February 16, 2018

Green in Lean Times: Sustainability and savings, key themes at LJ’s fifth Design Institute, in Arlington, VA

Library Journal: Library By Design Supplement, Fall 2009--Design Institute ArlingtonOn an unexpectedly sunny morning last May, roughly 100 librarians, architects, vendors, and library board members met at the Arlington Public Library, VA, Central Library, for LJ‘s Design Institute (DI), a daylong seminar on green design created in partnership with Arlington PL and Lyrasis (formerly SOLINET and PALINET), as well as with the District of Columbia Public Library (DCPL).

The seminar was largely both initiated and organized by Arlington PL director of innovation and service design Steven Carr. At this institute, attendees were able to participate in two architect-led breakout sessions—as opposed to the standard one—based on challenges submitted in advance by attendees and selected by LJ.

Following an outdoor breakfast and vendor display featuring representatives from cosponsor companies AGATI Furniture, DEMCO Library Interiors, and LucaLight, who also later participated in a panel on green product trends, LJ editor in chief Francine Fialkoff told registrants that, “as we’ve moved across the country with this Design Institute, we’ve seen a growing commitment to sustainable building and design.”

Indeed, despite the woeful state of the economy, opportunities for green design seem only to be growing. Paul Ferguson, clerk of the Circuit Court of Arlington County and the City of Falls Church, who spoke at the DI luncheon about Fresh AIRE (Arlington Initiative To Reduce Emissions), which he championed in 2007 to decrease Arlington County government’s greenhouse gas emissions by ten percent by 2012, told attendees that “a lot of money is available now for sustainable design” and that those anticipating building projects would be smart to contact their lobbyists directly.

LEEDing off

Arlington PL’s Carr, the first librarian to be certified as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) professional, reviewed with the group aspects of the new LEED rating system now in effect. Carr is overseeing the construction of the new LEED Silver-certified building for Arlington’s Westover branch, which began that month.

He also shared ways to conserve energy and reduce costs immediately, e.g., by lowering the number of copiers and printers; replacing CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors with LCD (liquid crystal display) units, which both consume and generate less heat; and implementing water efficiency in restrooms and landscaping, emphasizing that small investments in better plumbing yield large returns.

Two more complicated but no less important elements to consider, said Carr, are energy and atmosphere. Enabling each staff member to “control their own environment,” he said, “can reduce sick days by as much as 25 percent.”

Light up your life

By far the easiest of a building’s elements to improve, and one that will result in the most immediate payoff, is windows. Carr suggested using ambient lighting (two task lights per person) and improving daylight access. Several other panelists spoke of the wide range of options available today to those wanting to upgrade their windows. “Glass technology,” said PSA-Dewberry’s Marlene Shade, “has improved tremendously in the last ten years.”

LucaLight’s Ryan Sherman added that significant strides have been made, too, in the realm of lighting technology and that LED lights particularly “are on a quick-growing curve.” He ball-parked the current cost of solid-state lighting, which emits less heat than incandescent bulbs or fluorescent tubes and contains no mercury or lead, at $150 per linear foot, noting that “that’s a one-time cost—maintenance is something else you want to consider.”

According to Sherman, prudent use of lighting—“less of it but more targeted”—can make all the difference, as can careful consideration of its distribution. To illustrate this point he told of one library with which LucaLight recently worked whose staff “turned on lights they didn’t generally use, then found all the senior [citizens] suddenly over by the magazines—the light just sucked them in.” [For more on the state of the art in lighting, see “Light Done Right”]

Phasing out

Moderator Ginnie Cooper, chief librarian of DCPL, opened the “Green Design in Hard Times” panel by asking whether tackling projects in phases was the best and most sustainable approach. The consensus among the panelists was that working in stages is possible but that having an overarching master plan is paramount to success.

“You have to plan the plan,” said Peter Bolek of Holzheimer Bolek + Meehan, adding that “the early and late stages can’t conflict.” R. Drayton Fair, Lerner | Ladds + Bartels, said that phasing is difficult “because of money—what you ask for is all you’ll get,” and that costs will increase over time. To that, Jeff Hoover of Tappé Associates—who later led a breakout session with fellow sponsor-architect Charles Wray Jr. of BCWH—said that, with public funds especially, “you want to avoid the impression that you’re always spending money on the library.”

Thinking big

This emphasis on giving careful thought to the initial planning phase was echoed by Carr, who advised librarians to “consider the possibilities of a building” by thinking about all its potential long-term uses and the ever-changing needs of its users. “Are you designing something so specific that it can only be used for one function,” he asked, “or is it a big room that could be everything?”

DEMCO Library Interiors’ Janet Nelson predicted library furniture in the future would be “smaller, more flexible, mobile, multipurpose, deconstructible, and translucent,” taking into consideration “the simplicity of the space and how it operates.”

And AGATI Furniture’s Joseph Frueh stressed the importance of investing in quality materials from the start, because “if you get money to do something today, there’s no way you’re going to get money to fix it once it breaks.”

Pinching pennies

That going green can ultimately lead to saving green was a point on which this and past DI panelists unanimously concurred: environmentally superior buildings often cost less to maintain, saving money that can be recycled into a library’s operating budget, and in today’s economic environment, every penny counts.

Carr measured the costs of green vs. nongreen construction as being “roughly equal” and said to expect seeing payback from green projects in about three years. Once that payback comes, said PSA-Dewberry’s Shade, make it a matter of public knowledge: “Look at your energy bills and share that information with your users so they know how they’re benefitting.”

Out/in with the old

“Can old buildings be made as green as new ones?” DCPL’s Cooper asked. Though many experts agree that “the most sustainable building is one that already exists,” the panelists cautioned against adopting this as a rule of thumb. Buildings should be analyzed on an individual basis, they said, since, in many cases, the cost of reconstruction and bringing an old building up to code can often be higher than the cost of constructing anew. “An old building is like an old car,” said Hoover. “It might be fun and historical, but it’s really no good as your everyday car.”

Cooper proposed that, in evaluating an aging building for use as a modern library, the question to ask oneself is: “If it were being built today, what would be done differently?” Peter Gisolfi of Peter Gisolfi Associates further observed that the [sometimes ill-advised] decision to keep old buildings often derives from emotional attachment.

Whether or not to rework an existing building is a complicated matter, but deciding on construction materials is more of a no-brainer. Definitely make use of existing elements and ones easily on hand, said Carr, who advised recycling materials from demolished buildings and purchasing local construction materials.

AGATI’s Frueh said that, though “there is no such thing as LEED-certified furniture,” wood is the most sustainably forward-thinking material of choice. Those environmentalists arguing to “save the trees,” Frueh said, are to some extent misguided: “It’s much better to use the wood than to let the tree rot and emit CO2.”

Finding inspiration locally

Attendees wanting to observe some innovative green design practices, said Ferguson, need look no further than the neighboring 15,000 square foot Shirlington Library, Arlington County’s first wholly new library to be built in 30 years. Ferguson called Shirlington “a model that can be replicated across the country,” noting that “all of the growth is mixed-use.”

The four-story theater/library complex, a $225 million public-private venture among Arlington County, Federal Realty Investment Trust Corporation, and Signature Theatre, features such green elements as energy-efficient HVAC and other systems, a reflective white roof, recycled-content carpet, reduced-odor paints and glues, and a “switched fluorescent” lighting system to take advantage of daylighting.

The most interesting use of light at Shirlington, said Ferguson, comes from a public art installation designed by Erwin Redl. In it, an LED display runs up along one side of the library entrance, its light not only advertising the library’s practice of energy conservation but beckoning passers-by to explore its collection and experience firsthand the benefits of its sustainable features.

Author Information
Michael Rogers is Online Managing Editor and Raya Kuzyk is Media Editor, LJ