Increasingly, designers and clients alike are embracing the
principles of sustainable design to conserve natural resources
and gain the financial and quality-of-life benefits of a high-performance
building. Some are going a step further, seeking certification
under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)
Green Building Rating System, developed by the members of the U.S.
Green Building Council (USGBC) as a voluntary national standard
for developing sustainable, high-performance buildings.
Energy conservation was the prime initiative behind the first higher
education project in Virginia to be LEED certified by the USGBC.
The four-story, 83,000-square-foot Engineering and Computational
Sciences (ECS) building at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.,
was completed in 2004. In addition to featuring energy-conservation
benefits, the ECS building is used as a “classroom” by
the university to develop the in-house maintenance staff’s
capabilities for new energy-conserving technologies, which can be
applied in future renovation and construction projects. The administration
also hopes this state-of-the art building—which serves as a
laboratory for studying the effects of LEED registration on the design
process—will build campus-wide support for its day-to-day energy
An Integrated Team Approach
A team approach embracing an integrated building system philosophy
is crucial to the LEED process. Per LEED protocol, our team at Moseley
Architects started the project by conducting a preliminary feasibility
study of the applicability of LEED to the owner’s project conditions
and goals. It was determined that it would be beneficial to assemble
the entire design team to develop a proposal to the owner. It is
favorable for teams to start in the programming phase—ideally
before site selection—with an in-house charette (brainstorming
session) to identify whether the project is a candidate for LEED
The project must be LEED-compatible in terms of site, building orientation
and ability to incorporate energy-conservation schemes. For example,
it is better to orient the building on an east-west axis in order
to cost-effectively control the effects of the sun on the north and
south facades of the building. In this sense, the architect must
work closely with the civil engineer before establishing the building
footprint. As the site analysis for the ECS building evolved, it
became apparent that the site of the building would be both LEED-compatible
and would fulfill master plan goals established by the university’s
The project team also facilitates the assessment of the project’s
technical potential to score points under each of the LEED categories.
The goal is to identify as many points as are technically feasible
within the given project conditions, tagging the ones that may impact
budget or schedule in any way. Following the in-house charette, the
project team participates in a similar process with the owner, discussing
the team’s technical findings in light of the owner’s
programmatic goals and budget. The objective is to conclude the owner
charette with at least 30 likely points, with a buffer for the project
team to meet the 26-point minimum required for certification.
A Good LEED Candidate
The ECS project at Old Dominion was a good candidate for LEED certification.
First and foremost, the project team was comfortable that the university
had an adequate budget capacity to meet their programmatic goals.
Second, the university embraced a commitment to energy conservation
and environmental stewardship, and recognized the benefits of having
a LEED-certified building on campus.
The LEED system awards up to 69 points within five categories with
defined criteria—sustainable site, water efficiency, energy
and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor air quality—plus
a sixth category for innovations, which are reviewed case-by-case.
To be considered for certification, a planned project first must
be registered with the USGBC, and it must meet seven prerequisites
in the five categories. There are four certification levels: Certified,
26 points; Silver, 33 points; Gold, 39 points; and Platinum, 52 points.
After many discussions with the owner regarding all of the possibilities,
ECS project manager Kevin Kattwinkel and the design team worked toward
fulfilling key principles in each of the five certification categories,
as well as design innovation. The following outlines the specific
innovations incorporated into the ECS building under each LEED category:
Sustainable sites: provisions were made for bicycle storage areas
and alternative fuel recharging stations; no new parking areas were
created; building is near public transportation; rainwater is collected
on the roofs, channeled through on-site “rain gardens”—a
combination of plantings and rock material—which clean storm
water before it leaves the site.
Water efficiency: Water-efficient landscaping, using native, drought-resistant
plants and water-efficient (i.e., primarily drip) irrigation was
employed; a 20 percent reduction in water use is seen in the building
through efficient metered plumbing fixtures.
Energy and atmosphere: energy performance is optimized by 20 percent
over a comparable new building through high-efficiency mechanical
systems—which use heat-recovery devices—distributing
the air handlers and utilizing carbon dioxide monitoring, increased
insulation, external sun-shading for south and west elevations, maximal
daylighting and low-E glazing.
Materials and resources: construction of waste-management plan to
salvage or recycle 50 percent of construction debris; use of salvaged,
certified, recycled and rapidly renewable materials.
Indoor environmental quality: construction of indoor air quality
management plan to keep potential contaminants out of the HVAC system;
materials selected for low VOC emissions; university has smoke-free
Guarding Their Points
Throughout the design process, each member of the design team acts
as the guardian of the points in his or her discipline. At the same
time, the team must work together to maximize the project’s
overall goals. Discussions among team members and with the owner
often result in agreements that reduce costs. These results would
not be realized without going through the analysis inherent in the
The LEED process requires careful planning and skillful execution
of the drawings and specifications with clear definitions of LEED-certifiable
components to enable vendors to bid these technologies and products.
Then the architect and owner must stand behind their specifications.
For example, the interior doors in the ECS building were specified
to be manufactured with certified wood and without urea formaldehyde.
A vendor tried to substitute a door that included crossbanding manufactured
using urea formaldehyde. After much discussion among the owner, designers
and product manufacturer about the pros and cons of different crossbanding
materials, the project team insisted that the manufacturer meet the
The certification process also raises the level of detail in our
calculations and documentation. Throughout the design and construction
process, the project team collects documentation that is used in
the certification application to prove that the team has met the
requirements of each point. Project teams must be prepared to provide
the USGBC with additional documentation during the certification
process if requested, and also must be prepared for an audit of one
or more points.
The rigor of the LEED process gives the design team confidence that
operational results will meet projections—but only time and
further analysis will tell. For example, we have assessed one-year
operational data for Third Creek Elementary School, a new elementary
school in North Carolina, the first school to reach a Gold LEED Certification
in the nation. Water consumption is down by 70 gallons per student
per year at Third Creek when compared with that of the same students
in their previous building; the school’s water consumption
is approximately 10 percent of other similarly sized schools in the
same district. Energy consumption has met all of the model’s
predictions, despite the fact that the school is actually operating
at 30 percent more hours than what was modeled.
Project teams should approach every project as if it might become
a LEED-registered project. Even if teams conclude their initial in-house
programming charrette without sufficient technical points for LEED
registration, or the owner decides not to pursue LEED certification,
they can approach every project at a higher level of awareness and
commitment to sustainable design. Architecture and engineering firms
can consider adopting an environmental mission statement for the
firm as well as assembling a team comprising members crossing conventional
studio and geographic lines to develop ways to mainstream sustainability.
George Nasis, AIA, is a managing principal of Moseley Architects
Higher Education Studio in Virginia Beach, Va. He can be reached
at gnasis@moseleyarchi tects.com. Bryna Dunn, AICP, is director of
environmental planning and research of Moseley Architects in Richmond,