Buy Your Green Vegetables in a Green Building

Mississippi Market on Randolph Avenue, Exterior

Existing Store on Randolph Avenue

Co-operative groceries are enjoying unprecedented growth these days. For Liz McMann, Education Manager at the Mississippi Market in St. Paul, Minnesota, the reason is simple. She says, “People want to know where food comes from and that you can trust it.”

For the Mississippi Market, sustainability has been at the core of their mission since their start in 1979. When they planned to expand, it wasn’t a stretch to decide to build to a green standard. Even though they decided not to apply for LEED status—they’d rather sink their resources into the building itself—their new building is up to the LEED Gold level.

Rendition of the New Store

Rendition of the New Store

Sustainability started with the site, which is a brownfield, remediated with help from the city of St. Paul and the Metropolitan Council. The site is accessible by bus, bike, or foot. They’re encouraging their employees to get to work on their own muscle power by including a shower in the store to clean up after a commute.

They’re installing a stormwater diversion system that will send runoff from the parking lot to water their raingarden. And they’re putting on a white roof to mitigate the heat island effect.

Like all groceries, Mississippi Market’s energy demands are heavy on refrigeration and lighting. A highly efficient HVAC system helps with one, and energy-saving lights—T8 lights for the retail areas and LED lighting for the freezers, coolers and the exterior—with the other. The new store will also take advantage of daylight, with eleven skylights equipped with on-off sensors. Overall, the new building is projected to use 42% less energy than a building of comparable size.

The building materials are sustainable, and recycling and reuse figure prominently. 75% of the construction waste is being recycled. The building’s concrete has flyash content—20% for the interior and 40% for the exterior. They’re putting concrete sealed flooring (no waxing required) in the store and non-slip epoxy in the deli. They bought some of their fixtures from the Seward Co-op across the river in Minneapolis, which built a new grocery last year, and they’re refurbishing those for a new life in St. Paul.

As they designed the new building, they made sure that the roof could handle the load of solar panels, if they decide to install them in the future. Even if they don’t, the Market already has a commitment to solar power. One of their current sites, the Selby Market, hosts one of the only solar-powered Hour Cars.

The design team wanted space for events that build community. One design criterion was to expand the deli within the store and to make it more of a community restaurant. Another was to provide parking for classes and events. The Market educates members on healthy eating, holistic medicine, and a perennial favorite, on raising chickens in the city.

Mississippi Market holds an annual energy challenge to remind employees to reduce their use of energy. Last year, their goal was a 3% reduction. Next year, in the new building, the bar will be set higher. To a Gold standard.

Images used with permission of the Mississippi Market.

A Cemetery for Memorial Day

As Memorial Day approaches, my thoughts turn to a special form of non-residential architecture and landscape: the cemetery.

The garden cemetery was a 19th century invention, a response to the crowded urban cemeteries of the previous century. In 1804, Pere Lachaise in Paris was the first cemetery designed as a landscaped “garden” to soothe the soul and delight the eye.

The first American garden cemetery was Mount Auburn, near Boston, founded in 1830. Modeled on the “domesticated landscape” of English garden design, it combined natural features and careful plantings. In Victorian times, when most people suffered a loss through death, the cemetery was a place to remember the dead during a pleasant stroll through a lovely landscape.

Mount Auburn Cemetery in Summer

Mount Auburn Cemetery in Summer

The most famous garden cemeteries are elsewhere, but Minneapolis has a fine example in Lakewood Cemetery, founded in 1871, on land that was at the time in the countryside, far from the city’s center. Like Mount Auburn, it was carefully planned as a garden, with curving paths, attractive plantings, and memorials with classical, medieval, or natural motifs.

Exterior View of Lakewood Cemetery Chapel

Exterior View of Lakewood Cemetery Chapel


Lakewood Cemetery’s chapel is essential to the planned beauty of the cemetery as a whole. Designed by the well-known Minneapolis architect Harry Wild Jones, the exterior was modeled after the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The mosaics of the interior, designed by New Yorker Charles Lamb, were inspired by a design in the San Marco Cathedral in Venice. The domed ceiling is a striking example of the mosaicist’s art.

Even if your plans for Memorial Day include a parade or a picnic, not a visit to a cemetery, a look at Lakewood—even a virtual one—is a good way to celebrate the day. Life is fleeting, but architectural beauty can last a bit longer.

Mount Auburn image courtesy of Wikipedia; Lakewood image courtesy of Todd Murray via Wiki Commons.

Sustaining Hope

I’m involved with a local bungalow club, and our most recent event was a talk by Peter Lytle, director of the Live Green, Live Smart Institute. The Institute’s charter is to encourage sustainable behavior, and its showcase is the Sustainable House™, a 1948 rambler Lytle remodeled to show how green an ordinary house could become. Lytle’s contractor, Ron Jensen, talked about the house, but Lytle himself talked about global warming and greenhouse gases and the imminent catastrophe the world was facing—by 2050, he told us, the global environment would be toast.

As I looked around the room, I could tell that the audience, a group of bungalow owners who are mostly 45+, were all having the same grim thought: “2050? I’m planning to be dead by then.” We needed a little encouragement—to keep going, much less to improve the efficiency of our beloved old houses.

Steven Chu, the new Energy Secretary, was recently interviewed for a piece in the New York Times Magazine. Chu thinks about reducing global warming in a very serious way, since he’s charged with policy and action on it, but when interviewer Deborah Solomon asked him what Americans could do to improve the energy efficiency of their homes, he had some simple advice: “The most important thing is making sure that your home is properly insulated, that your leaky doors and windows are fixed.”

Sustainability in building isn’t about whizbang technology or glitzy design. It’s about the small things that any homeowner or home dweller can do. Those small changes can have a big result. If all of us use less electricity, run less water, and put less waste into landfills—the kind of thing that involves small decisions and small changes every day—it translates into a big impact on sustainability.

You may be planning to be dead by 2050, but your kids and grandkids aren’t. To save the planet with the built environment, turn off the lights, shorten your showers, put the eggshells in the compost, and don’t give up hope.

Better Building through Green Chemistry

Visitors to Regents Hall, the new science building on the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, are impressed by the by the green roof, reliance on passive solar lighting, and the use of recycled building materials—features that have put the building on track for a LEED Platinum rating. They’re less likely to notice a feature that the chemistry department and facilities management are equally proud of: the labs use about two-thirds the number of fume hoods in an older building of equivalent size and complexity.

In a conventional chemistry lab, fume hoods capture toxic or hazardous fumes and use a fan to pull them through the hood and vent them out of the building. Chemical labs with fume hoods are heavy energy users. To vent the fumes, the fans need to run constantly, and to refresh the air in the lab, the HVAC system needs to bring in 100% of its air from outside, which puts an additional burden to dehumidify and heat or cool the air, depending on the outside temperature.

Regents Hall has only 55 fume hoods, down from 88 in the previous science building. They’re more energy-efficient, too. Pete Sandberg, Director of Facilities Management at St. Olaf, says, “The newest generation of fume hoods are low-flow. There are only a few fans pulling through all these hoods. Fewer fans are called on as needed, and only the amount of air needed at any one time is being pulled through.” According to Sandberg, the result so far has been greatly reduced energy use and lowered operating cost.

But the real innovation in the design of Regents’ Hall goes beyond fume hoods. It’s the result of new thinking in chemical practice and education: green chemistry. Paul Jackson, associate professor of chemistry at St. Olaf and a champion for green chemistry throughout the building’s design process, explains that “The goals of green chemistry are to design chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate waste or hazardous materials. It’s predicated on the idea that there are two ways to reduce risk—through the hazard itself and through exposure. Green chemistry is about reducing hazardous materials or levels to the level where exposure becomes trivial.”

Using green chemistry techniques meant a big difference in the building’s design. Fewer fume hoods—and lowered energy demand—meant that the HVAC system could be sized and designed for the human load, not the fume hoods. Greatly reducing the amount of hazardous or corrosive substances in the labs meant that resistant materials, which cost more to install and maintain, could be used only where they were needed.

The interior space could be different too. Jackson says, “The counter space at the perimeter, or the counter room space, becomes much more flexible. You can have movable furniture, not fixed benches. There’s a daylighting opportunity around the perimeter—you can have windows, since you don’t have hoods.” Regents Hall labs move easily between functioning as labs and as classrooms.

Regents Hall didn’t have to look like a conventional science building, and that’s been an education for everyone—architects, students, and visitors. Jackson says, “The building re-engages other campus users, non-scientists, because it’s not a stereotypical ‘lab.’ The building interacts with users as much as users interact with the building. It’s a teaching tool for everyone who walks into it.”

Preserve a House, Sustain the Environment

I was happy to read the recent NY Times editorial piece, “This Old Wasteful House,” by Richard Moe, head of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The National Trust has been making the case for preservation as a form of sustainability for a while, but the inclusion of funds for weatherization in the stimulus package has given the idea—well, a new stimulus.

Moe points out that any house can become more energy efficient. Better insulation, weatherstripping, sealing for windows are all easy to do, and don’t interfere with the house’s historic character. Working on older houses is labor-intensive, and creates much-needed skilled work, especially in urban areas.

But he’s most eloquent on the place of preservation in sustainability:

“Before demolishing an old building to make way for a new one, consider the amount of energy required to manufacture, transport and assemble the pieces of that building. With the destruction of the building, all that energy is utterly wasted. Then think about the additional energy required for the demolition itself, not to mention for new construction. Preserving a building is the ultimate act of recycling.” Moe, NY Times 4/6/2009

Many American cities have housing stock built during the boom years of the 19th and early 20th century, and recognize that keeping it healthy is one of the best ways to keep a city vital. The city of Chicago has been in the forefront of preservation-as-sustainability for nearly a decade now. Recognizing that the bulk of older Chicago homes are bungalows, the city launched the Chicago Historic Bungalow Initiative in 2000. The city has been helping bungalow owners improve and green their houses with information and financial assistance. And they’ve incorporated preservation into their energy efficiency program. In Chicago, you can’t get a loan to green and improve your house unless you meet the HCBI guidelines for preserving the house’s original character.

The approach can work for any kind of house—a mid-19th century rowhouse, a Victorian mansion, a Tudor cottage, or a mid-20th-century rambler. It’s a great idea to tie the incentive of energy improvement to keeping the house’s historic footprint. In Chicago, it’s been surprising what’s been saved so far—attractive bungalows, whole neighborhoods, and the earth, too.

Better Buildings are Boring

When the local chapter of BOMA gathered a few weeks ago to learn about sustainability in commercial real estate, they met in the kind of building they get excited about. The Ameriprise Client Financial Services Center is 1.2 million square feet of recently built, highly efficient space that is beautiful in a modernist gleaming way.

The message they heard, from CBRE’s Sustainability Program Manager Adam Fransen, must have come as a surprise. He told them that any building—a five-story, 30-year-old, suburban office building where LEED certification isn’t realistic—could be sustainable.

Building operations and maintenance, O&M, isn’t the stuff that architects dream of. Continuous improvement in energy and waste reduction doesn’t get your building written up in Architectural Digest. It turns out that making a building sustainable, making it perform better, is the result of doing the kinds of mundane things parents nag their kids to do: Turn off the lights when you leave the room. Don’t let the hot water run. Put the glass bottles in the recycling bin.

In a commercial building, reducing energy use, reducing water use, and reducing waste are the mainstays of sustainability and better building performance. In O&M, as in any kind of continuous improvement, what gets measured gets managed. Having “key metrics” means that building owners and tenants can see how well they’re doing and whether they’re improving. The measures can drive changes in behavior, whether it’s to encourage the building engineers to perform routine maintenance on the flush valves or remind the building occupants to put their office paper in the recycling bin.

There’s been some criticism of LEED certification recently, pointing out that there are new buildings that get certified for glitz and looks rather than true sustainability. LEED-NC is only the beginning for real sustainability. The rest is O&M. Whether it’s LEED-EBOM or just ordinary good ongoing O&M isn’t so important.

Don’t Fight Next to the Windows

You’d think that the architects committed to preservation and those concerned with sustainability would be the last people to disagree. You can make a good case for historic preservation as the ultimate in adaptive reuse. What do they have to fight about?

Windows, it turns out.

The National Trust is pretty clear on the value of preserving, rather than replacing, old windows. In the March/April 2009 issue of Preservation Magazine, they outline their point of view. The National Trust feels that repairing existing windows made of old-growth wood is greener than replacing them with new materials. Infiltration, which causes energy loss, can be diminished with storm windows and weatherstripping, which tighten the seal around a window. They point out that new windows will need to be replaced about every 25 years, while historic ones can last much longer than that.

Windows and doors can add up to 13 points of the 17 needed to certify a building for LEED in the energy use category, according to the most often-used LEED standard, the one for new construction. If you’re specifying a building for LEED certification, you’re looking for the most energy-efficient technologies, including those in windows.

But a few historic buildings have achieved high levels of LEED certification, and some of them have involved a compromise on windows. The University of Oregon’s Portland complex, located in three renovated historic buildings in downtown Portland, is an example of an accommodation rather than a fight. Fletcher Farr Ayotte, the architect, and Venerable Properties, the developer, recommended three buildings on the White Stag Block to the University—the Bickel Block building, dating from 1883; the Skidmore Block building, from 1889; and the White Stag building, from 1907.

In addition to the design challenges of knitting three buildings together, there was a tug between the requirements of the University, which wanted to the buildings to achieve LEED Gold certification, and the National Park Service, which maintains the buildings’ status on the National Register, a situation that Erica Ceder, FFA’s job captain for the project, called “a double threat.”

Ceder was surprised by the emotion generated by windows. “The National Register feel[s] they’re character-defining and they don’t like to see historic windows removed.” But in this case, the windows’ condition was a problem. Ceder said, “The windows were in disrepair. They had one layer of glazing and they were leaky.”

And in this case, the State Historic Preservation Office and the National Park Service, which maintains the Register, were amenable to replacement. Ceder said that an energy efficient facsimile—double-glazed and argon-filled—was an acceptable substitute for the originals. It preserved the look, and it sealed the building envelope.

The building turned out well—at least the University of Oregon and the AIA of Portland thought so.

Repair the windows if you can. Replace them if you must. But please, don’t fight next to the windows—they’re fragile and we want them to last.