WAN: With the WAN Sustainable Building of the Year Award in its final month, we sought to highlight and discuss some of the issues around quantifying sustainability and what it means to have a truly holistic approach to sustainable building design, human sustainability and the two combined from an expert’s point of view. We caught up with Anne Marie Aguilar, Associate Director at Arup Associates and Jason McLennan from the Living Building Challenge to talk about the new standards. This is the first in a two part feature, outlining the new standards in sustainability and more.

We caught up with Anne Marie Aguilar, Associate Director at Arup Associates and Jason McLennan from the Living Building Challenge to talk about the new standards. This is the first in a two part feature, outlining the new standards in sustainability and more.

This article was originally published on WorldArchitectureNews.com

Michael Hammond, WAN Editor in Chief: Tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Anne Marie Aguilar: This is my 9th year at Arup Associates as Associate Director of Sustainability. We try to focus on ASMEP and sustainability projects only, and we work on a truly integrated model.

We have delivered some really innovative projects including the first naturally ventilated TV studio in the world for SKY TV and the first LEED Platinum data centre for CITY GROUP. We push the boundaries further and further, trying not to utilise the sustainability tools as the marker, but to do projects for the right reasons and the ratings will naturally follow from there.

Jason McLennan: I am an architect by training and practice primarily in the US. In 2006 I left my practice to launch the Living Building Challenge (LBC), the most progressive and stringent green building programme in the world. I’m on the World Building Institute and a published author, and work with DELOS also.

I have dedicated my career and the last ten years to helping transform the building industry in a different way, from the first social justice programme and building to the first transparency in materials programme. Now we have over 200 building projects which are triple net zero and more worldwide movement to push what a lot of people thought was not feasible.

MH: How is ‘pushing the boundaries’ taken by your clients? Do they have to pay a premium to get the higher spec buildings, and how does that work for you and your contracts?


AM: I can’t feed back on the question ‘are these buildings actually costing more’ yet. 10 years ago we were all under the assumption that these projects would end up costing a lot more and actually it’s not, if its integrated at quite an early stage, but I think what owners are seeing now is the performance gap issue on how the building are actually performing.

So in the past, even though we thought we were getting a really sustainable building, the energy used in operation is actually a lot higher than the way it was designed, so they’re not completely fool proof.

What the LBC is doing is forcing us to look at building design in a much more matter of fact way - about reducing the energy loads, reducing water usage loads - so we can actually use only what the building can gather in solar capacity or rainfall. I think that is the fundamental shift; the accreditations that people are trying to achieve at the moment on the current building rating systems, are clients looking for the cheapest, lowest hanging fruit – that’s not what the LBC is about.

I’m not sure if we can say about the premium. It’s a complete philosophy change in the way that people occupy and use buildings. It would be interesting to hear about the 200 or so buildings on the added cost? Is this a huge cost to a potential client?

JM: It depends. We’ve had two projects that have had essentially no premium, and we’ve had some at 30% - but it is not twice the cost or three times the cost. If you’re talking about a 10% premium at time, that’s something that can be done if brought in at the early stages. But some clients are spending this on hardwood flooring in their lobbies, or designs that have no benefit and no payback to people’s wellbeing so in essence, anyone can afford a living building. It just depends on what they value and where they choose to invest their resources on in their project.

MH: So now you then require the occupant to really buy into this new philosophy and to use the building in the right way. Presumably you could lose quite a lot of the benefits if the occupant did not follow the rules of operation?

AM: In all naturally ventilated buildings, including the one for SKY TV, there is occupant behaviour required that we need to get involved in, but I think that the knock-on is a much more positive effect - people actually take those green behaviours and take them into their personal life. They learn how to operate a building as a living organism and they realise that energy isn’t an infinite resource. I think people need to be able to look at that in a bigger picture. If you can’t provide a space that makes people feel happy and healthy, they’re not going to want to stay.

At a recent RIBA conference on sustainability we held at Arup, we actually took a project that we had completed for SKY TV (a smaller project) and we took it through the living building challenge case study. It really wasn’t a monumental shift; it always comes down to the energy usage, finding where you can completely use energy from renewable sources. So now it’s making clients think about where do they go next? People that are actually thinking about pushing boundaries - for SKY TV it’s about looking at a better world. And when looking at the bigger picture, they realised they want to pursue the right thing for the future.



Michael Hammond, WAN Editor in Chief: When talking about human sustainability in architecture, projects like Ropemaker Place for the Macquarie Bank force the inhabitants to walk up and downstairs - is that the kind of thing we should be pushing?

AM: The wellness issue is all about ‘how do we make places healthier for the occupant’. If you can reduce accesses to the elevator floors and facilitate more room for stairs so that people can move throughout the building and create collaboration and spontaneity, that’s what clients are looking for. Macquarie Bank is a perfect example of how you can actually find ways that people will bump into each other - what sort of work happens when those instances are created - and the aspect of health and wellness, we’re just scratching the surface with what will come out of that. If you can provide a space that people feel happy and healthy in they’re going to want to stay!

MH: Would you agree that the there is a crossroads where effective use of a building meets tangible benefits?

JM: Absolutely. The (WAN AWARD-winning) Bullitt Centre is my office. It was built towards the Living Building Challenge (LBC) and one of the design elements that we are most proud of is the irresistible stair which transforms what would typically be an escape route embedded in the building. It would ordinarily be very drab and we made it the most important design element of one side of the building so that when you enter it’s the first thing you see. It’s jutting out, it’s full of light, and it’s got the best views of the mountains. The stair is made of natural and beautiful materials and it’s placed in front of the lift (which is regenerative). The stairwell is better for most people and the space becomes the life blood of the building, providing opportunities for interaction and also passive fitness benefits.

My colleagues and I always take the stairs now, even for the sixth floor! By using design, this doesn’t cost much more for the huge health and wellness benefits. And where we located the stairwell in the building, we were able to passively ventilate, so it has zero impact on the building.

It’s the most heavily used part of the building that never needs heating or cooling and people are happy to use it. They’re getting healthy, strengthening muscle and getting cardiovascular exercise. It’s a perfect example of integration of sustainability and ‘personal sustainability’.

MH: A lot these innovations are technical and design based, but are we able to make buildings that are reaching these high standards without them being just very efficient boxes? What about the aesthetics of a building built to the LBC?

JM: For us, beauty and good design is as important as performance. It’s one of the unique things about the LBC; it’s both a left brain and right brain tool or paradigm. We looked at highly measureable energy and water, and waste and materials, and those are very important, but typically it’s the right brain issues that are completely ignored as if they were zero on the spreadsheet.

That’s not true at all. We’re the first programme to include beauty as a major part of its accreditation, and even though we can’t measure aesthetic beauty in the same way that we measure energy or water, it doesn’t mean it’s a zero - it’s a fundamental factor. We ask all of our design teams to use beautiful expression in their energy and water solutions, and for the most part it is very successful and inspiring.



AM: - We have recently been working on a project for the BSKYB building (they believe in better building, it’s a timber constructed building), the CEO of BSKYB was telling me, he has had more interest on this project than any other. They had a ceremony recently where they brought everyone into the building, and they were all affected by the timber smell and feel; it’s so interesting to see people attracted to things that are naturally beautiful. There a dialogue between the design teams that are producing these fantastic elements and solutions that we have not seen before, so in terms of aesthetic, it’s working on mostly all of the projects. The dialogue gets teams away from the easiest solution.

JM: For the most part, the LBC is performance-based, not prescriptive. What we have are performance metrics that are very rigorous. Getting there is up to the performance of the design team. We think it leads to an incredible amount of creativity.

People have to design things that are appropriate to their climate if they want to meet our standards. But they have to use the best solutions for their building type and we don’t tend to know all the solutions for each situation, so finding a way to motivate our design professionals to think about this holistically and to reach highs with very specific markers of performance, leaving the slate of opportunities very open for them to explore was a challenge.

We have a building in Seattle it was small school project. To meet the LBC they have to be net zero on water and they do this by collecting from the roof. They decided to bring the water recirculation into the project visually and make it a part of the design. That was their expression and in the end they designed a system that got the children to connect to the design and excited to see the connection between rainfall and run off.




Ann Marie Aguilar is an Associate Director and Sustainable Design Specialist with Arup Associates. Her focus is about improving human experience in the built environment and the opportunities to instil "Wellness in the Workplace".

She is a passionate advocate of the impact of Space Design on Human Behaviour & Performance having recently taken part in an 18 month research project with the RIBA, Royal Academy of Engineering and DCLG on that topic. Ann Marie has recently achieved WELL Accredited Professional (AP) Accreditation from the International Well Building Institute (IWBI), based in Washington DC. Ann Marie is the first WELL Accredited Professional (AP) outside of the USA.

Since joining the practice she has been involved in the coordination and development of the Arup LEED Consultancy business in the UKMEA region. She has created LEED framework agreements with many of our global clients including Citibank and Deutsche Bank. Ann Marie has developed an extensive portfolio in the USA and globally. Projects range in scale from campus size to small city developments; identifying a clear sustainability vision for the project followed my objectives and measurable targets.