2011 AIA Convention: Federal Government Carries the Sustainability Torch

AIA National News by • 05/25

Department of State Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations.

Kieran Timberlake/Studio amd

On 10.05.09, President Obama signed Executive Order 13514, which set ambitious energy, economic, and environmental performance standards for all Federal agencies. As the occupant of nearly 500,000 buildings, the Federal government is in a position to showcase sustainable design strategies to the world at large. Given their robust presence at the 2011 AIA Convention, the various bureaus have taken President Obama’s mandate to heart.

Blazing the trail are the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and the Department of State Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO). As illustrated in the “Sustainability and the State Department’s Overseas Buildings Operations: Greening Our Embassies” and “GSA’s Vision” sessions led by Melanie Berkemeyer, RA, LEED AP (OBO), and Lance Davis, AIA, LEED AP (GSA), respectively, both agencies have adopted Design Excellence programs, with the intention of improving the aesthetic quality of government edifices. Environmental goals have now been added to design concerns, and new buildings for each bureau must meet at least LEED Gold certification standards.

Perhaps President Obama’s boldest directive is that all Federal projects designed and constructed after 2020 must be zero-net-energy. No fossil fuel use, no additional energy consumed from the grid, and no greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, the GSA and OBO are now actively exploring novel energy-saving technologies, such as kinetic-energy harvesting systems and MagLev chillers.

The GSA represents national aspirations on the home front, but, as Barbara Nadel, FAIA, stated in the “21st Century Embassies: Secure, Sustainable Civic Architecture” session, the OBO has the distinction of presenting a secure, sustainable, and iconic image of the U.S. to the rest of the world. Since an embassy will likely be the only American building that most people ever see in many countries, each structure must represent the best of American design and culture. The OBO has an opportunity to put this principle into action in the new London Embassy, designed by Philadelphia-based KieranTimberlake.

According to James Timberlake, FAIA, LEED AP, the firm took the OBO’s brief and personalized it. KieranTimberlake wanted to display the profundity of American ambition and thus designed the building to meet LEED Platinum and BREEAM “Outstanding” standards, rather than the specified Gold and “Excellent.” Thin-film photovoltaic strategies will be used on shading fins covering the east, west, and south façades. Additionally, large swaths of green space and water features surround the structure, offering a quiet, park-like setting to Londoners and visitors. One hopes that many structures of similar design quality and environmental impact will push President Obama’s vision forward into the 21st century.

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