Named after the first president of the United States, the city of Washington, D.C. represents a lasting emblem of American history and its architectural evolution. From Pierre L’Enfant’s original 1971 blueprint of the metro to the dedication of Polshek’s Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue in 2008, our nation’s capital has successfully managed to preserve the past and anticipate a future vision.
Now a new chapter in innovative design is opening on the city's skyline, thanks to a heavy government focus on green building codes and initiatives. Rather than simply replacing the old structures to make room for the new, designers are unlocking new value in outdated buildings through the renovation and introduction of sustainable designs.
Smart design begins with green
One notable repositioning project is taking place at 815 Connecticut Avenue. Located on a prime site just one block from the White House, this outdated 45-year-old B+ Class office building is being converted to a trophy green facility in order to support the owner’s vision for a high-performance, sustainable facility that can command higher rental rates from its tenants. Once complete in early 2012, the structure will feature 215,000 square feet of space on 12 floors.
VOA Associates (VOA), a global firm based in Chicago, is providing base building architecture and interior design services to facilitate the project’s goal of LEED Gold certification. The approach includes implementing the latest technological advances and green initiatives, institutionalizing a standard for future design, and creating a symbol for the future of architecture in the District, as well as managing the enormous logistical issues associated with re-skinning a building while it is continuously occupied.
Designing sustainable commercial office space involves full participation in the repositioning process. VOA, the building owner (client), DRI Development Services (client’s representative), Transwestern (the building management team), and Forrester Construction Company needed to collaborate as partners during the design process. The first step was to determine the level of LEED certification—VOA determined that LEED Gold was achievable, which made renovation investment more desirable to the client.
Advancing building design into the future
Beyond the obvious energy efficiency benefits, green design also will improve the occupant experience. This is being realized at 815 Connecticut Avenue through several solutions.
1. Exterior replacements. VOA is replacing the existing exterior precast panel skin with a new curtain wall system. In lieu of the existing small 4-foot-high windows, a continuous horizontal curtain wall system will be implemented to meet the metro’s daylight and views requirements for a zone of windows measuring between 2 feet 6 inches to 7 feet 6 inches above the floor. A solar farm of photovoltaic panels has been built on the building façade—these will collect 6,000 kWh annually. Additionally, the central power system has been updated with new, efficient cooling towers and management system, resulting in an energy savings of 65 percent.
2. Considering materials. From ADA-approved restrooms with energy-efficient lighting and water-reducing plumbing to elevator lobbies made with wood, stainless steel, carpet, and gypsum ceilings, all materials in every facet of the building provide a consistent aesthetic important to realizing a top-rated property. For example, the proposed design for the grand two-level lobby will feature a dynamic energy-efficient lighting system that will highlight the eco-friendly walnut wood-paneled walls and terrazzo flooring made with recycled glass chips. A new vestibule will open onto a tree-lined section of the Avenue, while large windows provide plenty of natural light to reduce energy costs. The overall design is both modern and monumental.
3. Sleek amenities. Every component and feature at 815 Connecticut Avenue, from the modern forward-facing concierge desk to the state-of-the-art fitness center, was designed to evoke a comfortable, contemporary feel that poises the site for continued use in the future. A proposed roof terrace has been designed to provide commanding panoramic views as an event space. Along with the main entrance, the building plaza, and the street café, this space helps to reinforce the building’s unique location and position the property as a vibrant urban space.
4. Working through full building occupation. VOA worked with the general contractor to review the approach of a fully occupied building renovation and plan a carefully phased construction plan. The central plant replacement was completed at night with minimal disruptions to tenants, while the replacement of the building’s exterior skin of the building will be completed vertically.
The architectural revolution in Washington, D.C. continues with a conscientious and responsible approach to salvage old buildings, exploit their solid foundations, and craft revolutionary green spaces to leave an important architectural and ecological mark on our nation’s Capital. This is the intention for 815 Connecticut.
John Jessen, AIA, is managing principal for VOA Associates at the Washington, D.C., office. Todd Combs is vice president at the Washington, D.C., office of VOA Associates.