Smart buildings

Highly efficient structures are on the rise in New York, Chicago, Seattle ... and Tampa.

Published May 25, 2007

Imagine a cityscape whose buildings are designed specifically with the environment in mind - with grassy roofs to catch rainfall and a parking garage built to conserve space and fuel.

The trend is "green building," and the country's architects have been at it for more than a decade in cities like New York, Minneapolis, Portland, Chicago and Seattle.

Tampa has lagged, but soon, we could see our first glimpses of what some say is the building trend of the future.

A movement is born

In 1993, building leaders from across the nation formed the U.S. Green Building Council to create structures that are environmentally responsible, profitable and healthy for living and working.

They created an accreditation standard in 2000 called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design that considers energy consumption, water efficiency and indoor environmental quality, among other criteria.

Today, it's the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings.

LEED is on the lips of mayors, developers and architects in the nation's most progressive cities. In the past year, it has made its way to Tampa.

Our first green tower?

On April 26, the City Council approved the Del Villar, a 33-story mixed-use tower at 858 Channelside Drive. Among residential, retail and office space, the development could house Tampa's first robotic parking garage.

Here's how it would work: Pull your car into one of four steel-framed pallets or "robotic arms" and then walk away. The arm will elevate your car onto a belt that maneuvers it into a spot for you. The wait time is said to be less than 90 seconds.

The tall structure could accommodate more cars in less space because there would be no elevators, stairwells or driveways for cars cruising for spaces. The garage would also reduce emissions and conserve the fuel drivers would use in parking their own cars, designers say.

In 2005, the City Council approved a robotic garage for the Four Green Fields pub on Platt Street, but it has not been constructed.

Another environmentally friendly feature at the Del Villar: Windows will be placed on the north and south and set in 4 feet from the building's corners. Designers Urban Studio Architects say the window placement will avoid direct sunlight and reduce air conditioning bills.

The roof will be covered in grass to absorb rainwater before it runs off into an already taxed drainage system. It'll also be nicer to look at than concrete.

Earthier offices

Urban Studio Architects may become green-building pioneers in the Channel District's future skyline, but a smaller LEED-certified green building is already sprouting on Kennedy Boulevard.

It'll be Tampa's first when it is completed early next year.

Owned by Nancy Walker, of Walker Brand Communications, the 10,000-square-foot office building at 1810 W Kennedy Blvd. will incorporate natural air and lighting with its air conditioning and electrical systems. Low-flow toilets will pare water consumption.

The project will cost about $2-million.

A branding expert, Walker wanted to show her clients she could generate buzz by being a green-building pioneer.

She has also read studies that employees who work in green buildings are happier and more productive. Long-term maintenance costs will be lower, she said.

And, she said, "It really is the right thing to do."

Green frontiers

Builders at Beck Construction first told Walker about green building. They said the trend will soon become an industry standard.

Beck's president, Mark House, equates it with the movement more than a decade ago to make buildings handicap accessible.

In a few years, he said, the question "Oh, you're not doing a green building?" will sound as awkward as "Oh, you're not wearing deodorant?"

House says that in the past six to 10 months, he has seen awareness skyrocket. Commercial building owners are now coming to him asking for green buildings.

In the next six months, 20 to 30 green buildings will break ground in Tampa, he estimated.

But the city provides no incentives for green building.

Henry Lewis, a Channel District resident and business owner, hopes green building won't be used as a bartering tool for developers to add excessive density to their buildings.

"It depends on how much density and where," City Council member Linda Saul-Sena said later when the question was posed to her.

Saul-Sena is impressed that the private sector has moved forward with green building on its own.

"I'm really excited that people are putting their dollars into sustainable buildings," she said. "They're early adapters and they're getting with it.

"It's better to do one of the firsts of the new buildings than one of the last of the old ones," she said. "You don't want to have the last horse and buggy."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at 226-3354 or azayas@sptimes.com.