Category Archives: Design Inspirations

Raising the Bar

Jean Nayar

Known for his high risk efforts in advancing an eco-friendly mission for decades, Denis Hayes, president of the Bullitt Foundation, has fueled the ever-growing environmental movement in America since he organized the first Earth Day in conjunction with then-Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson in 1970. Thanks to his efforts as a leader on environmental issues, sustainable strides in this country have been taken on multiple fronts. And if his most recent bet on creating the first significant net positive energy office building in the country pays off, then the world will likely be inspired to get a whole lot greener in the years ahead.

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The 52,000 square-foot, six story Bullitt Center stands as a shining example of the accomplishments Hayes and the Foundation have achieved in their quest to remain at the forefront of the sustainability movement. Photograph ©Nic Lehoux

Hayes opted to develop the building after searching to no avail in Seattle for environmentally sensitive office space that would meet his criteria. “We were looking for offices that reflected our values,” says Hayes, adding that “our focus is on human ecology with an emphasis on how we can design built environments that are proper, healthy habitats for our species.” Once the head of the Solar Energy Research Institute during the Carter Administration, Hayes continues to advance environmental initiatives supported by the Bullitt Foundation, which offers grants to organizations working on environmental projects in the Pacific Northwest. The 52,000 square-foot, six story Bullitt Center, which is owned by the Bullitt Foundation, stands as a shining example of the accomplishments he and the Foundation have achieved in their quest to remain at the forefront of the sustainability movement.

The structure was designed to achieve certification as a Living Building, which is significantly more ambitious than LEED Platinum certification. To meet it, a building must generate as much energy as it uses each year and use rainwater for all purposes, including drinking. It must also meet lofty standards for eco-friendly materials and indoor air quality. Located on a site that was a forest filled with Douglas fir trees before European settlement, the building was designed by the Seattle-based Miller Hull Partnership to function, says Hayes, as a tree would. “Not only does it provide shelter and sustenance for its users, like a tree would for deer, elk, birds, and squirrels, it also produces its own energy from the sun and rain, it doesn’t produce toxins, and it recycles its waste as nutrients.”

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The Bullitt Center was designed by the Seattle-based Miller Hull Partnership to function as a tree would. Photograph ©Nic Lehoux

Since the Bullitt Foundation operates with only seven employees and needed just 4,000 square feet for its own business, the building was designed to be leased out to additional tenants to make it commercially viable. Among the numerous companies and organizations that have opted to occupy the building are the International Living Future Institute, founder of the Living Building Challenge, which defines the standards for Living Building certification, various small companies, and a substantial engineering firm, which completely tailored its business processes to drive down its energy demand by 82 percent with no loss in productivity or convenience. “We tell our tenants how many kilowatt hours of energy they’re allowed to use, and if they exceed it they pay a stiff penalty for high energy bills,” says Hayes.

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The Seattle office of the International Living Future Institute, founder of the Living Building Challenge, calls the Bullitt Center home. Photograph ©Benjamin Benschneider

The building relies on solar energy to meet its electricity needs, so educating tenants on ways to reduce consumption is necessary to keep the building’s energy use in check. Yet, since the building began operating about two years ago, its energy generating and energy conservation systems not only allow it to meet all of the energy needs of the Bullitt Foundation and other tenants in the building, but also enable it to produce more energy than it consumes, making it the first commercial office building of its size in the U.S. to operate as a net positive energy structure, generating 60 percent more energy than it used in 2014. “The Energy Use Index (EUI) for an average office in Seattle is 95, under our new energy code the index will fall to the low 50s, for LEED Platinum buildings it reaches the low 30s, and for our building we aimed for 16,” says Hayes. “But it has exceeded our wildest hopes. Our EUI in 2014 was 9.4, making it by far the most efficient office building in America.” Its excess power is sold back into the electrical grid for use by others.

A few of the building’s other eco-friendly highlights include a robust rainwater collection and filtering system, onsite treatment of sewage, composting toilets, and project certification from the Forest Stewardship Council—the first office in the U.S. to achieve this status. The building also excludes 362 “Red List” elements that are toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, or endocrine disrupting. Materials and furnishings devoid of “Red List” elements were also chosen by Robin Chell, principal of Seattle-based RCD, who worked with the Bullitt Foundation to design the interiors of its own offices. “Because we needed to avoid products that contained elements on the “Red List,” everything was rigorously scrutinized and had to be formaldehyde free,” explains Chell.

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A few of the building’s eco-friendly highlights include a robust rainwater collection and filtering system, onsite treatment of sewage and composting toilets. Photograph ©Benjamin Benschneider

The Bullitt Foundation also needed soft furnishings that would serve as acoustical buffers in the space. So, in keeping with the notion of biomimicry, which guided the design of the building’s mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and lighting systems, Chell chose felt art works, wool-upholstered soft furnishings, and earth- and moss-inspired eco-friendly modular carpet from Interface’s Urban Retreat collection.  “We wanted to bring in colors of nature with finishes, art, and furnishings that were inviting, stimulating, and reflected their ethos,” Chell explains. “So we started with the carpet, which inspired the tones of the other elements. Aside from offering environmentally friendly products, Interface has an amazing array of design innovations that are almost always ahead of the curve,” Chell adds. Honored with IIDA’s People’s Choice award last year, Chell’s design is ultimately as eco-friendly as it is practical and appealing to the eye.

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In keeping with the notion of biomimicry, Robin Chell Design chose earth- and moss-inspired eco-friendly modular carpet from Interface’s Urban Retreat collection for the space occupied by the Foundation. Photograph ©Brent Smith Photography

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“We wanted to bring in colors of nature with finishes, art, and furnishings that were inviting, stimulating, and reflected their ethos,” Robin Chell explains. Photograph ©Brent Smith Photography

Since Seattle’s climate is often cloudy and gray, creating a six story building that relies on solar energy to meet its power needs was risky. But Hayes was convinced that the potential return on the investment made taking the chance worthwhile. “Other buildings have been designed to meet these sustainable standards, but they are small—usually 2,000-6,000 square feet,” he says. “We wanted to dramatically increase the scale and felt it was doable. Even if we set out and failed, we thought it was still a heroic leap, so we decided why not aim for the moon and give it a shot? We wanted to be taken seriously not only by the academic community, but also by those who actually build.”

Judging by the number of tours (about six per week) that the Bullitt Center hosts in its building for developers, architects, and facility managers, Hayes appears to have succeeded in capturing their attention. And if the building achieves Living Building certification, which it hopes to do later this year, the building will no doubt generate even more interest.

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Posted in Category Biomimicry, Biophilia, Biophilic Design, Design Inspirations, Project Spotlight, Sustainability | Leave a comment

Marsala

Gretchen Wagner

We are all well on our way to an extra fabulous 2015. All those pesky, unfinished projects from 2014 are finally wrapping up, leaving bright space in the new year. And what better way to bring about some change than our annual Pantone Color of the Year feature?

2015′s color of the year is Marsala. Marsala isn’t quite red, and it isn’t burgundy or maroon either. It’s best described as a dusty shade of wine. But we can forego the color analysis and get right down to how you can incorporate it into your new year—other than as the perfect color scheme for your best friend’s wedding.

Marsala situates itself neatly between light and dark on the color wheel with just the right amount of saturation to pair beautifully with smoky, warm neutrals or livened with rich blue-violets and a vivid orchid accent. I look at Marsala the same way I do the perfect navy. When used correctly, it falls into that category of neutral sophistication that just about everyone is trying to achieve. But when paired with some vibrancy, Marsala can pack quite the punch of energy to get you riled up for 2015.

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For the mindful self-care approach, wrap yourself in that cashmere blanket you’ve had on your wishlist since 2012 and pair with lush Marsala velvet throw pillows. Think about Marsala more as an accent to your otherwise neutral wardrobe and find subtle ways to incorporate it into your ensemble. Maybe it’s a new nail color at the salon or a fresh pair of pumps. For the color enthusiast, Marsala is your starting point. Begin with a staple item in the color (i.e. a gorgeous chiffon dress or wide leg pant) and layer with saturated accents.

Whether you’re more subdued or over-hued, Marsala can work for you if you work with it.

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On Being Inspired

Chip DeGrace

When your world is communicated through the medium of squares, the idea of a rectangle is radical indeed. In a moment of unbridled geometric experimentation, we created the skinny plank. Its shape is twice the length and one half the width of our beloved 50cm square. When we laid it on the floor, its movement was dynamic. It added color uniquely and distributed texture in ways normally reserved for wood and stone. It was a new vocabulary waiting for a fresh group of storytellers.

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The skinny plank is the newest modular format from Interface, measuring 25cm x 1m, and lends itself to limitless design options.

We wanted to inspire the architects and designers who design with our products to think about the skinny plank in new and abstract ways. We were so excited about the possibilities of planks that we felt it demanded new collaborators to express its potential.

A member of our design team is an alumnus of Savannah College of Art and Design and knows firsthand the high caliber of work being done in the multi-media graduate program. We became the real life client for a class of 14 students with backgrounds in video/film, animation and advertising. Their challenge was the creation of four short films investigating the nature of the skinny plank. Wildly collaborative, the experience inspired us and the students’ work is sure to inspire all who experience it.

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Students from the School of Digital Media at SCAD have fun at the Interface Atlanta showroom after an in-depth research session on the company and products.

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Posted in Category Culture & Play, Design Inspirations | Leave a comment

Feeling Taupe

Gretchen Wagner

Taupe is the middle ground between warm and cool. The perfect taupe lies in the balance of fullness and minimalism. A good taupe is hard to find, but rest assured, we’ve found it for you.

Feeling inspired by concrete textures, neutral ceramics and soft natural textures? Us too.

More comprehensive building blocks are being added on a regular basis to meet all your taupe needs. Searching for the right compliment to your polished concrete floors? Or maybe you’re looking for that understated sophistication that taupe knows all too well. Take a look at Reclaim and the POSH Collection for that perfect palette. And don’t worry, if taupe isn’t your thing you’ll surely find the neutral you’re looking for in our newest skinny plank collection, Common Theme Planks.

 

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Mind the Gap

Julie Hiromoto

Continuing our series on the intersection of beauty and sustainability, Julie Hiromoto of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill reflects on her retreat with Interface and fellow architects when these thought leaders discussed how to close the gap between sustainable design and beautiful design. This is the second blog in the series.

In March, Interface, working with Nadav Malin of BuildingGreen, invited a group of architects from small and large practices across the U.S. to warm and sunny San Diego. Our task was to explore the question of why green buildings are not usually considered beautiful, and conversely, why the sexiest buildings are often not very sustainable. What is good green design and why isn’t there more of it? Unlike a typical conference center, our meeting room was enclosed on two sides with floor to ceiling windows facing the water, with a covered boardwalk as breakout space. While we talked, the sky changed colors, and the sun beckoned us outside after a long and relentless winter. Our hotel was located on a private, man-made island, landscaped to resemble a lush Southeast Asian paradise. Despite the irony of it all, or perhaps because of it, the discussions were lively, and we powered through the two and a half days. What an appropriate location to tease out our collective thoughts on this complex topic, as we earnestly worked together to close the gap.

As designers, we craft a vision for the environments in which we live, work, and play. Good design is mindful of the sensory experience in and around these spaces, whether visual, aural, or tactile; old or new; high tech or natural. The decisions we make range from broad sweeping concepts to minute details. We specify products that are included in systems that, in turn, complement other systems. They serve a particular use and group of people in a particular environment. Our intentions are constrained by time, cost, codes and other feasibility questions. On each project, these choices are based on our own values, those of the client, and the communities the project will serve. Our success depends on aligning the project goals with these values.

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Green must be a part of good design. As architects, we have a responsibility for the health and well-being of building occupants, the community and the environment. Greater energy and water efficiency requirements are making their way into building codes and design criteria. Owners are gaining awareness of financial incentives and savings. Health concerns are gaining traction as architects advocate for product transparency through grass roots initiatives like the Health Product Declaration or more established advocacy and education through the AIA’s Design & Health Leadership Group. But along the way, in our scientific pursuit to validate high performance design strategies, did we lose sight of beauty? Are we mired in the myriad charts, graphs, facts and figures used to justify and validate our ideas? Will we have better results realizing our sustainable strategies if instead we promote beautifully integrated solutions with narrative?

How do you define beauty? Countless philosophical and scientific treaties have been written on this topic, but design sensibility is difficult to validate. Beauty, pleasure, and inspiration are subjective; to one person a space may be ideal, to others it may fall short, but aesthetics cannot be cast aside as a frivolous amenity. This is the soul and life-blood of our work. The delight and experience of a space causes us to linger or smile. A unique sense of place makes a building special and memorable. These feelings motivate us to maintain and restore our homes, workplaces, community centers, schools and cultural spaces. The longevity of our architecture is the real lasting sustainable impact of the watts/square foot and liters/day savings. Even if technical advances help us achieve better performance metrics, demonstrated improvements in the buildings we construct and cherish today will build a foundation for further advancement in the next projects. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it’s still there!

Editor’s note: This blog was originally written before the Living Future unConference in May when the definition of design values continued with an interactive discussion between Julie, Joann Gonchar (Architectural Record), Nadav Malin (BuildingGreen), and Susan S. Szenasy (Metropolis) on the topic of Connecting the Dots: Beauty, Sustainability, and the Occupant Experience. It was held for publishing to be included with our blog series on the intersection of beauty and sustainability.

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Posted in Category Design Inspirations, Sustainability | Leave a comment