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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : July/Aug 2003 : Paving the Way

Paving the Way
Integrating Sustainable Design at the Pentagon

By Michaella Wright

With nearly 25,000 people working in 6.63 million total square feet, the Pentagon is the world’s largest office building. Operating as the U.S. military’s nerve center since World War II, the mammoth structure is undergoing an exhaustive renovation. One of its highest goals is to incorporate sustainable design.

In 2001, the Pentagon Renovation Program (PenRen), construction agent for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), established a sustainable design team to be an ongoing source of information and guidance in the renovation of Wedges 2 to 5. The first wedge of the Pentagon renovation project was nearly finished when it was demolished in the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Over the next year, the damaged area of the building was rebuilt, and renovation plans for Wedge 2 began. Completion of the second wedge is scheduled for 2005, with the remaining Wedges 3 to 5 to be completely renovated by 2010.

The project team for Wedge 2, made up of more than 20 firms, set out to integrate sustainable design in the plans of all disciplines for the 1.3 million-square-foot renovation. In the process, the team learned lessons in three distinct areas: how to better integrate sustainability; how to provide benchmarking in addition to the LEED™ Green Building Rating System; and ways to develop a materials selection process to include sustainability standards at every phase.

Before discussing the three lessons learned, though, it is important to understand some of the aspects of the project itself. Built during the days of inexpensive and seemingly plentiful energy resources, the existing Pentagon complex has poor insulation, inefficient mechanical systems, and poor illumination with little or no natural daylighting. The early involvement of the mechanical, electrical and other contractors in the renovation encouraged proper integration of today’s improved systems. Among the goals was to design a mechanical system that was affordable and easy to install, with smaller equipment and less ductwork.

Working closely, the different disciplines coordinated their respective skills to develop an architectural solution that effectively integrated the mechanical system. The result: an improved indoor environment achieved by allowing additional daylight into the space via a smaller ceiling plenum. Existing utilities bulkheads near windows were removed to allow more natural light into the space, and a dropped ceiling/bulkhead was placed over the center zone. The design approach is a key factor in the universal space plan (USP), which integrates sustainability further throughout the project.

One goal that resulted from the initial renovation of the first wedge of the building—which was reviewed by PenRen as inefficient—was to create a more simplified and standardized office interior. The result was the development of the USP, which breaks down the building into repetitive 10,000-square-foot sections that serve as one common universal office area. The USP design is intended to provide the following sustainable design outcomes: space flexibility, waste reduction, access to natural light and the outdoors, ease of maintenance, efficient integration of systems and durability.

The building system relocation was a key component of the universal plan. The central bulkhead, housing primary air supply and return, cable trays for electrical, telecom and data lines, and the sprinkler main, services the center zone as well as the perimeter zones, allowing for flexibility and easy reconfiguration. By focusing all support utilities to the center of the space, ceilings at window walls can be returned to their full height, clearing the windows and allowing for the maximum amount of natural light to reach occupants.

To run data, power and telecom connections for users in each bay, “Smartwalls” were specified versus full-height walls, thus also allowing in maximum daylight. These walls also can be “infilled” to the ceiling with glass to provide acoustic separation yet still allow in natural light. In addition, removable, modular, reusable partitions, instead of typical drywall on stud construction, will enclose or define spaces as needed, further enhancing the efficient and non-waste-producing nature of the long-term design.

As created and coordinated by the project’s many disciplines, the USP concept will provide a flexible environment to meet the employees’ changing needs, while creating a minimum of waste, maintenance and employee time with each reconfiguration.

Lesson #1:
Integrating Sustainability

As with many fast-track and diverse design-build projects, the team must hold quick and numerous meetings involving the various disciplines. The amount of project material that needed to be covered sometimes initially precluded discussion of sustainable design issues and how they might affect a variety of project decisions. In the weekly design team meetings, for example, each member took turns discussing critical design issues, and during conclusion sustainable design sometimes would be discussed. A similar situation existed in the separate meetings such as those addressing electrical and mechanical issues. Amidst all these many other meetings, a separate meeting on sustainable design was held. In time, team members realized that separating sustainable design issues within regular communications was not an efficient way to integrate sustainability into the renovation.

The solution was to firmly establish sustainable design on the agenda of every team meeting, and to make certain that the topic was part of daily team member discussions. Sustainable design experts from design and construction were added to the electrical and mechanical meetings. Quickly, the team members found that many sustainable design problems began to solve themselves because of access to detailed project information. For example, in discussing the complete project schedule from a sustainability viewpoint, the two weeks needed to “flush out” the building before occupancy was coordinated much earlier than it might have been without the ability to make all disciplines aware of the need.

Lesson #2:

For the W-2 renovation, HDR Sustainable Design Services, in coordination with the entire project team, including PenRen and the Federal Facilities Division, is working to meet the requirements of the LEED Existing Buildings Rating System (LEED EB). Using the LEED EB system requires meeting certain design criteria, as well as ongoing requirements for building operation, maintenance and performance.

For the design team, LEED is not the only benchmarking criteria. PenRen ultimately wants to show marked improvement of long-term operation and maintenance through sustainable goals written into the contract. This is especially true for those measurements that need to be reported such as energy and water consumption and waste reduction. For example, questions include: “How many tons of waste has the building produced versus how much could be recycled? After the renovation, how much more energy-efficient will the building be: i.e., 15 percent, 20 percent?

Also, the Pentagon has specific goals for eliminating polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and ozone-depleting substances (ODS). LEED’s criteria addresses only ODS limits for mechanical refrigeration, but the substances are present in many other areas, such as building insulation. PenRen has asked the design team to identify existing ODS products that are in the building and research some alternatives. These kinds of requested measurements and projected improvements offer a new set of benchmarks beyond LEED.

Lesson #3:
Materials Selection

Maximizing the use of environmentally preferable materials is the ultimate goal throughout the project. The design team has integrated the Pentagon’s goals and LEED materials requirements into specifications. Manufacturers of prospective materials are required to submit documented proof of sustainableof sustainable criteria such as recycled content and toxic emissions.

The fast-track, design-build nature of the project provides a lesson that is still being learned. While sustainable design representatives recommend the best materials alternatives early on in project planning, these ideas at times do not survive the full process to purchasing. The procurement specialist, responsible for the best overall selection of a material, may for example make another choice, pressed by cost or other factors. Educating all team members who are involved in the materials procurement process would help to assure that sustainable materials are procured to the extent possible.

Setting out to integrate sustainable design in the plans of all disciplines for the Pentagon’s ambitious renovation, the Wedge 2 (150 HPCC staff and& PenRen W2 staff) multi-member project team paved the way for others to more easily integrate sustainability through final completion in 2010.

Michaella Wright is vice president/director of sustainable design services for HDR, Omaha, NE. She is a LEED-accredited professional and a LEED faculty member. Wright can be reached at The project is led by Hensel Phelps Construction Co., Greeley, CO.

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