Let’s open a few windows

248 of them, to be exact

The Terry Thomas design team has been waiting for this initial string of 80+ degrees days for almost four years. Thousands of hours of work has gone into the design and making of this building. How will the building perform? With 20+ of our team participating in Bike to Work Day, the pressure was on for a cool and comfortable destination. Friday was the first test of the passive cooling system/design. King 5 cameras even knocked on our door to document the occasion.

Our mechanical engineers, Stantec Consulting, gave us a pretty good idea of how our system would handle the heat. Stantec’s extensive thermal modeling indicates that the inside air temperatures will be 75 to 80 degrees for 150 hours annually, 80 to 85 degrees for 50 hours annually and in excess of 85 degrees for 20 hours annually.

The building’s hydronic heating system (convection hot-water radiators on the perimeter) is still set on winter mode, at 68 degrees, and will remain on through mid-June. Because of this, leaving the windows open through the night to purge the warm air is not an option.

Stantec’s Tom Marsielle suggested that we open windows in the morning, either a little or a lot, as deemed necessary by occupants. Tom said the manually operable windows alone should create plenty of cross-ventilation, and then, maybe around noon when the temperature rises to the mid-70s, we could start shutting windows.

Tom was absolutely right. The building was cool and comfortable. A slight northerly breeze consistently moved air through the space most of the day and into the early evening. The interior temperatures peaked at around 75 degrees on Friday and 78 degrees on Saturday, without the exterior louvers operational.  The Saturday reading was with the windows closed, as few were in the office.

What about July and August? We say bring it on! We are ready even if “shorts and flip-flops” may be the fashion statement for a few days.

Credit for passing this first test goes to the entire Terry Thomas Building team. Congratulations to Elzbieta Zielinska, Steve Price, Gabe Hanson, Heidi Fahy, Jeff Dobbs, Kristen Scott, Mina Ghanaie and Peter Greaves.

-Scott Thompson AIA, LEED AP, Principal in Charge of The Terry Thomas

What’s that?

Sounds are all around us. And in this building, you really notice them. We have sound dampeners strategically placed in the ceilings over workspaces and in the conference rooms, but with the openings to allow for ventilation, sounds carry. When the windows are open, outside sounds such as the Streetcar bell, or construction machinery add to the concert.

We are tossing around ideas to mitigate the sound – white noise machines, additional homasote boards on blank walls – but one of our (unnamed) principals has come up with his own solution: a personal sound isolation booth . . .

Elizabeth Holland LEED AP, Principal

Inspiration

We’ve been in our new building one month, and I’m noticing some positive changes in how we are working and interacting.  Everything from seeing people use the new bins for compost in the kitchen (I had no idea you can put used paper towels in them) to having impromptu pinup critiques in the many breakout spaces scattered throughout the office.

 

 

 

 

 

Elevator use has dropped significantly, thanks to a prominent open staircase in the courtyard.  The open stair has the added benefit of being a perfect spot to peer across the court and see who’s meeting in the conference rooms and if that staffer you’re looking for is at their desk.  The transparency is surprising – it’s a good thing we have some enclosed private telephone rooms.  Without those there’d be no hiding! Chance meetings in the stair or the kitchen/lounge offer opportunities to ask about how a project is going or to scope out the wait time for lunch at Skillet Street Food… Continue reading “Inspiration”

Less is more in sustainable design

Sustainable design is not only the wiz-bang high-tech features of a green building. Simple solutions contribute to a sustainable design, too.

One such approach Weber Thompson used is to minimize the use of material. In our new office, wherever possible we designed our systems, materials and finishes so they could perform more than one function. In this way one product performs a double duty.

Here are some examples to consider:

> The castellated beam floor framing system of our new building is left exposed and painted white. Not only does this tell the story of how the building works, the white paint enhances the light reflection for both daylight harvesting and indirect lighting of open office areas. The design of the beams also serves as a design aesthetic, informing other choices we made in the build-out of our office space.

> The structural slab is designed to be a floor diaphragm; this structural component resists wind and earthquake shear forces. This same slab is lightly ground and treated with a concrete densifier. The densifier is not a coating that will wear off, but an organic compound that penetrates the concrete and hardens the open cells. There is no finish to maintain, just vacuum or damp mop as needed. This exposed concrete slab is used as the finished floor in the circulation areas, like streets in a city, marking the paths of common travel.

> Ceiling-mounted panels are both light reflectors and sound absorbers throughout our open studio areas. Made from a product called Ecophon, these 4 foot by 6 foot panels are framed in white aluminum and add to the aesthetic pattern of the ceiling in these areas.

> Carpet tiles in the open office areas mark these zones as more private. The carpet under foot (or chair) provides more comfort at our desks and adds further sound attenuation to these areas of the office. Continue reading “Less is more in sustainable design”

Re-Connection

As we wrap up the second week in our new home, one of the most pleasant surprises for me is our re-connection to the outside world. We have daylight, fresh air, activity, and movement – a striking contrast to our former digs. For years we sat in a hermetically sealed building 8-10 hours a day with little interaction or contact with the outside world. Now, most of us sit 5-10 feet away from an operable window. The simple opportunity of walking up a flight of exterior stairs in the courtyard contributes to that connectivity.

All of us anxiously await the opportunity to open the windows to see how this all works. The good news is that reports from team members last Saturday (temperature hit 81 degrees in Seattle) indicated the space was comfortable around 4:30pm with the windows closed. It appears that the dampers are doing their job. At our principals meeting last Monday, it was quite evident that the systems were operating as planned in the conference rooms. Within five minutes, the CO2 sensors were opening the dampers, (plenty of hot air in that meeting) and the lighting levels were fluctuating based on cloud cover. A few distractions we will adapt to. Continue reading “Re-Connection”

Transition

Today marks the end of our 17 year relationship with the Pontius Building (former headquarters of Howard S. Wright Construction). Weber Thompson grew up in this early ‘80s building, evolving from a handful of architects/designers into a multi-discipline design firm of ninety architects, designers, planners, interior designers and landscape architects.

Monday morning we will welcome natural daylighting, natural ventilation and a wonderful new office space. Will this new environment encourage us to do better work, promote a sense of community/teamwork, and inspire our clients to develop sustainable buildings? Three years of dreaming, planning, designing and constructing wraps up as we transition into a new era at Weber Thompson. We look forward to the challenges of the next 20 years.

As we get settled and start living in the building, the blog posts will be weekly, with others in the WT community contributing thoughts, experiences and performance data related to this building.

If anyone is interested in taking a tour of the Terry Thomas building, please contact Elizabeth Holland via email at eholland@weberthompson.com. Everyone is welcome.

-Scott Thompson AIA, LEED AP, Principal in Charge of The Terry Thomas

The big picture

As we continue to prepare to move into our new building on April 4, we want to be clear that this transition is more than about the building. This project symbolizes our overall business model, which fully embraces environmental sustainability.

Operationally, a recycling program at our new headquarters is mandatory. All tenants in the new building must c ommit to using recycled and environmentally friendly products  — both in their tenant improvement and in their daily operations and cleaning.  In our office, every TI includes at least one sustainable aspect, from the low-emitting VOC finishes and recycled content of furnishings to the fully dimmable, computer-controlled, indirect fluorescent lighting system.  We already operate sustainably in our current office space, and we’re developing a building operations manual and a tenant manual for our company and other tenants of the new building.

At Weber + Thompson, we’ve been working to operate more sustainably for a long time.  We established an active Green Team, a group of dedicated staff members who are committed to “greening” the firm and making Weber + Thompson carbon neutral. The team calculated the firm’s carbon footprint by examining the office’s energy use, employee commuting habits and business travel and is taking steps to offset our consumption by encouraging alternate transit operations, replacing the employee parking subsidy benefit with a transit FlexPass, purchasing green power, and organizing weekend tree planting parties in the greater Seattle area. We also takes steps to reduce waste by donating money to local charities in lieu of giving out trinkets at the holidays and giving scrap paper to the nearby New Discovery School and Cascade People’s Center to be used as art supplies.

Our firm has been a part of the South Lake Union neighborhood for 17 years, and it was important for us to demonstrate commitment to the evolution of the neighborhood. We hope our building contributes not only to the physical revitalization of the neighborhood, but to the greater good of our community and society as a whole.

We’re anxious to show off our new building. During tours, we’ll explain the green features of both the building and our operations.

-Scott Thompson AIA, LEED AP, Principal in Charge of The Terry Thomas

Striking the right balance

Contractors continue installing the “sun glasses” on the east and west sides of the building. The glass shades add an interesting dimension to these façades with a splash of green cast on the windows and metal siding when the sun is out – a pleasant surprise.

The challenge with all buildings is striking that balance between natural daylight and solar gain. The beauty of the glass shades is the ability to significantly reduce the heat gain without compromising natural daylight into the interior spaces. Abutting an existing building to the south was a significant asset in controlling our interior environment.

Continue reading “Striking the right balance”

In the home stretch

It was a year ago this week that construction of the Terry Avenue Office Building began.  We are excited that construction is in

the home stretch, and we’re counting down the days until we move into our new headquarters.  The firm will be taking occupancy April 4th.
To share what we’ve learned, and to encourage green design dialogue, we are launching this blog.

It has been three years since we started discussing the idea of developing a new home for Weber + Thompson. We were fortunate enough to find a prime piece of land in the South Lake Union neighborhood (the northeast corner of Thomas Street and Terry Avenue North), a developer (First Western Development) open to the idea of green design, and a savvy contractor (RAFN Company) willing to work with us on this pioneering project in a time of escalating construction costs.

As the building has taken shape, the hours of design study, consultant input and contractor/architect communication has paid off. The natural light throughout the interior spaces, the scale of the courtyard, and the building’s transparency has exceeded our expectations.  All these factors are more impressive when you take into account that we are still in the winter months!
As the “sunglasses” get attached to exterior, the louvers get hung and the TIs wrap up, we are anxious to see how this building will perform. The extensive thermal modeling tells us that – without air conditioning – indoor temperatures may exceed 80 degrees 18-21 hours a year. Will the 36-foot-deep floor plates, operable windows and the courtyard promote adequate cross ventilation? Will we meet our goal of

a 30 percent reduction in energy consumption? It will be a couple of years before we can answer some of these questions.

This is a building where we will have control of our environment and will be actively involved in its performance. We look forward to the challenge.

We will post weekly updates on the progress and performance of the building.

-Scott Thompson AIA, LEED AP, Principal in Charge of The Terry Thomas