February 17, 2018

LJ Design Institute, Dallas: Hands-on Green

A collaborative approach to sustainable building at LJ’s sixth Design Institute, in Dallas

On December 11, 2009, the same weekend that the UN Climate Change Conference was taking place in Copenhagen, approximately 90 librarians, library board members, architects, and vendors from 12 states convened for their own ecominded summit at the Dallas Public Library’s (DPL) Central Branch for LJ‘s Design Institute (DI), a daylong seminar centering on sustainable building and design.

The day’s agenda included a presentation by Louise Schaper, former director of the Fayetteville Public Library (FPL), AR (see “Let ‘Green’ Creep“), the LJ 2005 Library of the Year, and panels on the benefits of sustainable design and the latest in green product trends. Additionally, those in the bond, prebond, or early planning stages of construction participated in their choice of two architect-led breakout sessions based on challenges submitted in advance and preselected by LJ.

Texas does everything big

As the second-largest U.S. state in both area and population, Texas beats out the rest of the nation in energy consumption and CO2 emissions. Conversely, however, it has installed more wind capacity than any other state, and it is poised to become the next leader in solar power. Texas is home to 23 of the 232 library projects currently registered with the U.S. Green Building Council; of those 23, ten are in Dallas, where several of DPL’s 25 branch locations have recently acquired or are anticipating Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

Taking a step further, LJ editor-in-chief Francine Fialkoff opened by saying that “now is the time to build—construction costs are low, interest rates are down, and there are stimulus funds [for green projects].” Dallas city manager Mary Suhm, who once worked as branch library manager with DPL director Laurie Evans, seconded that, telling DI attendees that, in her city, “we’re all about business, and, frankly, Dallas has figured out that [sustainably minded building] is good for business.”

Share and share alike

Suhm spoke to Dallas’s practice of “layering resources wherever we can,” and DPL assistant director/LJ 2004 Mover & Shaker Corinne Hill, too, emphasized the importance of sharing resources with other organizations. By way of example, Evans noted that two of DPL’s libraries colocate with schools, so that “[even] when the library is closed, it continues to serve the community in other capacities.”

There’s also an economic advantage to resource sharing, a practice that Malcolm Holzman of Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture (HMBA) called “not just an environmental saver but a cost saver” as well. “In this economy,” said Peter Bolek of Holzheimer Bolek + Meehan Architects (HB+M), “you have an opportunity when you share spaces that are mixed use to bring cost down [by taking] advantage of onsite renewable energy.”

Location, location, location

Equally important to bringing people together in a civic center, said Bolek, is “making it easy for them to get there.” An accessible location—e.g., one situated along a major subway line—not only attracts a greater number and broader swathe of visitors but also extends the gesture of sustainability beyond the walls of the facility.

“We can design buildings that generate more power than they’re using, but it’s the other, outside influences that matter most,” said Dennis Humphries of Humphries Poli Architects (HPA). “A building has got to be central to the community, minimizing the amount of travel and maximizing engagement.” We need, he said, to be building buildings that are “not designed to be seen at 55 miles per hour but designed to be experienced at three miles an hour.”

Certainly one way to maximize engagement is by creating a dialog with the community, and Sean Wagner of Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, Ltd. (MS&R) encouraged DI attendees to look at green libraries as educational opportunities and teaching tools about sustainability. “What happens if patrons are stopped and forced to ask, ‘What am I doing in my life?'” he posited. “We can reclaim our role as public educators.”

Educate early

DPL’S Evans proposed that the best time to educate the public about any green building initiatives is “before the building even opens.” When DPL planted low-maintenance buffalo grass at one of its branches, she said, “calls started pouring in because it wasn’t the golf-course green people were expecting.” Now, with its Prairie Creek branch, “we’ve got signs leading up to the construction site explaining features they’re going to be coming upon.”

The practice of early education was encouraged not just for patrons but for staff and the board as well. “The sooner you’re able to establish an energy budget for your building and understand what you’re consuming,” said MS&R’s Wagner, “the sooner you can talk intelligently about how you plan to go about reducing that consumption.”

Involve the community

Once construction is completed, panelists said, the building can then be outfitted with signage elucidating green features’ benefits and functionality. Other educational initiatives suggested include programming on sustainability and demonstrations and tours—because, as HPA’s Humphries said, “the real benefit comes from involvement.”

Denelle Wrightson of PSA-Dewberry addressed the growing popularity of interactive kiosks showing real-time energy and water usage, through which “patrons can see rainwater being collected [and understand] where that water’s going.” MS&R’s Wagner said such kiosks are an excellent way to educate people about “the unseen truths” of a green building’s operations, adding that “understanding how buildings actually live and consume…should be part of a long, ongoing discussion.”

A collaborative effort

At every one of DPL’s building projects in Dallas, said Evans, “the [information technology] people are there and at the table from Day One.” This, she felt, greatly impacted both the buildings’ initial successes and their long-term viability.

Collaboration can stretch across the board, and that’s where vendors like Wember Inc. come in, whose job, as per principal Paul Wember, is to “coach” and “mentor” clients to help them make informed decisions throughout a project’s planning, design, and construction. Tech Logic, too, whose purview is automated sorting technologies, circulation staff support tools, and patron self-services, “is known for working with architects in new building designs,” said executive director and VP Gary Kirk.

Monitoring and oversight

Still, the role of library administration and staff is paramount. Former FPL director Schaper said that after the MS&R-designed Blair Library opened in 2004 and achieved LEED Silver certification in 2006, the contractor admitted to her that “he didn’t think we’d hold his feet to the fire on LEED—we did.” Later, at a breakout session addressing expansion options for the William T. Cozby Public Library, Coppell, TX, PSA-Dewberry’s Wrightson told registrants that oversight should extend beyond the work of the contractor: “Whoever your architect is,” she said, “always question them.”

What’s more, oversight shouldn’t stop simply because construction has. “You should never assume something’s going to work,” said HPA’s Humphries, who suggested following up through regular monitoring well after a building has been LEED certified.

“LEED is constantly evolving,” said Wrightson, “so, ultimately, I expect there to be a lot more accountability,” to which Wagner added that, with the current LEED certification model, there is a requirement of energy and water usage data for the first five years, so there’s [already] greater accountability there.”

Some like it hot

Asked what one sustainable measure they favored, panelists had both general responses (e.g., a central location, thinking long-term) and specific ones (e.g., daylighting and geothermal heating/cooling). HB+M’s Bolek stressed that daylighting and views affect a building’s draw. Ryan Sherman of LucaLight described this as “the moth principle,” i.e., “if something is illuminated, people will seek it out,” saying that proper lighting had the potential not just to ramp up head count but also to increase circulation in any given area.

MS&R’s Wagner championed geothermal heating as a valuable sustaining measure that is often overlooked. “We’re seeing energy reductions in excess of 40 percent just from changing from gas,” he said, “and you can do it with existing buildings.”

He also touched on the issue of high heat emissions from server rooms. “Server rooms produce heat,” he said. “I have not yet seen someone embrace that as an energy source, or a heat recovery system…making it a sort of heart, or energy furnace, for a building.” Perhaps, he said, the heat production and energy consumption inherent to IT could be seen as more of an opportunity than a liability.

Flexible furniture

While everyone agreed that buildings should be designed to accommodate change, Janet Nelson of DEMCO Library Interiors told DI attendees to “look not just for buildings but materials that are flexible, that you can reconfigure to reuse over time.” Investing in quality materials will pay off in the long run; or, as Joseph Frueh of AGATI Furniture put it, “you can’t afford to buy cheap furniture.”

Much of today’s ecofriendly furniture, in fact, is enhanced by sustainable practices and services. Brodart Contract Furniture, said sales and marketing director Chris Frantz, has a LEED-certified person on staff “who is also in charge of emissions in our facility [as well as] a library consultant who focuses on libraries of the future, including green items and traffic flow.”

But there is still plenty of room for improvement in the area of flexibility. In a breakout session addressing the reorganization of the Houston Academy of Medicine—Texas Medical Center Library, one DI attendee called chairs “among the most personal pieces of furniture” and advised that he’d like to see “a variety of styles and sizes and angles so that every person can find seating that works best for them.”

Another registrant voiced his concern over the prevalence of office furniture in libraries. “You have to have sustainable furniture that doesn’t just incorporate sustainable materials but can be adapted in many ways,” he said, proposing as examples “a pedestal with a series of leaves that fold out for collaborative study, or integrating things like iPods into furniture, a place to put them, a place to charge them.”

Author Information
Raya Kuzyk is Media Editor, LJ


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