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Maier Hall at Peninsula College: Early Collaborative Process Yields Healthy, Efficient Building, Gentle to the Site and High on the LEED Scale

ElizabethPowers-webWhen teaching Unit 1 of the 2011 Sustainable Building Advisor course at Seattle Central Community College last Friday, I showed graphs, pictures, comics, and told stories to make a case for an early integrative process as a key for cost-effective sustainable results. As I sat down to write this article about the Maier Hall Project at Peninsula College, I flashed back to a lot of early meetings where the design team diligently worked through the siting of the new building.

The new building replaces four (4) other buildings in a smaller footprint yet increases square footage by three. It is bordered by sensitive areas on three sides, including a patch of virgin forest, wetlands, and a steep slope. As I discussed in my class presentation, the design team, led by Schacht Aslani Architects, responded to these constraints with collaborative problem solving in a series of working sessions resulting in a beautiful and creative design solution.

Maier2The L-shape building wraps around the forest grove and creates an edge to the campus at the top of the slope. A breezeway allows students to pass through the building from the campus into the forest and leads them to a viewing platform at the edge of the wetland. The team included a wetland biologist who helped them understand there wasn’t enough water getting to the wetland because of previous development. They couldn’t infiltrate stormwater at building grade because of the proximity of the steep slope, so the team designed a system that sends 90% of the site’s stormwater to the wetland. Rainwater flows from the roof to the wetland in a runnel passing prominently in front of the Hall's front door, helping students understand the environmental story. Additional connection to the natural environment that shaped the building is made on the upper stories through views to the epiphatice (moss) green roof.This solution is just another paradoxical example of creativity being most available when working within constraints.

This creativity and process took significant design team time, early in the process.   Investing the level of effort this team did early in a project can be scary to project managers and owners as it indicates a possible trend towards budget busting.  Fortunately, this project exemplifies how shifting effort earlier in projects and working with an integrated team actually solves problems better and sooner, reducing design effort and minimizing costs. “Working cohesively through the design process, the design team created a synergy that enhanced the project overall," says Chris Edlin, O'Brien & Company's consultant on the project. "For example, it helped avoid the either-or situation where trees, which represent a campus asset, might have been sacrificed for program, which fulfills the college mission (or vice versa)."  Chris also notes that "a less integrated team may not have understood the stormwater/wetland relationship and spent more on pipe and pond stormwater solutions that wouldn’t have benefited the wetland.  The narrow floor plan resulting from the IP is also excellent for natural ventilation and daylighting, thus reducing long term operational costs.

11-0719 701The building is a 65,000 sq.ft., three-story center for fine arts, music, humanities and related instructional programs. The focal point is the 134-seat performance hall, which also serves as a multi-purpose classroom. The hall can be acoustically tuned for music, lectures and films. In addition to targeting LEED Gold, the structure is designed to exceed the current standards of the Architecture 2030 Challenge for reducing energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on fossil fuels. Natural ventilation in offices and classrooms and daylight design are key strategies for achieving this goal.

Elizabeth Powers, LEED AP and CSBA, is principal and co-owner of O'Brien & Company, Inc., which just celebrated its 20th anniversary. Elizabeth is principal-in-charge on over three dozen LEED and sustainable building projects for the company. She advised on development of Integrative Process (IP) ANSI Standard, and is a strong proponent of the process for clients who want high performance for common sense budgets. Project photos from Schacht Aslani.

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