Efficiency is Beauty

Efficiency is Beauty

You’ve heard the adage, “Beauty is only skin deep.” Turns out that concept applies to the built environment as well. There’s a common misconception out there that you have to sacrifice beauty for efficiency or vice versa. The truth is you can have both. 

60 Years of Sustainability

60 Years of Sustainability

At RNL, sustainability is a key part of our identity. ‘Design to thrive’ is more than just a slogan at RNL; it’s our entire design philosophy. Two recent projects that really exemplify that philosophy are the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro)’s Division 13 Bus Operations & Maintenance Facility in Los Angeles and the new Denver Water Campus. Here’s a little more about what makes them so special...

Day Three: Designing for One Water

 By Tony J. Thornton, AIA, LEED AP BD+C 

“This is something we simply must do…”

…Echoed Denver Water (DW), as they first sat down with RNL to review the One Water goals that the team had been contemplating jointly. One Water is a quintessential sustainability strategy for DW’s new Operations Complex Redevelopment project (OCR); a campus project Intent on exhibiting DW’s aspirations of being the “number one water utility” in the nation and a paragon of environmental stewardship within the community.

Rather than Net-Zero Water, which relies on relatively inefficient, cost exorbitant and potentially unsafe 100% onsite water collection and reuse, the aim of One Water is to be a more reliable and replicable model where: 

  • Each water source is the most appropriate for each use.
  • Potable water use is specifically avoided for non-potable purposes.
  • Potable water demand use is minimized through conservation.
  • Potable water discharge to the environment is minimized through resource recovery and reuse.
  • Efficient & safe potable supply is delivered via the local water utility, where the strictest standards for health are upheld and routinely tested by experts using the best technologies available.

Specifically for Denver Water’s OCR, this approach incorporates familiar and progressive water sustainability concepts such as:

  • Low flow and low use plumbing fixtures.
  • Low water demand, drought resistant landscaping and porous paving.
  • Large volume rainwater harvesting for irrigation through augmentation.
  • Treated clean water overflow directly to the Platte River, avoiding wasteful, redundant re-treatment through the city’s wastewater system.
  • A small scale Onsite Wastewater Treatment Facility (eco-machine) capable of reconditioning discharge grey and black water into reusable sources for toilet flushing and additional irrigation stores.
Denver Water’s future administration building is a part of their $195M  campus redevelopment .

Denver Water’s future administration building is a part of their $195M campus redevelopment.

Within Colorado, the difficulty does not lie in creating a comprehensively sustainable model, but rather working with convoluted state and local laws and water rights. Fortunately, One Water as a public utility integrated approach is also the key to solving the Colorado’s regulatory water reuse riddle. By applying intelligent processes and technology, RNL is leveraging DW’s water law knowledge, access to the regional water supply and ability to help influence future amendments to water reuse laws in order to mold One Water’s design parameters to operate completely within the existing and projected structure.  

The time is now.

As water needs will eventually outpace Colorado’s available supply, new systems for smart water management are imperative. With One Water at the heart of its underlying model, Denver Water’s OCR is poised become the catalyst for Denver’s own, citywide approach to responsible water use and reuse on a large scale.


LA Metro Cuts the Ribbon on LEED Gold Division 13

Photos by  Chang Kim & Devin J. Dilmore.

Photos by Chang Kim & Devin J. Dilmore.

Earlier today, Los Angeles Metro held a ribbon cutting for the newly completed Division 13. A $120 million bus operations & maintenance facility project sized at 540,000 square feet.

The three-level complex includes a maintenance facility with 19 service bays for the operation and maintenance of Metro's growing fleet, and 382 employee parking spaces. At capacity, the facility will be able to support approximately 525 employees and 200 buses. Sustainable design features include:

  • Rooftop and façade-mounted photovoltaic panels to generate up to 10 percent of the building's electrical needs.
  • Skylights and white-colored interiors to reflect light, reducing electricity needs.
  • Shade structures and natural ventilation to reduce energy needs.
  • An integrated 275,000-gallon cistern and system of pumps/filters to reuse rainwater for bus washing.
  • A green roof that serves as an employee amenity, and addresses storm water run-off and urban heat island effect.

"RNL believes sustainable design considers the wellbeing of the people who use a space as much as the materials and energy consumed," said Will Todd, project architect with RNL. "Using this holistic approach as a guiding principle on Division 13, RNL worked with Metro to drive building efficiencies, make smart siting choices and create a healthier work environment for Metro employees at the facility."

Metro Board Chair Mark Ridley cutting the ribbon. Photo by: Gary Leonard for Metro

Metro Board Chair Mark Ridley cutting the ribbon. Photo by: Gary Leonard for Metro

From Metro's new release:

Division 13 is a model of energy efficiency and design and will serve as an example for other transportation agencies world-wide,” said LA Metro Board member and Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich. “This necessary investment in our transportation infrastructure ensures safe and reliable travel options to meet the needs of today’s riders as well as for future generations. – The Source

The only power we ever have as designers: To Advocate

Foster's Droneport in Rawanda (Rendering: Foster+Partners)

Foster's Droneport in Rawanda (Rendering: Foster+Partners)

Norman Foster stepped into the fray of politics in the UK to combat what he called a short-sighted approach to airport expansion near London.  His message was specific, but also geared toward a much grander scale of thought - the design and investment in infrastructure is critical to our future chances of living better.  "Infrastructure," Foster says, "is not to solve the problems of today, but to anticipate the issues of future generations."  

Foster's recent work, dealing with anything from droneports in Africa to development on Mars, may sound far-fetched, but as described by Rowan Moore in his article for The Guardian UK, they begin to anticipate a new thinking on infrastructure's role in the livelihood and sustainability of our cities. Even though Foster see's his only power as an architect being as an advocate for change,  these explorations into solving the future's problems are perhaps among the best uses of the design community's creative energies.  

How Low Can You Flow?

Sorry, I couldn’t resist the headline. But seriously,

the California Energy Commission has voted on water efficiency standards for shower heads that will be the highest in the country:

Current rules, established in 1994 at the federal level, allow a maximum flow of 2.5 gallons per minute from a shower head. Effective next July, the limit will fall to 2.0 gallons per minute and will be reduced again in July 2018, to 1.8 gallons, giving California the toughest standard of any U.S. state. - LA Times

About 30% of fixtures currently available meet this new requirement. According to the NRDC, this new GPM limit will save California as much water annually as the city of San Francisco uses per year. That is, if anyone in CA is still showering by this time next year. #CAdrought and all.


Chicago may favor deep-dish for its pizza, but a company is going thin crust for its green roofs and living walls. The Omni Ecosystems Green Roof technology grows more plant options in half the weight of conventional green roof systems. With installations in Chicago the system is clearly being tested under some of the harsher conditions in the U.S (hot summers, cold winters, high winds). The benefit of the lighter weight and more concentrated plant diversity is wider applicability on existing buildings where significant structural upgrades to the roof may not be possible. The same technology is applied to their living walls, with equally appealing financial benefits:

“Whereas most living wall products require constant plant replacement - as much as 100 percent every six months - our system has required less than six percent in the 18 months since installation”

Whether these claims bear the test of time, their next partnership is exciting in that it sets up a PPA-like relationship between roof owners and a group called Roof Crop:

“Building owners meet their green roof obligations for sustainable development in the City of Chicago, receive rent from The Roof Crop as the “roof tenant,” and have a reliably maintained green roof. The net effect is a green roof that pays for itself and is truly maintenance-free for the building owner”

Their first leased rooftop farm was recently installed in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood.

And their Omni Tapestry living wall wins Biophilia of the Week Award…

photo courtesy of Omni Ecosystems

photo courtesy of Omni Ecosystems

Sustainable Apparel Brands

For those of you who would like to reduce your personal foot print even more…

The average American throws away 68 lbs of clothing every year, yet 99% of used clothing is recyclable. It takes 700 gallons of water to produce one cotton t-shirt, the same amount of water the average person uses per day including household uses like dish washing and laundry. A whole day’s worth of water, for one t-shirt.  We all have some clothing items that should never see the light of day again for various reasons, whether we accept to believe it or not, but there will always be some thrift store shopper who can rock any retro fashion mistakes. Reuse is one thing, but smarter purchasing is another. So next time you need feel the need to go shopping for clothes that aren’t covered by Patagonia’s catalogue, consider a brand that is committed to sustainable materials and practices:

7 Sustainable Apparel Brands

Image Courtesy of Victor Athletics


While we are on the subject of the drought…

Denver office folks, move along please, this is not (yet) legal in CO. But for those of you in states where it is legal, read on. I’m looking at you, LA office.

“For drought-prone areas, gray water is basically a way of having your cake and eating it too — like taking that biweekly five-minute shower and planting a lavender border around the wood chips in your dry front yard. And these days, that’s pretty much the dream.”

photo credit: Eric Risberg

photo credit: Eric Risberg