With construction underway, the new challenge for ZGF is to keep the green momentum rolling along. Some subcontractors on the project have never worked on projects with a high degree of sustainability as the Bren School.

Another component of the education process will come into play after the school is completed as UCSB attempts to incorporate similar green components into future buildings. The university's school of marine science and research, which plans to build a new facility, expressed an interest in going green, Leech said.

The state university system is also considering incorporating green technology into buildings at a new campus that will be built in Merced, Calif. While the Bren School stands as a building benchmark in California, other projects around the country have also earned the initial LEED certification.

In Duquesne, PA., a former brown field is now the home of a food bank warehouse that features a system where parking lot water contaminated with oil and salts is broken down by plants into chemically neutral water. A hotel in Sri Lanka, a Utah speed skating oval for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games and U.S. Naval training base are other projects names as debut LEED projects.