DJC Green Building Blog

Working together better – a quiet construction trend

Posted on January 13, 2012

I've noticed a quiet trend over the last year: more and more teams are crediting each other on successful projects.

I'm not sure whether teams are actually collaborating more or whether they just say they

puzzle
are. I don't know if it's related to the increasing use of integrated project delivery and more open bidding methods or if its culturally related to social media. But it's happening. More and more people I talk to are highlighting the importance of different team members.

Sustainable design is inherently related to integrating. The whole point of green building is to cut down on waste and redundancies. The idea behind collaboration and working together, is that you accomplish that goal more efficiently.

Just to give you a few examples:

In December, I went to the AIA Seattle's forum on IPD and wrote this story called "Form Right Team for Successful Construction Project." The story condenses a big theme from the event, which is that the team is the most important element in creating good IPD projects. Speakers said more effort needs to go towards selecting team members for IPD projects, but the lessons seem to be worthwhile for any type of project.

Dave Kievet, group president of California operations for The Boldt Co., said all sorts of questions about experience, work ethic and outside interests are asked when a company hires a new employee.  But when a contractor is hired, very little time is spent on those issues. Instead, questions are about safety record, balance statements and licenses.

“You can have the best team assembled that can be absolutely destroyed by one bad apple on that team,” he said. “It's the people that deliver a project, not the companies.”

The forum also highlighted the importance of working together to move through negative situations. Barb Jackson of California Polytechnic State University said she often counsels her IPD teams to have "you suck meetings" so everyone can clear the air. It's better than dwelling on problems and letting them stifle a team, she said.

Last week, I toured this $56 million new water treatment plant in Anacortes. The team

Image by Katie Zemtseff
members were practically glowing with descriptions of each other (and these were real reactions - they weren't just buttering me up). Fred Buckenmeyer, Anacortes public works director, said the camaraderie at project meetings is real. Matt Reynolds, assistant city engineer, said everyone has been fair with each other and works to solve problems when things go wrong, rather than place blame.

Brandt Barnes of MWW, the owner's representative and construction manager, said all team members took a partnering approach to the project that they will be proud of for many years to come.

Todd Pike, project manager at Imco General Construction, said the construction process in general is becoming more open, due in part to the influence of new contracting methods like GC/CM and design-build. But he said being open is a conscious effort at Imco.  “You (can't) miss one person... It's a purposeful, intentional effort on all sides of the contract,” he said. “We don't have to have a design-build contract or GC/CM contract to reach out and have this positive, open communication with the owners and the design team.”

Image courtesy SPU
Then in the Jan. 13 edition of the DJC here, I wrote about the "swale on Yale project." The swale is an innovative public-private partnership, in which Vulcan contributed over $1 million to a city stormwater treatment project. The swale, once comple, will treat over 190 million gallons of stormwater per year that currently flows straight into Lake Union. Jason Sharpley, project manager with SPU, said both Vulcan and city team members went out of their way to work together, and put the good of the project above anything else. Team members included KPG, KPFF, The Berger Partnership and Runberg Architecture Group.

Now, it's not like people have never talked about collaboration before. The difference is that more team members are talking about its importance. What do you think? Do you think this is a noticeable trend?

 

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Want to laugh? Watch this video on stormwater in the Puget Sound

Posted on July 5, 2011

Feel like laughing this gorgeous afternoon? Check out this viral video called "Dog Doogity," about the importance of cleaning up after your pup: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDh12w-jcfs&feature=youtu.be.

Despite the laughs  you'll likely have by watching it, the video has a serious purpose: it

Jasper Dog

This is my fashionable dog, Jasper. I clean up after him. You should clean up after your dog too! Image by Katie Zemtseff

is meant as an educational spot to convince people to clean up their dog doo. Puget Sound Starts Here, a coalition of state and local agencies dedicated to the protection of Puget Sound, launched the video. The press release reminds us that pet waste is no joke. It's raw sewage containing disease-causing organisms like fecal coliform, roundworm and salmonella that flow into Puget Sound in stormwater when it rains. Stormwater is one of the biggest pollutants of the Sound, which is in need of a serious cleanup.

The video is a parody of the 1996 BlackStreet hit "No Diggity" and was produced by Seedwell, a digital creative studio (and viral video creator) based in San Francisco whose founders are from the Seattle area.  It starts musician and actor Martin Luther McCoy. It was shot on locaion in Seattle, Tacoma and Everett.

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Canadian Building aims to be greenest in North America

Posted on April 27, 2011

Living Future 2011 in Vancouver, B.C . could have begun better. My first event was a tour of the new Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability space at University of British Columbia.  To get there, all 30 of us had to wait 20 minutes, get on a 40 minute bus ride and then trudge through 15 minutes of pouring, pouring rain. Needless to say, I should have remembered my umbrella. A kind soul on the tour (not from the Northwest, obviously, who

The inside of the CIRS building, as it looks today
DID remember her umbrella) gracefully let me half-hover under hers. Despite that, I am currently totally soaked through though my shoes and coat are now drying out.

Thankfully, the tour was totally worth it. The CIRS Center is poised to be an incredible project, once complete. The four-story, 60,000-square-foot dry-lab research building has targeted both the Living Building Challenge and LEED platinum. Its goal is to be the most innovative building in North America. The building should be ready for occupancy by the end of May. It was designed by Busby Perkins + Will.

When designing and building it, the team concentrated on equally balancing the need to be net positive, or to give back more energy and environmental benefit than the building took from the grid; to be humane, or being constructed and thought of with the best impacts on humans possible; and being smart, or cost effective and adaptive.

The inside office space of the new CIRS building. It is shaped like a horseshoe.
To do that, this building functions on a greater scale than just its footprint in two big ways. It captures wasted heat from the building next door and uses some of it to fully heat the CIRS building before giving the rest back. Doing this allows the building next door to reduce the amount of steam it requires for heat, which reduces money the university spends on natural gas, saving money and creating a net positive effect.

It will capture all rainwater, treat it and use it as potable water for those in the building to drink (this is what the Bullitt Foundation's Cascadia Center targeting living building status in Seattle wants to do, though code rules are making it tough). It will also treat all wastewater generated in the building and use it to flush toilets, urinals and for drip irrigation. This was a difficult thing to permit, said Alberto Cayuelo, associate director of the UBC Sustainability Initiative. All water will be treated, drank, reused, treated, reused and treated again. This is the first building in Vancouver, the team said, to do this. Water that hits the building's hardscapes will be redirected into the aquifer.

The building's price is $37 million Canadian, with a $22 million construction budget. Cayuela said the project will cost between 20 and 30 percent more than a LEED gold building.

“I’d be lying through my teeth if I said this building came in at no premium,” he said. “(But) on a total cost of ownership basis, we can recoup that investment in a few years.”

The project should save money through energy and water initiaves.

There’s a lot more that I can and will say about this project. But I’ m about to hear Majora Carter speak, so more info will have to wait for another story!

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Visit Seattle’s first (likely) living building

Posted on February 22, 2011

Recently, the Restorative Design Collective completed what will likely be the first living building in Washington State at the Bertschi School. Of course, we won't know whether it meets living building certification until it has operated for a year. But the project is designed to provide all its own energy, treat its own water and lay light on the land. It is called the science wing and will be a scientific learning area for students.

This is the first living building project to target the 2.0 version of the challenge (a tougher standard than the original), and the first project to be built in an urban area. The project was built largely through volunteer work, organized by a group called The Restorative Design Collective. The project cost about $1 million but members of the collective donated about $500,000 in pro bono time in addition to that.

Stacy Smedley, of KMD Architects and co-founder of the collective, said it is important to have a living building in the region where the challenge was born. Jason McLennan, CEO of the Cascadia Green Building Chapter, published the challenge at the end of 2006. Chris Hellstern, the other co-founder of the collective, is also at KMD.

The DJC story on the finished product is here, a story written last June details the founding of the collective and design plans here. If you don't have a DJC subsciption, this story is unlocked (meaning anyone can read it). It's a really interesting personal look at problem solving issues on the project. We also covered the installation of the building's SIPS panels on the Green Building Blog here.

For instance, the team focused heavily on water and has a system in place that would treat collected water to potable standards. But before it can do that, it must wait for state and local rules to change. A runnel, cut in the ground, will allow children to see flowing rainwater.

Bertschi will offer tours of the building, though it will usually be a science wing for students' education so tours must be pre-arranged. For more information, call Bertschi at 206-324-5476.

If you're interested in learning more about living buildings, check out the fifth annual Living Future (Un)Conference. This year it is in Vancouver, B.C. from April 27-29. As someone who has attended each of these conferences so far, I can say it is an incredible time.

Here are some pictures of the finished product. More pictures on my Facebook page here.

The exterior of the science wing, Image courtesy Katie Zemtseff

The living wall and area where children will do plan and animal experiments, image courtesy Katie Zemtseff
Closeup of the living wall. Image courtesy Katie Zemtseff.
A runnel where students will be able to watch rain water flow, like a river. Image courtesy Katie Zemtseff.
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In 2011, Seattle moves towards district energy

Posted on January 13, 2011

This week, we ran this story in the DJC about Yesler Terrace, CollinsWoerman and the effort to start considering resources on the broader scale.

For those of you that don't live in the area, Yesler Terrace is a 28-acre publicly subsidized housing community owned by the Seattle Housing Authority. It is  in the process of being redeveloped.

Imaging one energy and water system for all this space.
CollinsWoerman is a local architecture and planning firm.

District energy systems are common in Europe, especially Denmark. They allow buildings to connect to each other, increasing efficiency and reducing costs by letting several buildings share energy from a main source, such as steam, geothermal, biomass or waste heat.

But they are often cost prohibitive because streets must be torn up for a network of pipes to be built underground.

Steve Moddemeyer, principle of sustainable development at CollinsWoerman, said according to a CollinsWoerman study for SHA, a district water system could cut water use by half for Yesler Terrace and reduce wastewater flows by 70 percent for the same or less cost as a traditional system. Just imagine if you could do that for an entire city!

The fact that Yesler Terrace is considering a water and energy district is really exciting. But what's more interesting is what it says about Seattle. District energy has long been a buzz-term in the city's green community. It seems like we might finally be moving towards getting momentum on new projects.

The city of Seattle hired AEI and Cowi to study district energy opportunities for the city. They are looking at where these systems would be feasible and will identify the top three places. Moddemeyer has seen such interest in district energy and water, he said Yesler Terrace might not be the first project to employ the system. If private developers move forward, he said district systems could be the norm within five years. (Can you even imagine that scenario...?!)

Separately, the city is also working with Trent Berry, a partner with Vancouver, B.C.'s Compass Resource Management. Berry is also providing expertise on district energy systems.

The city of Bothell is also looking at installing a district energy system.

The new projects point in the direction Seattle is heading. But we are also lucky to have Seattle Steam here. Seattle Steam, a district heat provider for 200 downtown buildings, has been around for over 100 years. I'm sure there's a lot of experience they can add to this discussion.

It seems like Seattle has an opportunity here to be a real leader.

Moddemeyer said the biggest obstacle to progress is our faith in the current system. Projects like King County's $1.8 billion Brightwater Treatment Plant put all our water treatment eggs in one basket, betting that water will continue to be treated the way it is in years to come.

What do you think?

P.S. Like me on Facebook for regular updates on blog posts and similar green building information: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Katie-Zemtseff/301025823604

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GreenBuild Day 2: bifacial solar panels and natural swimming pools that use plants, not chlorine!

Posted on November 18, 2010

I've been through about an eighth of the GreenBuild Exhibition floor so far and wanted to share two of the things I've seen with you.

These are the Sanyo bifacial panels that will be on the Bullitt Foundation's Living Building on Capitol Hill. The collect energy from both sides while letting some light in at the same time. Bullitt was attracted by the transparency of the panel.

Sanyo panel, photo by Katie Zemtseff

And this is the BioNova Natural Swimming Pool. The swimming pools use natural systems (meaning plants in gravel) instead of chlorine and other chemicals to treat water. That means the water color is darker, looking more like a lake than a traditional pool. It also means that people that use them need to get used to the idea of sharing their pool occasionally with frogs or other critters. James Robyn, CEO of the company, said the pools aren't for everybody. "Whoever doesn't like that sort of thing shouldn't do this."

bionova

Robyn said the pool technology came from Europe, where it has been used for 20 years. He said it has a low carbon footprint, is all natural and is "perfectly healthy." Robyn, who is based in New Jersey, said he's being asked about the pool system all across the country. In fact, he was in Seattle giving a lecture last month though he said there are not yet any of his pools in process in the Seattle area.

There are basically five ways to build the pools but each involves about 1 square foot of treatment space for 1 square foot of pool. That means if you want an 850-square-foot-pool, you need 850 square feet of treatment space. It's more expensive but it certainly looks cool!

For more on BioNova, check out its Web site.

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Bertschi living building gets SIPS panels

Posted on November 5, 2010

Last week, the team building the Bertschi School's new living building science wing installed its structurally insulated panels.

The project, on target to be the first living building in Washington State, should be complete in December. It was designed pro-bono by the Restorative Design Collective, a multi-discliplinary team led by KMD Architects and founded by Stacy Smedley and Chris Hellstern. I wrote a story in June about this project and

A rendering of what the completed project should look like, courtesy KMD Architects.
the collective here.

To  achieve 'living' status, a building must meet and prove all requirements of the challenge through a full year of occupancy and operation. A living building must generate all its own energy, and capture and treat all its own water among other requirements.

SIPs provide airtight insulation through a super tight envelope, reduced on-site construction waste and time as they are prefabricated in a factory and enhanced energy efficiency.

To watch a great video showing SIPs installation, go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfS61INhv3w.

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In a perfect world, what would our new waterfront look like?

Posted on August 6, 2010

If you've been paying attention, you know 2010 has been a pivotal year for Seattle's waterfront.

In March, the city awarded a contract for seawall work, worth about $18 million, to a multi-disciplinary team led by TetraTech. At the same time, it sped up the schedule to redesign and redevelop its Central Waterfront Project

What the waterfront looks like today. Image courtesy Clair Enlow
. The timing will allow seawall and waterfront teams to spend more time working together.

Wednesday was the RFQ deadline for central waterfront work. A team is expected to be chosen by the end of September. The budget for design work over the first two years is expected to be about $6 million while the estimated budget for planning and design of the entire project is between $50 and $70 million. It got 30 proposals on the urban design/public space side.

Not to mention the process (or sometimes lack thereof) for the replacement on the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which is crucial to how the city's waterfront will be opened up.

Make no mistake about it, these projects combined will totally reshape our downtown. However, in all the hustle and bustle, it can be really hard to imagine just what that end result will be. Or what it is Seattleites want it to be.

If the city proceeds with the deep bore tunnel option, the goal is for the seawall to be done by the time the bored tunnel is complete, currently scheduled for 2016. Construction on the waterfront work could begin this same year.

The seawall may seem like the smallest of the three but how it is designed and managed will be incredibly important to the foundation of the other two projects. One big push is to create places along the waterfront for the public - for you and I - to interact with the water. Places that aren't separated by physical walls but allow us to connect with water, the cultural backbone of our city.

In June, Bob Chandler, city program manager for the viaduct and seawall replacement, said the city is looking for a seawall that supports the waterfront while providing habitat value and creating space for people to interact with the water. “We have an opportunity,” he said. “We need to come up with an approach here that provides protection in a seismic event but that doesn't necessarily mean this is a 35-foot high straight wall. It doesn't mean that at all.”

My question is - how do you envision this?

What should it look like? How do you want to interact with the water, related to the seawall? Once the seawall is complete, what would your optimal redeveloped waterfront look like? Sustainably, what should its function really be?

Rhodes, Greece. The old town at night. Could we get this kind of energy along our waterfront?
At the core of this is the need to get normal people to want to hang out on Seattle's waterfront during evenings and on the weekend, rather than just visiting when family and friends come into town.

I recently spent my honeymoon in Greece and Turkey. In each city I visited on the water, there were vibrant spaces located along its edge. I couldn't help wondering what it would take to create the same kind of energy in our city: a bustling mix of tourists and locals that waxes on until the early hours of the morning every day. In Greece and Turkey, the answer is built on history, combined with making these spaces centers of tourism and city life.

These are a lot of questions, often without answer. Part of the point of the design process is to come up with that answer, and there will be a number of opportunities to participate in the formal process. One will be a meeting with teams shortlisted for the central waterfront design work at Benaroya Hall on Sept. 15 - mark your calendar. For now, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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Water infrastructure: the problem no one wants to (openly) talk about

Posted on June 9, 2010

This week, the DJC published my story on the Bullitt Foundation's desire to go off the water grid and the underlying politics of the decision. I've written about this topic before in this March 17 post "Bullitt wants to go off the water grid: realistically will it be able to?" Basically, the problem centers around the idea that Bullitt wants to capture and treat all its own water. That means it wants to do the impossible: drink the water that falls on its site and treat the toilet waste the occupants produce. I say impossible because the barriers seem endless. (Clarification: I do not actually think it is impossible. As a journalist I don't take sides and have no opinion on the topic. But if you were to look at the issue before Bullitt started talking with agencies, it was an impossibility. That's the point of the Living Building Challenge... to break down barriers).

The barrier I discussed in the story is King County's capacity fee. According to an internal county

Here is a current rendering of Bullitt's project
document, a different project (part of Amazon's new headquarters in South Lake Union) wanted to go partially off the water grid and requested a waiver of the capacity fee. The waiver would have resulted in a loss of over $700,000 for the county in 2008, the document says. Because the building would still be hooking into King County's water system for some services, the county declined the waiver. Even though a building may be water independent, it still needs to be connected to the county system in case of emergency. This means it needs to be able to function at any given moment.

Developers and green enthusiasts say the fee should be waived because it encourages innovation, and developers won't pursue these projects otherwise. The county says it's a social equity issue: by waiving the fee, other less fortunate individuals will end up paying for infrastructure and the county has already counted on new development to support that work. Specifically, the county is in the middle of building the $1.8 billion Brightwater Treatment Plant.

I'm really interested in this dilemma, especially the validity of the social justice claim. I had a brief conversation via Twitter this week with @bruteforceblog (whose very interesting blog is here: http://bruteforcecollaborative.wordpress.com/). Bruteforce said if this were a rural site he'd be all for cutting the capacity fee but in a city, the less affluent will be burdened by the cost. He suggested priority permitting as an incentive. However the city already provides priority permitting for super green projects and in this economy, the quickened pace doesn't equal the amount of savings it once did. I asked him what other ideas he might suggest. Bruteforce said perhaps a FAR or height incentive could be the answer, adding that no matter the incentive, developers will always argue it isn't enough. However, a commenter on our DJC story, Kent Andersson had another opinion: "It's not about punishing the poor. It's about everyone paying the true costs of the services they use. We should allow the exemption to spur the future, however if they need to discharge, then they should pay a higher rate."

Regarding the capacity fee, the county is currently considering three pretty black and white options, again, according to the internal county documents: waive the fee for projects that go off the water grid, partially waive it or do nothing and keep the structure as it is.

But there's another option. Why not let innovative projects go off the grid and then charge them crazy insane fees if and when they do use the system? Just a thought.

Where do you stand on this issue? Do you think the county is right on with its social justice reasoning or is that an excuse? What incentives do you think should be offered to developers, if any should be offered at all to get them moving in this direction? Or maybe we all should pay the "true costs" of water and agree to much higher water rates? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Don't feel like commenting? Answer our new poll at right!

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Puget Sound Partnership gets in hot water with state audit

Posted on May 13, 2010
Puget Sound
This morning, KUOW 94.9 aired a pretty hard-hitting piece on the Puget Sound Partnership and a recent state audit of the agency. John Ryan (who worked here at the DJC years ago, if you didn't know), covered the story in a clear way that left me with one word on the tip of my tongue after he finished: "Wow."

According to the audit, the "partnership circumvented state contracting laws, exceeded its purchasing authority and made unallowable purchases with public funds."

I just spoke with Frank Mendizabal, spokesperson for the partnership, who said the agency has made a number of changes already in response to the audit but will continue "tweaking" its operations in the future.

For more information, check out the KUOW story here.

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