David Sokol -- Interior Design, 10/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
Try completely redeveloping a cancer hospital that must remain fully functional during six phases of construction. Or creating the only science center in the world where animal and human virus research can be safely conducted under one roof. In addition to large, complicated projects, Smith Carter Architects and Engineers has pioneered another tricky specialty, sustainable design—and done so with a successfully integrated approach. In 1978, geothermal heating and cooling at the headquarters of the Canadian firm put it on the cutting edge of energy efficiency. Almost three decades later, principals hope for a gold LEED rating for their new home base in Winnipeg.
SC3, as the third headquarters in Smith Carter's 58-year history is known, had to be better as well as bigger. The 50,000-square-foot rectangular building incorporates not only improved geothermal technology but also maximum daylighting, water conservation, renewable cabinetry, and even such indoor air-quality technologies as negative-pressurized crawl space, which funnels carcinogenic radon away. "Before we could tell clients to go green, we felt we should determine ourselves whether it was beneficial in terms of productivity and satisfaction and achievable in terms of cost," says principal Esther Patzia.
Greenness begins with the site. To the west is a virgin spruce forest. To the east, a prairie-grass plain requires no irrigation. An artificial pond retains storm runoff from the parking lot.
Besides preserving the native ecosystem, the forest acts as a natural screen against the sun year-round and the harsh Arctic winds in the winter, allowing Smith Carter to make most of the building's west elevation glass. The double-glazed argon windows— their spacers made of plastic rather than conductive aluminum—reduce heat loss while providing a dramatic view and abundant daylight. A clerestory diffuses daylight further into the open studio, picking out the carpet tiles' luminescent yarn. Non-PVC shades screen intense sunshine, as does a perforated stainless-steel screen attached to the south elevation.
The studio is a 65-by-200-foot column-free space where workstations glide into different configurations for team projects and colleagues meet in break-out spaces along the western wall. Thanks to daylighting as well as a raised straw-board floor, which contains HVAC vents, there are no pendants or ducts interfering with the 25-foot ceiling's kingpin trusses. "The little artificial lighting we have is from the sidewalls, and that highlights the tension system at night," principal Rick Linley says. "We use the structure in the sculptural sense."
The best view of the action on the studio floor is from a second-story glass perch called the Skybox, which cantilevers along the eastern elevation. The Skybox also contains common spaces, such as bright red locker rooms and a laboratory for staging large maquettes.
From the flushless urinals to the low-emitting sunflower-seed board used for millwork and the recycled plastic-and-wood planks of the deck—the summertime location of choice for meetings, lunches, and even Pilates classes—SC3 is a laboratory and showcase for eco-conscious design, not to mention a great sales pitch. The facility has won Smith Carter some of its largest current projects, including the architect-of-record role for Winnipeg's Canadian Museum for Human Rights, designed by Antoine Predock. In the firm's own "family," a satellite office in Ottawa is getting an environmentally sensitive makeover.