Leading the Way to Net Zero
In 1999, the Chesapeake Bay
Foundation (CBF) built the world's first LEED Platinum
certified building, the Philip Merrill Environmental Center in
Annapolis, Md. Since then, CBF has continued to stretch the bounds
of sustainability by recently completing the Brock Environmental
Center in Virginia Beach, Va., a building that is considered a
model for energy and water efficiency and climate change
Completed in November 2014, the Brock Center is named in honor
of Joan and Macon Brock to recognize their $3.5 million leadership
gift towards the $21 million capital campaign required to build,
operate and endow the new center on land that as recently as 2008
was slated for 1,100 new high-rise condos and townhouses. Located
on Virginia Beach's 118-acre Pleasure House Point tract on the
Lynnhaven River, the 10,000-square-foot facility is the only
structure on the land and takes up only 1/2-acre of CBF's 10-acre
parcel that was purchased through a community partnership with CBF,
the City of Virginia Beach and the Trust for Public Land in
Architect Greg Mella, FAIA, LEED AP, project manager and design
architect at SmithGroupJJR, Washington, D.C., designed both
the Philip Merrill Environmental Center and the Brock Environmental
Center. As he explains, the partnership turned the parcel into a
nature preserve, and the acreage purchased by the CBF was used to
create an environmental education center and allows the
interpretation of the site to welcome 2,500 visiting K-12 students
annually to learn about the Bay and sustainable design.
The one-story Brock Center serves as the hub for CBF's Hampton
Road office, supporting its Chesapeake Bay education, outreach,
advocacy and restoration initiatives. The building hosts offices
for CBF and its partners, providing meeting rooms and exhibit
display areas, an 80-seat conference room, and more. The coastal
site, which facilitates the center's outdoor education program,
also includes a boat pier with floating dock and an open-air
Aiming for Net
In addition to targeting LEED Platinum certification, the Brock
Center is aiming to be the first building in Virginia to meet the
standards of the Living Building Challenge (LBC). Developed by
the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), the LBC is made
up of seven petals that are divided into 20 imperatives. LBC has
strict standards that require facilities to have a net zero impact
on the environment. So far, only five projects in the world have
received full LBC certification.
"CBF had the same goal for the Brock Center-to create the
greenest building possible-but in 2012 there were examples of
projects that achieved net zero energy and even two projects that
achieved the LBC," explains Mella. "We viewed the LBC as an
authentic measure of true sustainability, envisioning a building
that produces its own energy and water, and maintains a net zero
impact with its site and community.
"We knew it would be a challenge for CBF and our team, but we
wanted to strive to meet this highest standard," he adds. "At the
same time, CBF's longstanding partnership with the U.S. Green Building
Council mandated we also pursue LEED Platinum. The two
certification systems are completely compatible and harmonious.
Third-party certifications systems are important to both CBF and
SmithGroupJJR because they substantiate and validate claims."
Completing the Living Building Challenge is a challenge to
achieve the levels of performance that it demands, says Mella.
"Time after time, we found the best way to overcome this challenge
was to work as a team."
Mella explains that the design was marked by a highly iterative,
integrative process using simulation tools to validate each design
move. The architects and MEP engineers were co-located and worked
on a shared building information modeling (BIM) model, which
Chris Brandt, executive vice president, Hourigan Construction, Virginia Beach, explains
that they used BIM to convert the design model into a true
construction model by working with the design and operating system
subcontractors to coordinate the exact routing and location of each
pipe, ductwork, light, operating devise in construction with the
structure and architectural surfaces. "BIM was a key element in the
success of this project and was also used to provide intelligent
construction as builts with a detailed existing condition survey,"
The Brock Center will be the first commercial-scale building in
the continental U.S. to earn net zero water status, being the first
in the U.S. to receive a commercial permit for drinking treated
rainwater in accordance with federal requirements. Its rainwater
collection system stores rainwater in tanks under the building and
then filters it for hand washing and drinking through a
state-of-the-art water filtration system licensed by the State of
Virginia's Office of Drinking Water. The center also has waterless,
composting toilets and all grey water is channeled through a
wetland constructed of native plants where natural processes clean
and return it to an underground aquifer.
To achieve net zero energy, the center also generates it own
electricity through solar and wind-powered renewable energy. A 38.8
kW rooftop photovoltaic array from SolarWorld, Hillsboro, Ore., produces 60
percent of the building's energy needs, while two small, 10-kW wind
turbines from Bergey
WindPower Co., Norman, Okla., measuring 80 feet tall,
contribute the remaining 40 percent. By using only as much energy
as it generates over the course of a year, will allow the center to
earn net zero energy certification. Any surplus energy will be
returned to the power grid.
The challenge with net zero energy lies in the fact that
renewable energy technologies, such as photovoltaics and wind, are
expensive when compared to cheap, grid-provided electricity, Mella
says. Therefore, the design team sought to minimize the project's
energy use by first designing a super-low energy building that
takes advantage of cost-effective passive design approaches. The
building has a tight thermal envelope with R-51 roofs, R-35 walls
and R-7 windows, daylighting completely eliminates the need for
artificial light during the day, natural ventilation eliminates the
need for mechanical cooling on temperate days, and high-performance
mechanical systems utilize 18 ground-source wells, which harness
the earth's stable temperatures to improve heating and cooling
efficiently, allowing the Brock Center to use 83 percent less
energy than a conventional office building. "This low energy use
was met by intentionally diversifying our renewable energy approach
(to be resilient)," he says.
Since the Brock Center is a coastal site in a flood plain,
architects and designers thought about issues of resilient design.
"Ordinarily, resiliency thinking would suggest these sensitive
sites should remain undeveloped, but for the Brock Center to
fulfill its educational mission where visitors learn about the
Bay's ecosystems by experiencing them, resiliency thinking in our
case involved how can a susceptible site like ours be developed to
withstand flooding, hurricanes and power outages, so that the
Center can not only stand, but thrive during these events, even
serving as a haven for the adjacent community," Mella explains.
"Resilient thinking requires teams to not only look at current
conditions, but to anticipate future conditions, as well as the
impacts of climate change and sea-level rise."
Designers drew the projected shoreline based off what scientist
are predicting may result from climate change by the year 2100.
Therefore, the center is set back 200 feet from the shore and sits
on pylons 14 feet above sea level. Additionally, the building's
structural system is designed to be able to resist 120-mph
hurricane force winds, and the windows are capable of resisting
"Net zero buildings are intrinsically more self-sufficient,"
Mella says. "With no city power or water, occupants inside Brock
can stay comfortable and thrive. When the power is out, the
interior is still well lit (using daylighting), cool (using natural
ventilation), warm (using super-insulated walls and roofs), and
photovoltaics and wind turbines produce power that keeps things
like emergency lighting and composting toilet exhausts running.
Captured rainwater provides the safe water for drinking and can
easily withstand three-week-long droughts, which is consistent with
future drought predictions, to keep the center operational in the
event of unforeseen disruptions to the municipal water supply."
To qualify for LBC, the design and construction team took
special care not to use any materials on ILFI's Red List, which
identifies chemicals and materials that are considered harmful to
humans and the environment. Therefore, construction materials were
selected for their natural and simple properties, with preference
given to materials that are bio-based instead of heavily processed,
complex, synthetic and chemical- based. Disclosures of the chemical
constituents of building materials were required, while the team
pursued using locally sourced materials as much as
"To meet the Red List requirement, we needed to learn the
chemical ingredients in literally thousands of products that all go
into a building," explains Mella. "A Red List charrette was held
during schematic design. The client, architect, contractor, as well
as interns from local schools, developed shared online tools and
formalized methodologies for materials vetting."
Manufacturers were contacted during design and construction to
get a full accounting of the chemical ingredients of building
materials by way of a Health Product Declaration (HPD). "Selecting
natural, bio-based materials lessened the need for complicated
ingredients research," Mella says. "While we knew that getting
disclosure of ingredients would be hard, we believe that as more
and more teams ask for this information, the burden would be
reduced significantly for teams that follow."
According to Brandt, the Red List was the largest single
challenge for the entire project and is still being documented
today to submit for the LBC documentation. "We employed two
full-time research personnel to focus solely on the Red List
materials," he says. "We also partnered with Virginia Tech and
several classes of students and professors to assist with our Red
List processes. We invested-and are still investing-thousands of
man hours to accomplish this task."
This approach toward material selection was consistent with the
project's design goals, which included a desire to connect visitors
to the project's unique site through the material palette. As Mella
explains, the zinc shingles from Jarden Zinc Products, Greeneville, Tenn., used
to clad the center's iconic curving roof are resistant to corrosion
that occurs in the presence of salt spray in the air. Additionally,
the zinc shingles provide a color that recalls the glistening Bay
and a texture that recalls the scales of a fish.
On the other hand, Galvalume standing seam roofs from Construction
Metal Products Inc., Statesville, N.C., are well suited for
rainwater collection as they provide a smooth, sloped surface that
inhibits algae growth and facilitates collection. The building's
steel structural system can withstand hurricane-force winds
effectively and efficiently, while the aluminum-clad windows from
Windows, Washington, D.C., provide a low-maintenance, durable
solution that withstands the site's coastal forces. Guardian Industries Corp., Auburn
Hills, Mich., supplied its SunGuard SuperNeutral 70/41 glass for
Additionally, nine companies contributed to the Brock Center's
steel structure. Four of them-Gerdau
AmeriSteel, Petersburg, Va.; Nucor, Mt. Pleasant, S.C.; Southland
Tube, Birmingham, Ala.; and Independence Tube, Chicago-supplied the vast
majority of the structural steel material.
Before the building was occupied at the end of last year,
occupants were trained in the day-today operations and measurements
of the renewable technologies. On April 1, the LBC's required
12-month measurement period for the Brock Center began, with
certification targeted to take place by mid-2016.
As Mella explains, perceptions still linger that resilient,
sustainable architecture looks a certain way, somewhere between a
functional shed and a bomb shelter. "One unique aspect of the
Living Building Challenge is that it requires teams to consider
beauty in their designs," he says. "It's actually a
The Brock Center used nature and its captivating site as a
source of inspiration. This is shown in the center's subtle curve,
which allows the shape of the building to recall the nearby
shoreline, while its convex shape provides continual views out as
one walks along the hallway that connects all interior spaces.
"Prominent, curving roofs recall forms of the site's wind-swept
live oaks, the wings of a gull, and the protective shell of an
oyster; while also embodying rainwater collection," Mella adds.
"Even the exterior and interior material palette draws on colors
and textures found on-site."
An important part of the initial design concept was to
coordinate the unique design of the facility with the 'normal'
local and national building codes, explains Brandt. "Many of the
systems involved with the building were not addressed by those
codes nor were the code officials familiar with the designs," he
adds. "The city of Virginia Beach proved very cooperative and
understanding of the project vision, helping to make the project a
"When you work on a site as beautiful as Brock's, the best you
can strive for is to create something that is harmonious to this
spectacular landscape," says Mella. "If we succeeded, then the
Center will be something that future generations will want to
preserve and protect, in the same way they work to Save the
Cutting-Edge Environmental Preservation
"Because the facility was envisioned and designed to be
independently free of the public grid and completely sustainable
without leaving a carbon footprint, it was our duty to also
construct the building according to that vision and project goal.
We utilized mobile photovoltaic cells to provide power for the
construction tools on the project, catalytic convertors for each of
the large pieces of construction equipment to eliminate the carbon
emissions associated with internal combustion engines, well water
for construction purposes in lieu public city water, and fabric
collection devices attached to the bottom of all large equipment
that protected the project soils from leaking hydrocarbons that
permanently pollute the natural subsurface filtering system. We
also provided 'noise reduction and noise silencers' for all large
equipment to reduce the noise pollution for adjacent and
surrounding commercial and residential facilities."
Chris Brandt, executive vice president, Hourigan
Construction, Virginia Beach, Va.
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Photos: ©Dave Chance Photography.
Diagrams courtesy of SmithGroupJJR