Pacific Northwest winners in the annual American Institute of Architects' Top Ten Green Projects competition are vastly different in complexity, size and cost, but a four-story Seattle office building and a four-building complex in Victoria's Inner Harbor have an important similarity: both are commercial or residential buildings rather than the usual award winners from governmental or nonprofit owners.
The Terry Thomas Building is a first-time honor for the Seattle firm of Weber Thompson. Synergy, phase one of a huge Victoria Inner Harbor development marks a second award for Vancouver architect Peter Busby. The projects are among five "for-profit" winners, the first time in the 13-year history of the awards for so many commercial winners.
Perhaps a trend? Scott Thompson certainly sees it in his neighbors in Paul Allen's Vulcan development on South Lake Union. In 2008, Seattle architects Miller/Hull won for the Discovery Center at South Lake Union, and Thompson says all the new buildings in the Vulcan area are using rigid environmental standards for construction. Sustainability saves money, he believes, and will drive more construction decisions as energy costs increase.
He's referring to the usual award winners — environmental, governmental and nonprofit groups with aesthetic appeal and an educational mission, sometimes making a statement but not necessarily seeking the efficiency of a commercial structure.
The Pacific Northwest winners fit into the commercial category. Neither makes a spectacular statement on the street, although both are attractive and efficient designs. Their strong statements are in the details, only some of which are apparent from the exteriors.
The Terry Thomas Building was designed as office space for the Weber Thompson architectural firm in Vulcan's South Lake Union development. Handsome but not overpowering as seen from Terry Street, the $10.2 million building is focused on connecting interior and exterior spaces and creative use of passive energy. And the strategy is simple, according to Thompson: Open the windows both front and back and use a central courtyard as a "chimney" for cooling. This is the way buildings used to be built, Thompson notes, particularly in moderate climates like the Pacific Northwest.
Thompson, speaking now as a tenant, is delighted at his energy savings. He had hoped to save 30 percent of energy costs compared to a typical office building; instead, "we have been experiencing savings of 50 percent of energy costs." The building, named for its location at Terry and Thomas streets, is owned by a group that includes Thompson. The architects occupy 65 percent of the building, two smaller firms the remainder.
If The Terry Thomas is an example of a small project with gains attainable without complex technology, Synergy at Dockside Green in Victoria is an attempt by architects Busby, Perkins & Will, and the City of Victoria to make a major statement.
"Dockside Green is developer Joseph Van Belleghem's signature accomplishment to date, and possibly the benchmark against which all green building in Canada will be judged from now on," writes Sara Hart in the January issue of GreenSource Magazine. "Environmental sustainability is best achieved by incorporating high-performance buildings into denser, mixed-use neighborhoods and by providing better transit alternatives. Dockside Green is one of the case studies in this pilot program and a role model for the future."
Busby's project visually dominates its Inner Harbor location, the first stage of the eventual $30 million Dockside Green commercial and residential project. The first phase, Synergy, includes four buildings constructed over a common underground parking structure. Synergy includes a nine-story residential tower with commercial units on the ground floors; a two-story townhouse building; a six-story building with commercial units on the ground floor and a four-story residential building. A second phase, containing smaller buildings, is under way.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!