Corrections or additions?

These articles by Kathleen McGinn Spring were prepared for the

April 25, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Building Green Saves Money, Boosts Morale

Here’s an innovation for you: Put a lamp on each

employee’s

desk. At first blush that sounds oh-so-19th century. But it is an

example of the kind of idea being put forward by the sustainable

design

movement in corporate architecture. Like many sustainable design

ideas,

the lamp on the desk, replacing expensive, glare-producing, energy

gobbling high-wattage recessed lighting, is just common sense.

"It’s

logic and beauty," says Frank Sherman, an architect with

the Hillier Group and a sustainable building advocate.

Sherman appears at the New Jersey Technology Council on Thursday,

May 3, at 4 p.m. at the Somerset County Environmental Education

Center.

His subject: "Designing, Constructing, and Maintaining Healthy

Buildings for People in a High Tech World" Cost: $70. Call

856-787-9700.

Sustainable design runs the gamut from siting an office building (not

on a bulldozed plot surrounded by asphalt parking, please, Sherman

urges) to the glue used in its doors. Roof color, exterior finish,

interior colors, lobby temperature, work station design, landscaping,

and even the distance from work stations to the nearest copier machine

can be elements of sustainable design.

The goal of sustainable design in a work setting is to create

environmentally-friendly

workplaces that add to the health — mental as well as physical

— of the employees who spend their days (or maybe nights) in them.

Sustainable design (also called "green" design) is getting

a push right now from the California energy crisis and rising energy

prices around the world, but Sherman explains it is about much more

than heating and cooling efficiently.

Sustainable design creates buildings that will last longer, cut down

on interior and exterior pollution, and make their inhabitants happy

(happier?) to go to work. But won’t these high-functioning buildings

be more expensive than their ner’do well neighbors? "One of the

misconceptions is that sustainable design costs more," Sherman

says. "That is only so if you layer in green features. But if

you start from the beginning, and think of it as a set of integrated

designs, approaching building from a sustainable point of view doesn’t

cost more."

Part of the equation, Sherman says, is looking at cost over the useful

life of a building. Sustainable design may indeed cost more up front

— as higher quality materials and internal machinery are used

— but it saves money over time. In addition to tangibles like

cutting the cost of cooling by including windows that open,

sustainable

design saves in ways that are harder to quantify. Retention is likely

to improve where employees work in an airy, stimulating, comfortable

environment over which they can exert some control, he says.

Productivity

rises too, and absenteeism goes down.

Sherman says the best space in which he has worked was probably the

Syracuse office of Sherman Associates, the firm he founded and left

to join Hillier two years ago. There he had large, south-facing

windows.

He describes his new digs as "typical corporate office," but

nice enough. "As I’m talking, I’m turning in my chair to look

out the window," he says, emphasizing how important it is for

office workers to retain a connection with the physical world.

Sherman describes sustainable design as a chain of synergies, perhaps

a lamp saving energy, and also cutting the need for overhead lighting,

which in turn reduces the temperature of the office, and thereby

lowers

energy needs, which means a smaller heating unit. And so on. His

career

also draws on synergies. He graduated from Syracuse University with

a degree in architecture in 1988. He enrolled in 1974, and proceeded

on the "14-year degree program."

He abandoned his studies in the final semester of the five-year

architecture

degree program to work as a potter. "I still had some rebelling

to do," he explains. "I became a craftsman, got into the

gallery

business, and had my own gallery." Somewhere along the line he

began to work with Syracuse’s Public Arts Commission. "It made

me want to finish, to become an architect," he says. His work

in the arts has stayed with him. "It’s a business, I acknowledge

that," he says, "but I still look at architecture as a

creative

medium." Sherman’s partner, Christopher Darling, is a ceramic

artist. They live in Canal Pointe.

Sherman says these are some of the things that go into sustainable

design:

Temperature control. What office doesn’t have an employee

who is always freezing, perhaps sitting next to a co-worker who has

stripped to within the limits of decency to keep heat exhaustion at

bay? Sherman talks about a new way of keeping both happy. Floors are

now raised in many office buildings, and under them snake all the

wires that keep the computers and copiers humming. That same structure

can be used to deliver heat or air conditioning directly to each

employee’s

feet. The air comes out of round openings spaced about eight feet

apart. Employees can choose a temperature by typing it into their

computers or "they can use remote controls," Sherman says.

Workers feel good about choosing the temperature in which they work,

and energy costs are cut substantially as air hits the target it is

meant to heat or cool rather than being forced down from an eight-foot

ceiling. Not only is pushing air down inefficient — and unnatural,

too — but doing so requires that it be a few degrees warmer, or

cooler, than it would have to be if it were delivered right to the

humans for which it is meant.

Clean air. This is a tricky one, Sherman says, asking

"What is fresh air?" While it seems to be a no-brainer, fresh

air often means that which resides outside of a building. If said

building sits in a smoggy valley or next to an eight-lane highway,

that air may not be very "fresh." So, thought must be given

to where interior air will come from, and how it will be filtered.

In many cases, the perfect delivery system is that old-fashioned item,

the window that opens. When outdoor air quality is good, and

temperatures

do not stay in triple digits much of the year, operable windows are

the way to go.

In response to the energy crisis of the 1970s, Sherman says, buildings

were sealed up to trap every last energy-produced heat molecule.

Operable

windows went, well, out the window. The result, he says, is the kind

of sick building that gave us Legionnaires disease. Letting the air

in, where possible, should be encouraged.

Beyond air circulation, clean air means an interior free of VOCs,

or volatile organic chemicals. They can lurk in carpets, paint, and

the binders in particleboard. And they give off gases that can be

harmful. "You know that new car smell?" Sherman asks.

"It’s

off-gassing." Keeping off-gassing to a minimum in office

buildings,

particularly those that are sealed tight, is a prime goal of

sustainable

design.

Movement. Sitting in a cubicle all day is not particularly

healthy, and sustainable design takes on that problem too. "Copier

machines can be placed at the end of a hall," Sherman says.

Cafeterias

can be sited so that going for lunch requires quite a little stroll.

Open staircases can encourage a sprint up to the fifth floor. Simple

things, but effective in getting employees to move more than their

fingers as they go about their work routine.

Color. Sherman is working on an internal redesign for

a fast-growing Route 1 corporation now. "The whole place is

beige!"

he exclaims. "It makes me nuts. I’m trying to figure out

strategies

to add color." Huge office facilities often are designed to look

the same, from one end to the other, he says, declaring that such

thinking creates "a stifling work environment." Workers should

be able to look away from their computers and find something to rest

their eyes on, he says, be it a colorful wall, an interesting texture,

or the changing scene outside a window. Says Sherman: "All senses

should not be numbed."


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