Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Power-Less: Increasing Costs and Declining Resources Require a Commitment to Energy Efficiency. (Special Report)

Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Power-Less: Increasing Costs and Declining Resources Require a Commitment to Energy Efficiency. (Special Report)

Article excerpt

Airline passengers departing San Francisco International Airport westerly soar over undulating grassy hills and do a double take. Beneath them lies a 195,000-square-foot office building, disguised under a rooftop of waving grasses and wildflowers. Gap, Inc.'s planted rooftop--in lieu of tar and gravel--is only one feature in the "green" building; designed and built to minimize environmental impact, use sustainable materials and maximize operating efficiency. Completed in 1997 and designed by William McDonough and the architect of record, Gensler, 901 Cherry Avenue in San Bruno, CA acts as the building equivalent of fashion maven.

Walk into Gap's soaring, light-filled lobby. Eat outside at cafe tables, open to the hillside with mature oak trees canopying over natural grasses. Sit on benches recycled from non-native eucalyptus trees cleared from the construction sire. "We believe people want to feel like they've spent the day outdoors in a beautiful place, so we've designed a building full of daylight and fresh air to invigorate the mind, body and spirit," said McDonough.

It's Getting Easier Being Green

Nowadays, industry professionals describe real estate in colorful terminology. The non-profit United States Green Building Council (USGBC) attempts to define what it means to be green. Its LEED[TM] (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) program rates buildings on a point system, based on five categories: indoor environmental quality, material resources, sustainable site, water efficiency, and energy and atmosphere. Certification levels range from [LEED.sup.TM] Certified to Silver, Gold or Platinum. As of May 2003, the USGBC has certified 53 projects and registered 820 projects.

Pauline Souza, architect at San Francisco-based Gordon Chong & Partners and a [LEED.sup.TM] Accredited Professional, said the industry today is experiencing different shades of green. "Some owners will garner low-hanging fruit; installing carpet, furniture and other finishes that easily meet the (green) definition," she said. "Deeper shades of green, such as daylighting, with a five-to-ten year payback are better suited for owner-occupants, government agencies and other long-term owners." Souza believes payback periods must be shortened to appeal to more owners.

This is a growing field, with many owners pursuing green buildings, making energy-efficient and environmentally sound decisions independent of the LEED certification. Landlords find economic sense in green buildings; their best measure of long-term viability.

Up on the Roof

Architecturally, Gap's planted rooftop nods to California's rolling hills, by turning green and brown. Operationally, it supplants tar and gravel with higher insulating performance. It's estimated an organic roof reduces thermal loads by up to three times that of conventional roofs. Gap's building has three undulating bays, with rolling rooftops stretching up a hillside. The rooftops are planted with a mixture of indigenous grasses and wildflowers- mimicking natural coastal grassland- above layers of waterproofing material. The undulating design allows air to flow along peaks and valleys. The hardy rooftop provides thermal insulation from the sun, resulting in less air-conditioning demand and pollution as well as acoustical insulation from the neighboring airport.

A planted roof protects the watershed by soaking up rain and minimizing run-off water. Run-off water would travel directly to San Francisco Bay, picking up toxins, without any opportunity to dissipate into the soil. The San Francisco Bay Area can anticipate 30 inches of annual rain. The roof, with little run-off, will normally absorb the average rainfall.

Let There be Light

Gap's exterior (double-paned and insulated) glass walls admit abundant natural light. Two-story atrium bays allow sunlight, while curved light monitors reflect light into lower spaces. …

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