UF Perkins + Will photo by Robin Hill (c) HI RES (26)
UF’s new Clinical and Translational Research Building incorporates a storm water drainage system inspired by the biomimicry of a leaf’s structure in nature. Photo by Robin Hill, supplied by Perkins + Will.

Introducing UF’s newest research building and a closer look at LEED

The right angles. The modern cuts and crisp cement. The sleek and sexy glass facade.

Cruising down Gale Lemerand Drive, UF’s new Clinical and Translational Research Building (CTRB) is definitely a show-stopper.

The research building, constructed over summer, houses the Institute on Aging and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute, which includes research groups focusing on muscular dystrophy, liver disease, diabetes and other rare and genetic diseases.

The $45 million facility was funded by a $15 million grant by the National Institute of Health that UF was awarded as part of the 2009 stimulus bill. The remaining $30 million was covered by a loan to be repaid with overhead funds received from research grants.

Beyond aesthetics, the research building is slated for a shiny platinum certification per U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

In 2009, the USBGC created the LEED rating and certification system to encourage widespread adoption of green building and neighborhood design. It is a point-based system that awards a project one of four tiers of certifications — certified, silver, gold, and platinum — based on design specs. Platinum requires at least 90 out of the 100 total points on the scale.

When Bahar Armaghani, managing director of LEED initiatives at UF, was first running through the design with Perkins+Will, a Miami-based architecture firm contracted for the project, they hardly considered the LEED checklist, Armaghani said.

“We just needed to make sure it was optimized. We designed it, laid out everything we wanted and then you look at the checklist and things fall into place,” she said, “We wanted to make this the greenest building on campus.”

And with over 1,000 buildings on campus and more speckled across the state, Armaghani and the Perkins+Will design team nailed it with UF’s newest research building.

Toward its 103-point finale, the CTRB racked up two points for its 220 solar panels, three points for integrating recycled building materials and using regionally sourced materials, and 2 points for its leaf-inspired storm water drainage system. The individual components don’t score much alone, so buildings seeking certification have got to be pretty star studded.

“We wanted to go beyond the [LEED] scorecard,” said Pat Bosch, design director at Perkins+Will.

CTRB’s green roof, an expensive construction and maintenance venture, only rang in one point for the facility. By LEED’s standards, installing a bike rack, which is obviously much cheaper, would get you the same boost.

While an in-depth analysis of Perkins+Will’s CTRB design proves the firm’s integrity to sustainable architecture, these more flexible criteria make it easy for less conscientious architects to blaze down the path of least resistance.

LEED-lustrous designers snatch up the low-hanging, easy-point fruit to secure that certification paper, bragging rights, and — in some states — tax breaks, too. The shortcuts are there, and they’re not well hidden.

“If you have the right people who know how to use the tool,” Armaghani said, “ it won’t become about chasing points.”

Critics of LEED have easily picked out these “gimmie points,” and some have decided to take the system on their own. While LEED is remains the most widely recognized benchmark for green buildings — and the most stringent, according to Armaghani — it’s not the only player in the field. As the program ages, more alternatives are cropping up in exposition of its flaws.

Green Globes is another nationally recognized green building rating system, often touted as cheaper and simpler than LEED.

Green Building Initiative, a nonprofit organization dedicated to mainstreaming green buildings, created the Green Globes rating system to incorporate Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Multiple Attribute Evaluation in building assessment.

The majority of green building standards are based on unidimensional attributes such as building materials’ recycled content or Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) emissions.

However, a low-VOC paint or perhaps a recycled-fiber carpet doesn’t necessarily make the case for sustainable design.

In order to fully understand the long term relationship of a building (or any product or development, really) with the environment, impact of components need to be examined from an LCA perspective, which Green Globes breaks down into five criteria: Embodied Energy, Global Warming Potential, and Effects on Land, Air and Water.

Instead of just checking a box on the LEED list confirming the usage of recycled-fiber carpet, for example, the LCA approach would look at the environmental impacts of the carpet from cradle to grave: the chemicals used in manufacturing it, its projected lifetime and methods of disposal.

LEED doesn’t factor in a LCA of materials, so it could definitely stand to borrow a page from Green Globes there.

It’s not entirely shortsighted, though. LEED does require a 5-year follow-up performance report for each building to see if it’s still walking the talk. Is five years long enough to determine a design’s success though? Future versions of LEED may extend the scope of its performance review to hold designers more accountable.

“I think there’s room for improvement,” Bosch said, “but it’s an evolving system and as it continues to evolve it’ll catch up with technology and demand.”

As it has in the past, increased public critique of the system will push reform and refinement as green building standards mature. LEED version 4 will be introduced in November with even more stringent standards, rising to meet even higher expectations.

Svelte design can catch an eye on the first glance, but it takes more than aesthetics and easy-target LEED points to seal the deal and CTRB has definitely done it.

“We walk our talk,” Bosch said. (I’d say they strut it.)