A numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body; confusion; trouble speaking or understanding; trouble seeing in one or both eyes; trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; and severe headache with no known cause: These are the symptoms of a stroke. According to the American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association, approximately 600,000 people will suffer suddenly from these symptoms.
Since 1915, the American Heart Association has had a mission to reduce disability and death from cardiovascular diseases and stroke. The American Heart Association is divided into the National Center, headquartered in Dallas, and 12 affiliate offices that cover the United States and Puerto Rico.
This life-saving mission guides everything the non-profit association does. The Texas Gulf Coast Regional Chapter of the American Heart Association, located in Houston, desired a facility that would embrace the mission of its organization: to promote health and a healthy lifestyle. With its new building, the chapter accomplished all of its goals and more. Its new regional headquarters now accommodates a multitude of activities, including traditional workday activities, entertaining, helping to retain employees and volunteers, and serving as an icon within its community.
The building owner and the design team felt that the best way to promote health was with green design. Initially, the American Heart Association feared budget increases resulting from sustainable design. However, Houston-based, full-service architectural firm Kirksey proved it could deliver a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED™)-certified project with little or no increase in construction costs. “From the very beginning, we thought this was a perfect fit for them,” says Brian Malarkey, vice president, Kirksey.
The 20,000-square-foot, concrete tilt-wall American Heart Association building features a lobby, an open work environment, a conference center, and a break area overlooking an open courtyard – all on a 2-acre site. Modest increases in soft costs were justified by short- and long-term savings. After running an energy model, the architectural firm determined that most of these savings had no greater than a 6-year payback.
“The construction and engineering team realized that this was not rocket science and there were things we could do pretty easily,” says Malarkey. Green building design features include native landscaping, stormwater filtration and retention, automated lavatory faucets, waterless urinals, dual-flush toilets, window shading, occupancy-sensor lighting, light shelves, products with recycled content, increased use of local materials, rapidly renewable materials, and daylighting throughout the facility. Adds Malarkey, “It [includes] a beautiful [native] landscape concept that goes much better with the design of the project.”
When it rains, a bio-swale that surrounds the site holds the rainwater, and excess water is slowly absorbed by the local drains, thus minimizing the chance of flooding the drainage infrastructure. Moreover, this regional headquarters was designed with a construction waste management program that diverted 75 percent of construction waste from the local landfill. Using the LEED guidelines, the building team calculates the American Heart Association building will have a 47-percent water savings and a 25-percent energy savings. “We are proud that we went through the process,” says Malarkey.
Conquering many myths, the facility is tied into nature in several respects. The building draws on the stark, wild beauty of Texas, including the rustic Austin fieldstone used on the building’s exterior. A scoop atop the roof structure brings in indirect light. Simple bar-grate, W-shaped canopies; open ceilings; and rusted corten steel signage complete the building’s understated elegance.
This facility is one of the first green facilities in Houston and a recent winner of a Mayor’s Proud Partner Award. The focus on green design has expanded into design that addresses the employees’ and volunteers’ sense of health and well-being. Featuring ample views and drenched in natural light, the building features a courtyard so that end-users can reconnect with nature.
This same courtyard does double-duty as a space to host fundraisers. Seating 60 guests, the courtyard easily handles prefunction activities, as well as bar and buffet functions. “It is more than a place to house employees; it is something that acts as an education tool for the community,” says Malarkey. The association chapter has produced a pamphlet for its volunteers about the building’s green design, in which its recycling and water- and energy-saving programs are highlighted. The $2.5-million facility received contributions from foundations, corporations, and private individuals – thanks to the work and dedication of a special volunteer solicitation committee.
Started by a concerned group of doctors and social workers in New York City, the American Heart Association brought hope to heart and stroke patients once considered doomed. Since that time, the association has grown rapidly in financial resources, number of volunteers, and influence with the public.
Today, millions of volunteers, employees, and donors support this vital organization and its goal to make a difference in the lives of heart patients and their families. Now complete, this facility – a distinctive new icon in Houston – will help this chapter of the American Heart Association continue its mission to reduce heart disease and strokes in the Gulf Coast region.
Regina Raiford Babcock (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior editor at Buildings magazine.