Newsworthy ...

Sept. 1, 2007

MIT researchers announce a WiTricity breakthrough. A Seattle organization shares green roof data. Survey findings report a lack of understanding of accessibility standards. And more.

A New Home for Hubbell

In mid-July, Hubbell Lighting Inc., a division of Hubbell Inc., hosted a media event in which its recently completed corporate headquarters in Greenville, SC, was showcased. While in attendance, an editorial representative from Buildings was able to view firsthand the striking 4-story, 185,000-square-foot building, which houses the company's 16 brands.

Spartanburg, NC-based McMillan Smith & Partners, a well-known regional architectural firm, focused on creating a structure that took full advantage of the 19-acre site and maximized building performance. The result: a structurally and ecologically impressive building that is equally energy conscious and functionally efficient.

The lighting design firm, Visual Terrain, based in Van Nuys, CA, created a lighting design that would reinforce the company's image as one of North America's leading lighting-fixture manufacturers. Using fixtures from each brand - more than 150 different types of fixtures employing a variety of lamp sources from incandescent to fluorescent to HID to low voltage - the Hubbell Lighting headquarters simultaneously whispers and shouts, "We are a lighting company!"

In addition, Hubbell Lighting commissioned Seattle-based Storyline Studio to add to the "wow" factor established by the architectural and lighting design firms. The challenge was to create a ground-level, 25,000-square-foot Lighting Solutions Center that would be recognized as one of the most unique and beneficial educational facilities in the lighting industry. Storyline created a remarkable space defined by its maximum flexibility, including movable, internally illuminated walls attached to a central hub. Because the Lighting Solutions Center will continually evolve to address the latest lighting challenges, the design elements introduced by Storyline created the organic look and feel sought by Hubbell management.

In fact, the $41 million building is as easy on the environment as it is to view from its majestic hilltop location. As a leading manufacturer of energy-efficient lighting, management at Hubbell Lighting wanted "to practice what they preach," says KJ Jacobs, lead architect on the project. "They wanted to be good stewards of the environment - as consumers as well as manufacturers."

As a result, the new structure is 30-percent more energy efficient than a typical office building of this size, according to Jacobs. Energy savings start with the windows. In contrast to the building's north face, which is described as "basically one large curtainwall" of glass, the sun-facing south side is pierced by windows with a special glazing that minimizes solar penetration; this eases the load on the air-conditioning system. In addition to high-performing glass, the building design incorporates the use of white precast concrete and stone around the curved structure to make it brighter and non-industrial looking.

The roof also plays an important role in the building's energy conservation as it features a highly reflective white surface that absorbs very little of the sun's heat. The return for this roof treatment is not only a cooler building, but also a minimized urban heat island effect produced by Hubbell Lighting's headquarters and neighboring structures in Greenville's Millennium Campus. Trees on the site, many of which shade the parking lot, further reduce the potential heat island.

Virtually absent throughout the building's interior is the usual "new-building smell," since the design team chose paints, carpets, furniture, and adhesives that emit few or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The building also won LEED points for diverting more than half of the construction leftovers and debris from landfills. Excess steel, concrete, wallboard, and other materials were hauled away by a recycling contractor to be reused on other construction projects. Also reused is much of the office furniture transported from Hubbell Lighting's former corporate headquarters in Spartanburg, SC.

All faucets, toilets, and urinals in lavatories are low-flow, and stormwater is treated on-site by two underwater filtration units before being discharged to the campus' common stormwater detention pond. The building's two boilers are also highly efficient: One is powered by natural gas, the other by electricity, affording Hubbell Lighting the ability to determine which boiler will be in use at any particular time based on current utility rates.
According to the Hubbell and project team members present at the media event, the design was made to meet LEED Silver certification. The bottom line, however: "There are many reasons you make in justifying this investment, but leading by example was a key part."

WiTricity Breakthrough by MIT Researchers

Researchers from the Cambridge, MA-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently announced their ability to transfer energy wirelessly, a breakthrough that could signal a future where electronic devices can be recharged without plugging in.

The team from MIT's Department of Physics, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, led by Professor Marin Soljacic, includes Andre Kurs, Aristeidis Karalis, Robert Moffatt, Professor Peter Fisher, and Professor John Joannopoulos. Realizing their recent theoretical prediction, they were able to light a 60-watt light bulb from a power source 7 feet away using no physical connection. The team refers to its concept as "WiTricity" (a mash-up of the words "wireless" and "electricity").

The concept of sending power wirelessly isn't new, but people have generally considered its use as inefficient because electromagnetic energy generated by the charging device would radiate in all directions. Soljacic and his team have figured out how to use specially tuned waves. Similar to how an opera singer can shatter a wine glass that resonates at the same frequency as her voice, the key to WiTricity is to get the recharging device and the gadget that needs power to resonate at the same frequency to more efficiently exchange power.

The development of this technology will potentially have a dramatic impact on our increasingly electronic world. The clutter of cables and chargers for every device might one day be replaced with a single WiTricity device that can charge all the devices in a room or office. Additionally, this advancement could eventually make battery use obsolete, benefiting the environment. Soljacic's team stresses that WiTricity's "magnetic coupling" process is safe on humans and other living things.

The new technology, however, has a ways to go before it will become practical. The MIT system is only about 40- to 45-percent efficient at this point. Soljacic believes that his system needs to be at least twice as efficient to compete with charging the chemical batteries in portable gadgets. The team is optimistic that these improvements are within reach.

Sheraton New York Gets a Makeover

A $10 million renovation of the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers is complete, giving off the welcoming ambience of a turn-of-the-century English equestrian manor. Reinterpreting the style for a modern urban setting, New York City-based Stonehill & Taylor used saturated colors, textures, and patterns to offer a new level of comfort.

The 60,000-square-foot ballroom complex (the biggest in New York City) feels anything but bland. Instead of acres of the same carpet, the expanse of the space is cleverly broken up by large inset oriental carpets. Oversized crown molding and gilded lettering create a majestic, gracious entry. Boldly striped wallcoverings are set off by decorative Doric columns.

Instead of a modern, stark space, the hotel is now a place for people to converge.

Helpful Data on Green Roofs

Over a span of 18 months (July 2005 through January 2007), Seattle-based Magnusson Klemencic Associates gathered the most comprehensive set of green roof data in Seattle (with more than 1.5 million measurements collected) as part of the Seattle Green Roof Evaluation Project and is now reporting its findings.

The project discovered that a green roof has the potential to lower stormwater run-off from 65 to 94 percent, translating to a significant reduction for the demand placed on wastewater-treatment plants during storms. Green roofs also allow building owners to reduce the size of stormwater detention tanks (offsetting the cost of a green roof by between 30 and 60 percent), according to Mangusson Klemencic Associates.

For more information, visit (

2007 Outstanding Sports Facilities Award

St. Louis-based Hastings & Chivetta Architects is a recipient of the 2007 Outstanding Sports Facilities Award for the design of the Student Wellness Center at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, ND. The center was carefully designed to integrate the seven dimensions of wellness, according to Christopher Chivetta, president at Hastings & Chivetta.

"Every choice - from room configuration [and] interior detail [to] equipment selection - was carefully considered," says Chivetta. Recreational components include a three-court gymnasium, a multi-activity court, a 10,000-square-foot fitness floor, a suspended three-lane track, and a spin studio. Other areas include The Quiet Lounge, The Wellness Suite, and a computer/library resource room. The 107,964-square-foot facility had a project cost of approximately $18 million.

Aquarius Tower to Redefine Atlanta's Skyline

Lily Development LLC has announced plans for Aquarius Tower, a 38-story, 240,000-square-foot development that will incorporate advanced technological and sustainable features rarely seen in the United States. Designed by Atlanta-based PFVS Architects Inc., Aquarius Tower is the first condominium in Georgia to incorporate solar and wind energy into its design. Condo owners will also experience Georgia's first automated, underground, valet-parking serv­ice. Popularized in Europe and the Far East, this system reduces garage space, eliminates the risk of vehicle damage or theft, and reduces pollution because the vehicles are not driven within the parking structure.

New Patient Tower Caters to Birth Experience

The Community Health Network recently opened a new, 6-story patient tower at Community Hospital North in Indianapolis. Designed by Baltimore-based RTKL, the 400,000-square-foot tower includes 60 maternity suites that comprise the largest collection of private labor/delivery/recovery/postpartum rooms in the nation. The building also houses a neonatal intensive care unit, a pediatric unit, and two floors designed for inpatient medical/surgical care.

One of the primary objectives of the design was to maximize natural light and establish a connection to nature. According to RTKL Vice President John Castorina, "Healing and biochemistry go hand in hand. ... The building is a major instrument that manages stimuli for each individual, whether they are conscious of it or not."

Who Understands Accessibility Standards?

A few months ago, the Boston Society of Architects Access Committee administered a survey to design, construction, and facilities professionals to understand the complexities involved in accessible design and to develop suggestions and resources. Nearly 50 percent of survey respondents noted that compliance with accessible design standards is "sometimes difficult," while 25 percent found it "usually or always difficult." More than 25 percent of respondents indicated that they've had a building permit or a certificate of occupancy delayed because of accessible design issues.

In terms of the clarity of accessibility standards, 65 percent of respondents aren't sure which regulation overrides the others when state and federal standards conflict. Forty (40) percent of respondents indicated that they had worked with building owners and inspectors who didn't understand or support compliance and access regulations. 

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