Architects find more transit facilities taking on sustainable aspects, big and small.
No one is mistaking the Wealthy Operations Center in Grand Rapids, Mich., with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, or a new bus maintenance facility in Lorton, Va., with the revolutionarily green Hearst Tower in New York City.
But the tenets of sustainable architecture that are making their mark on the world of architecture as a whole are trickling through — with marked, certified success — to transit facilities across North America.
Public buildings for buses and train cars may be behind the curve ofprivate office towers in terms of sustainability, which architectural leaders said is due to a smattering of economic and cultural reasons. But those same architects now see greener facilities hitting their stride in efficient function and tasteful form, both in world cities and Midwestern towns.
Progressive AE Transit Practice Leader/Project Manager Seth Horton says it ultimately boils down to these buildings being “treated as any other public building” from the point of sustainability.
“It’s a building meant for the public, not unlike a mall, movie theater or library. It is a destination for people who come and go as necessary to meet their needs. Reducing energy costs and improving the user experience in all of these facilities are always at the top of the priority list,” Horton says.
The Talk before the Walk
Before the first exhaust heat recovery system is installed, officials at transit facilities need a realistic assessment of what isn’t — and, increasingly — what is possible within their budgets.
Ken J. Anderson, associate principal with RNL Design at the Washington, D.C., office, says his office engages with transit facility clients through a workshop or questionnaire to “see what they’re after.” Anderson says many are surprised how little their budgets change all the way up to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum, the highest level of green building and design and performance.
“They can’t all be LA Metros and MTAs, where they’ve got facility builds on their capital project budget on a regular basis, so to some of them, it’s a new thing to think of and they need to be able to get their arms around. Some of them, they may have not put up a new building in 15 or 20 years, before the LEED movement took hold,” Anderson said. “As you sit down with them, you understand what their operational philosophies are, how the facility is going to function to their needs, and the sustainability is part of the inherent functional needs.”
Catherine Calvert, director of Community Sustainability at Pacific Northwest-focused VIA Architecture, wrote in August that it’s a “misconception” that sustainability is an “add-on” in the design and execution of mass transit hubs.
“Good sustainable design is actually a form of radical common sense that can challenge some of the assumptions that accompany current transit design principles,” Calvert wrote in a blog on the architect’s site. “Using a combination of critical thinking and creativity, the integrated design process examines each component of a transit system to determine if each is necessary (rather than expected), and if each is able to serve more than one function.”
Basics to the Front
Increasingly, those talks are leading to design action. Amherst, N.Y.-based Wendel Companies has worked on designs for more than dozens of transit facilities, with eight of the last 20 targeting either LEED Silver or Gold certification. Initially taken on by the office construction community, there has been a “significant rise in the number of transit and publicly funded facilities” aiming for LEED standards, says Wendel Associate Principal Philip Muse.
The normalization of sustainable thinking has brought along with it a slew of traditional green building elements that are now regularly packed into new projects: recycling construction materials, opening structures to natural light and leveraging capital expenditures on features that impact operational costs. But there are sustainability challenges that crop up specific to transit buildings.