LEED Platinum retrofit serves as example
for Green Energy Focus

Jul 16 2011

By Mike Kelley, Alabama.Com

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- The accelerating trend of green retrofits can turn blighted, crumbling downtown buildings into functional, energy-efficient spaces that help revitalize neighborhoods, according to a Los Angeles-based architect who specializes in "adaptive reuse."

Doug Pearson, partner and design principal at Form Environment Research, presented his adaptive reuse of a 120-year-old Louisville retail and warehouse structure at the Green Building Focus Retrofit Seminar at the Jackson Center in Cummings Research Park. 

Designed to provide tools and information on green building practices, the seminar attracted nearly 100 architects, engineers, contractors, and facility managers, including several from Research Park. Green Building Focus, a Birmingham-based design firm, and the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Development co-sponsored the event.

Adaptive reuse, the conversion of old buildings to modern uses, has been around for a long time. However, adaptive reuse now means reworking old structures to achieve much greater energy efficiency and sustainability.

Through the use of energy efficient design principals,  reuse of materials, and other practives, Pearson's Louisville project achieved LEED Platinum certification, scoring a 56 of a possible 63 possible points.  Pearson said the decision was made early on to seek LEED certification as new construction, rather than as existing building.,

Success of the project depended, Pearson explained, on the use of three sustainability principles: use of sustainable practices as part of the design, reuse of existing materials where possible and responsiveness to community needs.

Sustainable practices were part and parcel to the design process. "They don't drive the design, but they do become part of the design language. In that way, the practices become transformative," he said.

The redesign for the new three story structure retained the original, 1890 brick facade, but little else. Years of water and fire damage had ruined the interior walls, all of which were dismantled to open up the building to natural daylight and improve air flow. "We wanted to be as efficient as possible in the reuse of space," Pearson said.

A rainwater retention system collects and stores as much rainwater as possible, which is used to irrigate a rain garden at the rear of the building.  Part of the roof features a "green roof" concept in which plants cover virtually the entire surface, reducing summer heat gain, while solar panels are used on other parts of the roof. 

The building even features a "green wall" with vegetation growing out of a mesh and sod wall, with water provided by a roof-mounted trickle system.

A unique cooling system uses what Pearson described as "ice balls" in a large vat, which are frozen at night when electricity rates are lowest.  On warm days, cooling is provided as the ice balls thaw from heat transferred to them by the buildings circulating air system, and the cooler air is circulated back into the building.

Despite the damage to the building, much of the interior lumber and brick was reusable.  Century-old tongue and groove lumber became flooring, while brick was cleaned and reused to new exterior walls and planters.

The rebuilt structure retains its historical look while incorporating modern design and green design features.  Tenants include the owner, a movie producer who moved to Louisville from New York, as well as as a first-floor restaurant that Pearson said is one of the most popular in Louisville.

The building, he said, has become a catalyst for the reinvigoration of the entire neighborhood, and has sparked other green reuse projects

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