Wednesday, February 10, 2010

greeneyedspotlight: Cincinnati-based emersion DESIGN's LEED Platinum HQ

When one visits Cincinnati-based emersion DESIGN's website, they notice the plethora of services they currently offer. The architecture firm also offers engineering, interior design, and planning services, as well as building inspections and drafting. Oh, but you say you have seen such a firm before. What makes emersion DESIGN and its team of eighteen designers special may be the space in which they work. After all, does the space make the person make the space, or does the space make the person?

Located in Norwood and within walking distance from Xavier University, the Hamilton County Business Center has been home to the emersion DESIGN office since 2007, where former KZF owners and architects and the nine-member team began. In 2007, after just five months of operation, the firm realized the need for more space to accomodate its influx of projects. The sprint for a LEED platinum-rated renovation was a no-brainer.

The result: emersion DESIGN became the first architecture and engineering firm in the world to achieve LEED platinum status for its office. The team carefully researched its options to achieve a maximum rating, while remaining focused on practicality and cost efficiency. No LEED Platinum certification is easy to obtain. The key is a cross-balance of credits and utilization of existing resources. Their answer was a salvage and module design purposed for disassembly.

Sustainable Sites: Although site selection is a typical category in any LEED rating system, in emersion DESIGN's case, it seems they had the certification in mind all along. Their location in a historic building trumps new construction in terms of a sustainable vision; utilization of a former brownfield site is yet another. The workspace's centerpiece is the large work table near the north-facing windows, taking advantage of daylighting. Proximity to a walkable neighborhood and transit both provide a suitable capstone. All these features are built-in advantages to the firm's vision.

Also worth noting is the firm's lease renegotiation to limit the number of parking space to the minimum required by code (11 spots for 18 employees). The firm would also pay a base rent with utilities as a usage cost. Thus, the emersion DESIGN paid for their energy consumption, rather than an artificially constant, incorporated rate.

Water Efficiency: Other than relocation of a sink from the general work area to the front vestibule (which also houses indoor composting and recycling facilities), few credits were acquired through Water Efficiency. However, the retrofit included low flow integration.

Energy + Atmosphere: From the ceiling still hung the original fluorescent lighting, abundant and redundant as ever. Task lighting and reduction of overhead lighting accounted for a 35% reduction. 90% of their equipment was also EnergyStar eligible. Motion sensors for lighting also save on wasted energy in their meeting space. emersion DESIGN also earned the elusive Enhanced Commissioning credit to ensure that appliances and energy-hogging equipment worked properly.

Materials + Resources: This one was where cost really came into the picture. The firm's focus for attaining Platinum certification was in renewable materials and recycled waste. The long work table is made from sheets of renewable bamboo plywood, which amounted to $800 for each of twelve sheets. That's more than the combined cost of some of the office's salvaged material furnishings! Icing on the cake (an understatement) was that all wood was FSC-certified.

Indoor Environmental Quality: The aforementioned daylighting pitched in for IEQ credit, as well as E+A and Materials. Using salvaged 2x2 ceiling tiles from a Cincinnati Public School, sunshades were installed between the north-facing windows, saving the eyes of hard-at-work designs from the rising and setting summer sun. Although they originally preferred to do without carpets or rugs, they also chose to install removable, non-VOC rugs to earn a Low-Emitting Materials credit. Use of non-VOC paints and improvements to the ventilation (cleanout out duct space, modified roof unit) earned emersion DESIGN a couple more stars for doing their homework!

Innovation + Design Process: When you leap for Platinum certification, there are bound to be some Innovation credits. emersion DESIGN's pinnacle achievement was that 99% of project waste was recycled, reused, or repurposed, excusing two BAGS (18 pounds) of foam from around two TONS of waste!

From their website: "Key contributors include: BC&E, HA Kahler, Urban E, HCBC, HGC, APG Office Furnishings, Applied Lighting, Masland, Smith & Fong and Building Value."

Whew! Well, if you are interested in replicating the results of emersion DESIGN's renovation pursuits, the firm also specializes in LEED certification. For more information on services that emersion DESIGN provides, visit

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