10 Green Commercial Buildings

These environmentally-friendly office spaces prove it's about working smarter, not harder.

Where does our power go? While pipelines and petroleum often get the bulk of the media coverage, commercial and industrial buildings account for a surprisingly high amount of America's overall energy usage (40%), and contribute half of our overall climate emissions, according to the EPA. Office parks and high-rises add up, and while the idea of spending 40 hours a week in one can be daunting enough, those looking to curb emissions need to consider time on an entirely different scale. Three-quarters of buildings in the United States will be either new or renovated by 2035, according to the EPA; now’s the time to start encouraging smarter, savvier, and more energy efficient practices.

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation Headquarters (Los Altos, California: 2012)

The forward-thinking headquarters of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, created in 2012, embodies the vision and mission of the philanthropic concern, a reflection of the Hewlett-Packard founder’s passion for the environment and technology. An angular grid of configurable office suites encircling an open courtyard, the Bay Area site reflects the region, sporting salvaged wood, local stone, and a red cedar exterior. And while the structure itself, a Net Zero Energy Building that earns LEED Platinum certification, is impressive, the architects at EHDD did one better by shaping culture as well as space. An energy audit revealed that the staff’s emissions were generated mostly from transportation, so EHDD added video conferencing suites and a shuttle to pick up staff from the nearby rail station.

Photo by Jeremy Bitterman

We’ve rounded up our favorite examples of green commercial construction—from a living building in Seattle to an off-centered brewery renovation with its own treehouse—to showcase spaces that work toward affecting a different bottom line.

Henkel North American Consumer Products Headquarters (Scottsdale, Arizona: 2010)

Building in the Sonoran desert doesn’t immediately bring the word "sustainable" to mind. This 348,000-square-foot Scottsdale office space for Henkel, a German consumer goods company, is a stylish rejoinder to that impression. Here, nature is put to work. The roof is covered in a 1.5-acre garden of native plants, with solar panels that power the building’s banks of washers and dryers, a substantial green gesture for a company that makes laundry detergent. And the exterior, designed by CH2M Hill and Will Bruder + Partners, features custom glass etched in a pattern that reduces the intensity of the sunlight and a breathable skylight over the central atrium. Turning down the heat only seems fitting for the makers of a successful line of deodorants.

Photo by Henkel

Dogfish Head Brewery (Milton, Delaware: 2009)

What’s more off-centered than a steampunk treehouse? When the eccentric craft brewery needed a quick expansion, DIGSAU delivered a playful design, filled with tilted angles and expressive geometry. Salvaged materials, LED lighting, and daylight modeling give the new space its green credentials, and the treehouse conference space adds a fitting outdoor touch.

Photo by Halkin/Mason Architectural Photography

Livestrong Foundation (Austin, Texas: 2009)

Lance Armstrong’s charity can certainly get behind cycling as a way to reduce energy usage. But when the organization made the move into a larger space, it earned its environment bonafides with a LEED Gold-certified renovation of an old paper mill that earns a yellow jersey for smart renovation. Lake|Flato Architects reused 88% of the existing building, installing features like skylights and a rainwater collection system that reduced energy consumption by nearly 40% and water usage by 67%.

Photo by Frank Ooms

Manitoba Hydro Place (Winnipeg, Manitoba: 2009)

How refreshing is it to see a power company be so respectful of power? Manitoba Hydro didn’t merely create a new headquarters when it unveiled this towering 23-story building, it created a case study in intelligent high-rise construction. A center chimney between three six-story atria cools, warms, and recycles air before its distributed to the rest of the structure, part of an almost organic system that utilizes geothermal systems to provide energy for 100% of the cooling and 75% of the heating. Along with a system of radiant slabs embedded in the concrete and automated lighting systems, the LEED Platinum-certified design by KPMB Architects showcases the power of passive energy.

Photo by Maris Mezulis

Bullitt Center (Seattle, Washington: 2013)

Denis Hayes, chief executive of the Bullitt Foundation, said that if the Bullit Center, his organization’s ambitious experiment in creating a sustainable and "living" office building, is still the greenest space of its kind in a decade, it will have been a failure. That’s not bragging, that’s merely an insight into the scope and ambition of this revolutionary structure, a testing ground for water and energy self sufficiency (via rainwater collection, composting, and a large solar array) aiming to be a case study for radical change in how we build. Based on stats released on Earth Day in April, the building’s first anniversary, the structure is currently using 75 percent less energy than a similar structure and is on its way to a net zero energy certification.

Photo by Benjamin Benschneider

Chandler City Hall (Chandler, Arizona: 2010)

If only government was always this responsible. Built without accruing debt, the LEED Platinum-certified Chandler City hall, designed by SmithGroup, accomplishes a myriad of goals: bringing public space to Chicago Street in the city center, providing significant energy savings, and creating a public centerpiece for Chandler. The quartzite-clad structure also has fun being responsible: water from the HVAC system cascades in a waterfall down the north side of a parking tower, and the kinetic sculpture "Turbulent Shade," and interactive set of steel hinges and LED lights designed by artist Ned Kahn, glows at night thanks to power from the building’s solar panels.

Photo by SmithGroup JJR

Clock Shadow Building (Milwaukee, Wisconsin: 2012)

Continuum Architects + Planners turned an abandoned brownfield green with this mixed-use development in Milwaukee’s Walker Point neighborhood. Using salvaged material and diverting construction waste from landfills was just the start. Cantilevered construction maximizes space on the upper floors, adding 15% more usable space to the building’s 4,000-square-foot footprint, and the green roof conserves energy while serving as a community space for tenants.

Photo by Continuum Architects

Iowa Utilities Board, Office of the Consumer Advocate (Des Moines, Iowa: 2011)

There are apt metaphors to be made about this government office building, erected on the site of a former landfill, yet built in such a way that nearly 90 percent of construction waste was recycled. Designed by BNIM architects, the structure’s two wings were made from white Thermomass precast concrete, and gaps that might lower energy efficiency were meticulously removed. The result is a sleek profile that achieves a 75 percent reduction in energy usage compared to a similar code-compliant building.

Photo by BNIM

Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building (Portland, Oregon: 2013)

This massive modernization project goes green on many levels, from the initial decision to renovate instead of rebuild at another site, to the iconic addition of aluminum reeds on the west facade, which will both reduce heat gain from sunlight and serve as a three-story trellis for plants.


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