By Sandesh K.
GENSLER, Los Angeles, California is the top ranked design firm for two consecutive years on the ENR 100 list for Green Building Design Firms: 2019 and 2020. Founded in 1965, Gensler has been a leading design and architecture firm in incorporating sustainability and environmentalism in the design and construction process. The reasons of their success can be attributed to an innovative approach called ‘The Gensler Cities Climate Challenge (GC3)’ which is their commitment in achieving carbon neutrality in all their works within a decade.
Their commitment is well attended by several strategies they have established and successfully implemented in many of their projects. The strategies are strongly backed by an intensive research and innovational approach undertaken by the firm aimed at solving contemporary as well as future sustainable issues:
The materials used in construction are the major determinants of the energy footprint of the overall project and account for 11% of all energy consumed in the US. Gensler has made some strategic and innovative decisions regarding this major issue.
Sustainably Harvested Woods
Timber used for construction and interior purposes can be obtained from two sources in general: randomly harvested plantation or natural forests and sustainably harvested and certified forest projects. A simple conscious choice of prioritizing sustainable and certified forest products can lead to huge benefits in sustainability. This process, along with resilient construction strategy has been implemented in a smart city in Toronto, Proto-Model X.
The concept of embodied energy
Embodied energy refers to the energy associated with the manufacture, transportation and assemblage of the building materials. This energy covers a significant portion of the total energy used in buildings. The firm has greatly reduced their embodied energy by using fewest materials possible, reuse, positive production and use of low-impact materials.
Wood has five times less embodied energy than timber and when used for construction can act as an effective way of carbon trapping. This can be seen implemented in the same project mentioned earlier.
Gensler recognizes that nearly half of the global greenhouse gases come from the building sector. To make a positive impact on a reputedly negative side of building and construction sector, Gensler has actively included the concepts of Reduction and On-site production and storage in their building design and construction.
Adobe north tower in San Jose, US is an all-electric building project that improves the energy performance of the client.
A net positive social hub at the California State University generated and saves more energy than what is consumed using ‘solar veil’ technology.
Reuse and Recycle are reputedly famous and well recognized processes in the green design niche. Gensler has enhanced its potential by integrating technology and innovation in the reuse and recycling processes.
- The reuse of existing structures and materials surely reduces the environmental impacts of the overall project. If complete reuse is not possible, salvaging and repurposing has been prioritized.
An industrial complex was repurposed into a unified campus where warehouses and pre-existing buildings were modified to deliver a unique office space.
In addition to working with what already is, the firm has focused on the core principle of sustainability; taking long term action for the future.
Designing adaptive new buildings which can later be transformed easily to meet several uses and purposes ensures the longevity and sustainability of the structure.
Water is one of the major sectors severely affected by Climate change and Environmental problems. Water quality as well as quantity degradation has been a growing concern in the field of environmental science as well as engineering projects. The leading firm on green design has incorporated the following strategies to tackle this problem:
Water recycling and reuse
Gensler has adopted closed-loop system in many of its projects which is allows for the usage, treatment and re-use of water completely on-site. Plumber’s local 130 union’s training center in Chicago uses state of the art water treatment technology saves the structure 17 thousand US dollars in energy costs per year.
Waste water and drinking water plants use the most energy in many cities (U.S. EPA). Rainwater capture mechanisms in numerous and large buildings have offset a huge proportion of that energy by storing and utilizing the otherwise wasted rainwater.
SIZE AND SHAPE
Generally, building design and construction seems to deal primarily and exclusively with the shape and the size of the building. This is because the shape and size of the building not only establishes certain functionality and the aesthetics of the building, it also solves several other purposes, mainly in Green building designing processes. Gensler firm has actively sought ingenious shapes and sizes of buildings which comply with the least environmental impact and maximum performance theory, all the while minimizing the net cost significantly.
The design process majorly stresses the orientation of the building in almost all the project that the firm undertakes.
A global headquarter building for a coffee brand in Costa Rica has been oriented so as to improve energy performance accompanied by an on-site photovoltaic to generate 103% of needed energy.
Form and Shape
Gensler firm has crossed conventional boundaries in designing the shape and form of their buildings to hold their commitment of sustainability and efficiency. Notably, Fuzhou shimao tower in china is inspired by the shape of the local banyan tree promoting connectivity. The tower form is rotated and its massing is tapered to reduce wind loads. The structure is semi-outdoors with open atrium that uses static shading to reduce solar heat gain. The aerodynamic crown design reduces wind load by 2 percent while also saving structural costs.
Overall, Gensler firm has been an exemplary organization delivering innovation aimed at helping clients as well as communities to become more resourceful, resilient, regenerative and most importantly, making the least negative impact on the environment while trying to increase effectiveness and performance. Interestingly enough, the significant contribution to the environment does not come at a cost for the firm. Rather, the 2019 green design revenue for the firm accounts to $1066.17 million which has landed the firm the reputed 1st rank in the ENR 100 list for two consecutive years. This goes on to show that “Design is being redefined by sustainability”, which is something the firm strongly believes in. Finally, there are lessons to be learned and innovations to be adopted by all designing firms to not only contribute for environment and sustainability, but to stand a better chance in the competitive field of Green Design and construction.
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