LEED the way

If you get the chance to visit the Genzyme Center, I say seize it. Together with other architects, I recently participated in a tour of its world headquarters building at Cambridge’s Kendall Square, a world-renowned biomedical research campus. Frequent tours are routinely conducted and for good reason: this is not your average office building. We keeners went specifically to learn how it earned a top-notch platinum rating in LEED, an internationally recognized green building certification system developed by the United States Green Building Council.

Our guides explained how the architect, Stefan Behnisch, took the stance of designing ‘from the inside out’, and the core values on which the design is predicated: “innovation, transparency, and collaboration.” Though there was no sustainability agenda at the onset, a determination to “do it right” drove all the design decisions, with nothing left to chance. (fyi, the company’s website highlights the barrage of green strategies used and the resultant paybacks in Energy savings.)

We hovered mainly in the 12-storey central atrium around which the building is organized. Dangling several stories deep, an enormous chandelier made of suspended prismatic tiles reflects and bounces light in a playful way, creating ‘rainbows’ on the surrounding surfaces and a sense of continuous movement. Cutting-edge technology tracks the sun’s position and with heliostats on the roof, mirrors, and louvers, light is vertically guided deep into the building. The openness of the spaces not only maximizes daylight but also enhances communication by fostering interaction among people circulating between lounges and work areas, mezzanines, ‘floating’ staircases, and glass elevators in an almost ‘see and be seen,’ theatrical kind of way.

Other big selling points: interior gardens; frequently-positioned microclimate controls giving users the flexibility to control individual workspace temperature/humidity and light levels; and, a cafeteria atypically located on the uppermost floor, for all employees to partake in sweeping panoramic views of Boston and Cambridge. Sweet.

Who wouldn’t want to work here? People are democratically distributed throughout the building because every spot has some environmental perk to it. Human-resource benefits of sustainable design can be profound – there are lots of data to back that up. (Mental images of happy/healthy workers toiling away).Overall this is an excellent building, highly relevant for the future. Choice client. Choice budget. And although ‘green building’ upfront costs are typically higher, there is an ever narrowing price differential between traditional and green construction.

I, too, jumped on the bandwagon and obtained a LEED Accredited Professional status. An interesting Globe and Mail article suggests that the term ‘LEED’ is sometimes banded about, willy-nilly, with developers borrowing the name for instant credibility without their project having actually fulfilled the many requirements to achieve certification. Frankly, whether a project has achieved actual LEED status or has at least pursued guidelines to build greener, the objective has to be positive-impact building. Sustainability efforts have to be integrated into the design.

Architecture and beyond, it’s all the rage… everyone’s going green these days. This can’t be a fad. We’ve all got to strive for the highest degree of environmental responsibility. The challenge is to find new ways to save energy and realign ourselves with the natural world. In the words of the Artefacture, “Design will save the world”.

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