Category Archives: Architecture

Need a building? You’ve got some new options

The following post is by Alaska Structures:

Much has been said about sustainable construction methods and how beneficial reclaimed and recycled materials can be to reduce the carbon footprint of a home or commercial construction project.  However, often overlooked are the many non-traditional building alternatives that provide an energy efficient shortcut to a complete building.

Shipping Containers

shipping container

Highly durable and too often wasted, these hulking containers aren’t just for subterranean bomb shelters anymore. DIYers and construction experts have been creating beautiful, functional, and livable buildings out of industrial shipping containers for several years now and we’re thrilled with the results.

By reusing the massive metal containers for home construction, homeowners are able to enjoy sturdy walls, cool interiors, and endlessly expandable layouts. While working with standard shapes may feel limiting, many experienced container builders have found ways to create ventilated rooftops and innovative, expansive rooms using multiple container sections, as well as beautiful outdoor decks and living spaces.

While it takes a lot of hard work and logistical planning, the benefits of designing a custom home without the need for producing additional materials will provide a level of satisfaction beyond what typical sustainable building practices often provide.

Tensioned Fabric Buildings

tensioned fabric building

Perhaps some of the most versatile structures available today, a high-end tensioned fabric building can sometimes outperform even a brick and mortar structure in terms of durability. These buildings can withstand significant snow load and high winds, will remain intact during natural disasters, and help lower insurance costs.

High-end fabrics can provide insulation and security in any climate on earth and some manufacturers go the extra mile with HVAC systems, electrical connections, and other custom options. The lightweight nature and ease of installation make these fabric buildings a great option for organizations on the move, but with so many foundation options, there’s no reason why you can’t install your fabric structure in place for good.

Worried about meeting building code? Depending on where you purchase your fabric building, the company’s engineers may be able to meet or exceed various building code requirements mandated by your city or state governments.

Modular Buildings

modular building

Shedding the misnomer of “pre-fab” buildings, modular constructions aren’t just for the temporary construction site, and are not like the double-wide trailers of 40 years ago. Entire hospitals, apartment complexes, and even hotels are being built using modular practices. By using modular methods, major projects have found success with reductions in construction time, site preparation, and shipping costs.

The production of modular buildings is more efficient, so they are a much more eco-friendly solution when compared with traditional construction. The construction industry accounts for about 40% of the energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. By using off-site manufacturing methods, the UK’s Waste & Resources Action Programme suggests that construction site waste can be reduced by as much as 90%. Off-site construction also requires less heavy machinery use during the assembly process, further reducing emissions during the construction.

Modular buildings aren’t just greener during construction either – many modular constructions come with super efficient HVAC systems, zero volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and glass walls/open office layouts that utilize more natural light.

Alaska Structures has manufactured fabric buildings for industrial and commercial applications around the world since 1975.

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Seattle Lowrise Zones Now Have a Passive House Incentive to Add Floor Area

The following post is by Joe Giampietro, AIA, CPHC, NK Architects

11th and Republican PH Multifamily Rendering

On July 6th, the Seattle City Council passed a number of revisions to the low-rise zone land use code, including adding Passive House as a way to achieve floor area ratio (FAR) bonuses.

A FAR bonus allows for an increase in building height relative to the area of the lot. Passive House efficiency principles lead to significant energy savings, increased project value, and improved health and comfort for those that live there.

Although this was a minor addition to an otherwise hotly debated set of low-rise zoning updates, this addresses building energy use in a practical and cost effective manner. It is a big move in the right direction.

With the addition of Passive House to the other “green” incentive programs, including LEED Silver, Built Green 4-Star, and the Washington Evergreen Sustainable Development Standards for affordable housing, Seattle has started down the road of recognizing and providing incentives for truly high-performance, low energy design strategies.

Next on the list of legislative actions, the Passive House community is working with the Seattle City Council to consider expanding the Passive House incentive to include both current certification agencies, PHIUS and the Passive House Institute. We have successfully lobbied City Councilman, Mike O’Brien’s staff to include this adjustment in the “omnibus” zoning legislation. The expansion language is currently wending its way through the Council approval process and will be voted on later this summer.

We anticipate that this action will serve as a model for other changes in zoning legislation in Seattle as well as in cities and towns in throughout the Northwest. Let’s take a moment to celebrate one small step in this process!

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16 reasons you’ll want to live in a shipping container

A new website offers plans, advice and a community of container home fans.

I’m Tom Woods.  I run Container Home Plans along with my assistant Claire.  I have a background in construction and studied sustainable development at Yale. Whilst studying, I developed my passion for sustainable buildings and this is what caused me to come across the idea of making homes out of recycled shipping containers. Earlier last year, I was browsing online to try and find more information on how to build shipping container homes and was frustrated because I couldn’t find much information out there. This is how Container Home Plans was born.

So I made the site to act as a central online resource for shipping container homes and to help people who are looking for detailed information on how to build their own. We feature on our site case studies of other people who have built their own container homes and go in detail, outlining the materials they used, the length of time it took them and the cost of the build. We also run a feature called container home of the week, where we show off the very best shipping container homes as inspiration for people! It’s our hope that Container Home Plans will act as a hub for the community of container home enthusiasts so they can share their experiences with other enthusiasts and help each other as they build their own.

We run the site because we believe that using shipping containers can be not only environmentally friendly but it can also be a very affordable option that allows people to make homes they otherwise couldn’t afford to if they used conventional building materials.

I’d be delighted to hear from people, so feel free to send any questions to me at:


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Here’s a tool to help green roofs grow

The following post is by Oregon BEST:

A unique modeling tool developed at Portland State University with support from Oregon BEST is helping local green roof manufacturer Columbia Green Technologies speed adoption of green roofs to meet legislation aimed at reducing combined sewer overflows during heavy rains and thereby grow the Portland based start-up’s national market share.

The new tool is the result of a research project funded by Oregon BEST and led by Graig Spolek, a PSU professor and director of the Green Roof Design and Test Lab. Columbia Green uses the tool when working with civil engineers and architects who need accurate, quantitative data about how much stormwater a green roof in a specific geographical location will both retain and detain.

A green roof sits atop the new Apple store in downtown Portland.

“This new tool has been very helpful; it’s helped us open doors to some of the best engineering and architecture firms in the country,” said Elaine Kearney, Technical Director at Columbia Green. “Being able to generate this kind of data bolsters our reputation as being innovative and technologically very forward looking.”

Eric Zickler, an associate principal at Aecom, one of largest engineering firms in the world, said his firm uses many different tools to measure performance of their stormwater management infrastructure designs, but the Columbia Green tool stands out.

“Generally the calculators and modeling modules are generic and do not provide a high level of confidence in predicted performance,” Zickler said. “The green roof stormwater management tool developed by Columbia Green is specific to green roofs and developed using both theory and empirical data for multiple geographies across varying storm intensities, making it a valuable resource in building our confidence in the stormwater management benefits of green roofs.”

The new tool, which can generate data specific to geographic areas and weather patterns, gives Columbia Green a competitive advantage when the company interacts with potential clients.

“The ability to quantify our performance with this degree of accuracy is unique, so it’s a significant advantage for us,” said Robin Schneider, marketing director at Columbia Green.

This strategic funding exemplifies how Oregon BEST, a state-funded organization that fosters technology-based economic development, helps clean-technology companies collaborate with universities to advance and commercialize products to grow Oregon’s green economy.

“It’s been very rewarding to see Columbia Green leverage our investment in research and transform that into expanded distribution and sales opportunities,” said David Kenney, president and executive director of Oregon BEST.

Green roofs and other green infrastructure approaches are gaining visibility at all levels of government, both in the United States and abroad, as officials try to implement policies to address aging public infrastructure.

Two years ago, Vanessa Keitges, CEO of Columbia Green, was selected to sit on the President’s Export Council at the White House.

“We greatly appreciate the Oregon BEST support that allowed us to take advantage of the PSU rain lab and develop a tool that’s helping us succeed,” Keitges said. “Local cooperation between industries and academia is recognized as a model for innovation to solve global problems.”

Oregon BEST is a state agency that nurtures clean technology innovation by transforming new ideas, research, and products into green-collar jobs, greater sustainability, and economic prosperity for Oregon.


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What’s missing in green buildings? Training

The following post is from Washington State University:

More than one-third of new commercial building space includes energy-saving features, but without training or an operator’s manual many occupants are in the dark about how to use them.

Julia Day recently published a paper in Building and Environment that for the first time shows that occupants who had effective training in using the features of their high-performance buildings were more satisfied with their work environments. Day did the work as a doctoral student at Washington State University; she is now an assistant professor at Kansas State University.

Julia Day

She was a WSU graduate student in interior design when she walked into an office supposedly designed for energy efficiency and noticed that the blinds were all closed and numerous lights were turned on. The building had been designed to use daylighting strategies to save energy from electric lighting.

After inquiring, Day learned that cabinetry and systems furniture throughout the building blocked nearly half of the occupants from access to the blind controls. Only a few determined folks would climb on or under their desks to operate the blinds.

“People couldn’t turn off their lights, and that was the whole point of implementing daylighting in the first place,” she said. “The whole experience started me on my path.”

Working with David Gunderson, professor in the WSU School of Design and Construction, Day looked at more than 50 high-performance buildings across the U.S. She gathered data, including their architectural and engineering plans, and did interviews and surveys of building occupants.

She examined how people were being trained in the buildings and whether their training was effective. Sometimes, she learned, the features were simply mentioned in a meeting or a quick email was sent to everyone, and people did not truly understand how their actions could affect the building’s overall energy use.

Green-building occupants aren't always taught how to use the building's energy-saving features.

One LEED gold building had lights throughout to indicate the best times of day to open and close windows to take advantage of natural ventilation. A green light indicated it was time to open windows.

“I asked 15 people if they knew what the light meant, and they all thought it was part of the fire alarm system,” she said. “There’s a gap, and people do not really understand these buildings.”

According to CBRE Research, the amount of commercial space that is certified as high-performance in energy efficiency through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star or U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED has grown from 5.6 percent of commercial space in 2005 to 39.3 percent at the end of 2013.

Yet in many cases, the corporate culture of energy use in buildings hasn’t caught up. While at home our mothers nagged us to turn off the lights when we left a room or to shut the door because “you don’t live in a barn,” office culture has often ignored and even discouraged common-sense energy saving.

Day found that making the best use of a highly efficient building means carefully creating a culture focused on conservation. In buildings with an energy-focused culture, workers were engaged, participated and were satisfied with their building environment.

“If they received good training, they were more satisfied and happier with their work environment,” she said.

She is working to develop an energy lab and would like to develop occupant training programs to take advantage of high-performance buildings.

“With stricter energy codes, the expectations are that buildings will be more energy efficient and sustainable,” she said. “But we have to get out of the mindset where we are not actively engaged in our environments. That shift takes a lot of education, and there is a huge gap right now.”

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Frank Ching illustrates new green building guide

Architect Francis D.K. “Frank” Ching, a professor emeritus at the University of Washington, is co-author of Green Building Illustrated, a newly published guide to green building design and construction.

Ian Shapiro, co-owner of Taitem Engineering in Ithaca, N.Y., wrote the text, and Ching was the illustrator.

The book, written for architects, engineers and builders, offers a variety of in-depth approaches to green building design, including a visual presentation of the theory, practices and complexities of sustainable design.

Shapiro emailed the DJC this description from Wiley, the publisher:

From the outside to the inside of a building, (the authors) cover all aspects of sustainability, providing a framework and detailed strategies to design buildings that are substantively green. The book begins with an explanation of why we need to build green, the theories behind it and current rating systems before moving on to a comprehensive discussion of vital topics. These topics include site selection, passive design using building shape, water conservation, ventilation and air quality, heating and cooling, minimum-impact materials, and much more.

Ching recently retired after more than 35 years of teaching. He is the bestselling author of Building Construction Illustrated, among other books on architecture and design, all published by Wiley. His works have been translated into more than 16 languages and are regarded as classics for their renowned graphic presentations.

Shapiro has been a visiting lecturer at Cornell University, Tompkins-Cortland Community College and Syracuse University. He has worked on several LEED building design projects, has led a variety of energy conservation research projects, and is a frequent contributor to ASHRAE Journal and Home Energy magazine.

The guide is available at local bookstores, including Ada’s, Elliott Bay and the University Book Store.


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Take a free green home tour on Saturday

The following post is by DJC staff:

Here’s your chance to tromp through neighbors’ homes and check out what’s new in green building.

Northwest EcoBuilding and Built Green will hold their annual green home tour on Saturday, April 26, showcasing green remodels, new homes and energy retrofits.

This net-zero energy house in Issaquah is one of the stops on the green home tour.

The free self-guided tour covers 35 homes and 12 “sustainability stops” where visitors can tour green businesses, civic buildings and other attractions.

The event runs from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. No tickets are required.

Though most of the sites are in Seattle, the tour also has stops in Edmonds, Bothell, Issaquah and Shaw Island in the San Juans.

Participants can start the tour any site.

An organized 5-mile walking tour is also planned, beginning at 11 a.m. at Hale’s Ales, at 4301 Leary Ave. N.W. The four-hour tour will take participants through the Fremont, Phinney and Greenwood neighborhoods. A bus is available to go back to Hale’s after the last stop. Email or call (206) 652-2310, Ext. 5 for more information.


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Deconstructing sustainability

The following post is by Kathleen O’Brien:

There’s some discussion among professionals and sustainable building advocates about market “fatigue” as regards green building.  Given the tendency of many in the industry to value and use green building techniques for their marketing benefits above all else, this is no surprise.

Author Lance Hosey warns that if sustainability is treated as a style, then it can go out of style.

In his recent book, The Shape of Green, Lance Hosey notes that “associating sustainability with its trappings rather than its principles risks looking passé.”  When sustainability is treated as a “style,” says Hosey, “it can go out of style.”  He describes the unfortunate and conspicuous use of green technologies such as solar panels or a green roof on buildings that are pronounced sustainable, but have little to say for themselves other than the “green bling” they are sporting.

But Hosey does far more than bemoan this circumstance, and he doesn’t suggest tossing out the concept of sustainability because some marketers are onto the next new thing, or some architects continue to view (wrongly) that sustainability is inelegant and antithetical to high design.  In my view, Hosey returns sustainability to its rightful place when he reminds us that sustainability  is a set of “principles and mechanics for making design more responsive and responsible, environmentally, socially, and economically.”   Designers need “an aesthetics of ecology” that can “guide designers to make things more environmentally intelligent, humane, and elegant all at once.”

Hosey is asking us to shift our perspective from technological design to ecological design, and offers three principles that together result in sustainable solutions:  conservation, attraction, and connection.  Well worth the read.

Kathleen O’Brien is a long time advocate for and prolific writer about green building and sustainable development since before it was “cool.” She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. Recently retired from O’Brien & Company, the green consulting firm she founded over 22 years ago,  she is now the Executive Director of The EMERGE Leadership Project, a 501c3 nonprofit whose mission is to accelerate life-sustaining solutions in the built environment through emergent leadership training.

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Old warehouse becomes cool new school

The following post is by Dennis Erwood:

Once a year, a single school within the entire state of Washington is recognized by The Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI) for its exemplary design approach. This year, the coveted “Polished Apple” was awarded to the Northshore School District for its newly opened Secondary Academy of Success (SAS). The school is no stranger to such recognitions. Since it opened in 2010, it has won accolade after accolade, which raises the question: What does it take to design an award-winning school?

Secondary Academy for Success

Adaptive re-use: With space as a major constraint for new schools, the school district looked outside the box for unconventional solutions, turning to a former warehouse for the site of the new school. The business park location also made sense for SAS, as the school partners with businesses to provide students with real-world opportunities and experience.

Adaptive design: The team also looked for creative ways to use existing infrastructure to avoid major modifications that would increase costs. The raised loading dock created a second entrance for middle school students.  Support columns and trusses were carefully blended as elements of the interior design. Windows, lighting, color and materials were reconsidered to create a space that would be inviting.

How it looked before the renovation

Sustainable solutions: With a commitment to reducing its carbon footprint, the school district also looked for ways to incorporate sustainable design. Wind-powered generators, solar panels, operable windows and high-performance glazing were integrated as cost saving and green solutions. Real-time energy and water usage is shared with students and teachers via “green dashboards,” providing data for use in curricula that paves the way for potential green jobs. Perhaps the “greenest” element of all is the re-use of a former space instead of using the natural resources required to create an entirely new one.

The resulting design approach successfully transformed a one-story, monochromatic, car-focused warehouse into a natural light-filled, two-story learning environment with an outdoor plaza, classrooms, dining and common spaces that invite learning and collaboration.

Dennis Erwood, AIA, leads the education studio at the Seattle-based architectural firm Studio Meng Strazzara. He can be reached at


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BIG’s hilly courtyard tops a new gym

The following post is by DJC staff:

The Danish architecture firm BIG with CG Jensen + EKJ + Grontmij said it has completed a new multipurpose hall for Bjarke Ingels’ former high school north of Copenhagen. The project turned a courtyard into a new gathering point above an underground sports facility.
The space can be used for sports, graduation ceremonies and social events.

Photo by Jens Lindhe

Architect Bjarke Ingels says he considers the roof a giant piece of informal furniture.

BIG said in a press release the new hall is 16 feet below grade to ensure a good indoor climate and reduce its environmental impact. It is formed by beveled concrete walls and covered by a vaulted wooden roof made of curved glued laminated timber beams.

The roof functions as an interior and exterior skin, creating a hilly courtyard that can accommodate a number of activities from group work to larger gatherings.

The exterior surface is untreated oak and white enamel-coated steel benches that were designed by BIG. The only light sources at night come from the benches and seating, which are outfitted with LED lights underneath that brighten the entire courtyard.

The edge of the roof is a long bench with a lattice design that brings in daylight below. Solar panels around the buildings heat the hall.

Bjarke Ingels said, “Rather than placing the hall outside the school — and spread the social life further — we have created a new focal point and link between the school’s existing facilities. The roof forms a molehill that serves as a giant piece of informal furniture engaging and supporting student life.

“The main architectural idea emerged from the rules of handball as the soft, curved roof takes its form from the mathematical equation of the trajectory of a thrown ball. Form follows function. In an homage to my old math teacher, we used the mathematical formula for a ballistic arc to shape the geometry of the roof.”

A future phase will connect the courtyard and hall with sports fields and parking, and provide space for art classes and cultural activities.

BIG — Bjarke Ingels Group — describes itself as an international partnership of architects, designers, builders and thinkers operating within the fields of architecture, urbanism, research and development.

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