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March 24, 2016

How sharing sit-stand desks will help Antioch be smaller and greener

  • It's one of the ways the school will save space and use less furniture in its new home.



    Building green. This term brings to mind many traditional strategies of sustainable design — LED lighting, low-VOC, FSC, to name a few.

    As designers, we look beyond these traditional strategies and include related and equally important, but different, areas of performance. Our client’s goals provide the strong foundation for this design strategy. We ask ourselves: How can we make these spaces perform, provide a positive impact and add value?

    To help answer these questions we have identified three lenses that define our approach: environmental, social and economic. Environmental refers to a traditional approach to sustainability; social refers to employee health, wellness and equality; and economic refers to real estate, risk management and cost reduction.

    With this intention set at the project’s conception, we are able to achieve high levels of performance each and every step of the way.

    One project that exemplifies how this approach works is Antioch University. Antioch has a national footprint with campuses located across the country. In 2014, we were enlisted to help re-envision their Seattle campus.

    Antioch’s community-centric mission focused on social responsibility and a pedagogical approach that emphasizes applying what is learned in the classroom to the common good, made them an ideal partner in pushing for a holistic approach to design performance.

    Antioch is relocating from a 65,000-square-foot, mid-century building in Seattle’s Denny Triangle to a four-story building under construction at Third Avenue and Battery Street in Belltown. Antioch will take around 30,000 square feet in the multi-tenant building.

    Image courtesy of Perkins + Will and Gensler [enlarge]
    Antioch plans to move into its Belltown space in early 2017. The building is under construction.

    In rethinking their campus design, Antioch’s priorities were to manage real estate cost, maintain a strong internal and external community connection, and better align their space with the Antioch brand and mission. Ultimately, Antioch was focused on attracting new students and inspiring their creative, service-driven students, faculty and staff.

    To address these goals, our team employed strategies designed to improve and support the new campus’s economic, social and environmental performance.

    Using fewer resources

    While traditional strategies of environmental design remain integral elements of the project’s success, the client’s environmental focus was to decrease resources.

    Antioch’s location in the center of Seattle’s urban core was crucial. With an entirely commuter-based student population, the connection to multiple means of public transit and community amenities like pharmacies and day cares are critical to attracting new students and retaining existing students, faculty and staff.

    During the site selection process, Antioch also prioritized access to the outdoors. With an exterior deck accessible to all on the third floor and a community roof deck for the building occupants to enjoy, Antioch’s selected site provides a connection to nature.

    The build out of their space also included many of the energy-efficiency savings that are resource driven. By providing the right quantity and type of spaces based on utilization, the reduced footprint allowed for reduction of water, electrical demands and HVAC needs compared with their current space. The new space will yield savings of approximately 20,000 kilo-British thermal units per person, according to data provided by the Seattle Office of Sustainability & Environment.

    Additional lighting power density and MEP load reductions are anticipated through more efficient systems, cutting energy needs and lowering operating costs for Antioch.

    Right-sized spaces

    Managing real estate costs defined Antioch’s economic strategy. Recognizing they were situated in an older, outdated building that was larger than their current need, Antioch engaged in a campus-wide study to identify inefficiencies in the way their current square footage was allocated.

    During five days of careful observation of how spaces were being utilized across the campus, the study revealed an opportunity to reduce the current footprint significantly. In total, the new campus has roughly 50 percent space reduction, which required creative approaches to utilization planning, class scheduling and multipurpose spaces.

    In the new space, highly mobile faculty will be implementing a seat-sharing ratio of three people to every two desks — a strategy that not only reduces square footage, but also minimizes the need for furniture and other raw materials.

    In taking the time to understand how campus spaces were used, Antioch also uncovered an opportunity to right-size spaces like meeting rooms and classrooms to be more appropriate for the number of people that are actually using them.

    A focus on community

    The overarching social strategy was to strengthen the human connection. Antioch’s focus on their community — faculty, staff, students and alumni — is at the heart of their organization. Its importance underlies every decision, making the social strategies integral to the success of this project.

    Engagement with the campus community during pre-design focus groups indicated that appropriate acoustics for classroom and offices spaces would be a critical measure of success in the new space. Allowing for the right balance of background noise and the appropriate types of spaces for each level of privacy required provides the optimal environment for focusing and learning.

    It is now a well-known fact that sitting poses health risks. To mitigate injury, and keep staff and faculty healthy and engaged, workstation ergonomics are being considered during the furniture selection process. The majority of desks will be equipped with a sit-stand feature encouraging occupants to stay active and change postures throughout their work day.

    Inclusivity has always been a feature of Antioch’s Seattle campus. This will continue on their new campus. All-gender facilities are available, universal design in conference rooms and classrooms allows those with hearing difficulties to participate without barriers, and veteran and women’s outreach programs are also maintained. The focus on social strategies aligns with Antioch’s principles and shows their commitment to a healthier and more effective environment.

    Through strategic thinking and a balanced approach to design performance, we were able to align the client goals with performance goals to achieve a successful project that exceeded the client’s expectations.

    While much of what is described above doesn’t fall into the industry’s preconceived notion of building green, Antioch’s story is a compelling one. Project case studies like these are showing clients what is possible above and beyond the traditional thinking, and hopefully we will start to see a shift in the market.

    Educating clients about the social and economic benefits of building green in addition to the environmental benefits will up the ante for design thinking and continue to push the industry, all the while keeping Seattle on the forefront of the green movement.

    Kathryn Moore is a technical designer and associate at Gensler, a global design and planning firm. Meaghan Beever is a consulting analyst and workplace strategist at Gensler.

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