Design and construction management projects must consider urban sustainability broadly for the environmental and social impact on the community.

Beyond Green: How Sustainable Design Creates a Sustainable City

Design and construction management projects must consider urban sustainability broadly for the environmental and social impact on the community.
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Sustainability is a resilient topic. In the last few decades, our clients have been engaged in “green” construction practices or certifications. Now the very concept of sustainability has evolved.

The initiation phase of any development is an opportunity to consider more than the site’s physical environment. As construction managers, we explore pre-design the owner’s operation and maintenance resources and the project’s potential for social impact. In this process, a framework emerges for how to meet the owner’s stakeholder commitments throughout the project’s lifecycle.

The landmark projects McKissack & McKissack is involved in—airports, convention centers, hospitality, sports or education—all involve some form of sustainable architecture. These iconic spaces must provide viable and holistic service to millions of people who pass through them. Sustainable design creates a healthier urban environment beyond air quality or stormwater management. Economic development and community harmony are factors as important as site design requirements. As a trusted adviser to construction project owners, our conversations guide the approach a project will take to deliver a more resilient response to this broader landscape of environmental and social stresses.

Sustainable Building: A New School of Thought

LEED certification is just one framework for thinking through issues beyond the site‘s boundaries. The WELL building standard incorporates factors in physical and mental wellness as well as air and water quality practices. The Living Building Challenge identifies seven aspects to consider: place, water, energy, health and happiness, materials, equity and beauty. Regenerative design promotes connected processes that benefit the ecology and society far beyond the project lifecycle. Not all projects must follow these specific industry initiatives, but construction management offers many approaches to innovate, provide architectural variety and address community well-being.

Building programs can institute these values at scale. The Los Angeles Community College District’s $9.5 billion modernized nine community colleges with 40 new structures that meet LEED standards and generate solar power. McKissack provided project management services to the Build LACCD initiative. All told, more than 50 buildings have been LEED certified. Recently, the LACCD passed a Clean Energy & Sustainability Resolution, setting a robust and proactive set of sustainability goals that is the most comprehensive in the California community college system.

LACCD’s investment in sustainable design includes improvements in energy efficiency, additional on-site renewable energy and the electrification of district infrastructure and equipment. Energy consumption and costs have been reduced by as much as half in some locations. Driven in part by the COVID-19 shutdown, LACCD has begun to investigate how to specify all electric new buildings in the design phase and replace HVAC equipment with all electric alternatives. The institution’s goals are far-reaching and ambitious: They include using renewable electricity exclusively by 2030 and being carbon free by 2040.

Building Community Through Sustainable Design

Innovations in urban sustainability reach beyond green energy. Our work on the renovation of the University of the District of Columbia’s School of Business and Public Administration included addressing sustainability through energy efficient lighting and mechanical systems. But other aspects of the project bring students into an even more holistic drive to improve food security and water usage.

The Van Ness campus is the site of an urban food hub, a 20,000 square-foot green roof producing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. As part of the university’s Center for Urban Agriculture & Gardening Education program, the facility includes a green house and a vertical farm that supports raising fish and growing vegetables without soil.

In Chicago, McKissack’s participation in the growth of the McCormick Place convention center complex provided many opportunities to innovate with regenerative urban design solutions. The expo center has its own urban farm that produces more than 8,000 pounds of produce a year. But the rooftop garden is only part of an expansive approach to storm water management.

A nearly mile-long stormwater tunnel reduces the expo center’s impact on century-old sewers, every year sending more than 60 million gallons of rainwater into nearby Lake Michigan. The Marriott Marquis Chicago, a 40-story glass tower with skyway bridges to McCormick Place and Wintrust Arena, incorporates meeting rooms in the landmark American Book Co. building, a connection to the neighborhood’s historic townhouses and its past as a commercial printing center.

Hospitality projects such as Nationals Park provide continuing economic benefit to neglected communities. The ballfield for baseball’s Washington Nationals employed local hiring and business partnerships that have contributed to Southeast Washington’s economic revival. Sustainable construction management provides an inclusive workforce that builds durable bonds in the local community.

The post-COVID “new normal” will further expand the contours of what constitutes a sustainable city. Airports and convention centers circulate millions of cubic feet of air per minute, standards that are likely to change with our new understanding of contagions. Urban environments put stress on all the resources they consume--not only energy, water and materials but also physical and mental health and economic development. During the pandemic, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in served as a District of Columbia vaccination site, while McCormick Place was converted to an emergency hospital, suggesting the role these facilities continue to play in community resilience.

Building programs have many interrelated elements. Setting high-level goals helps focus resources from concepts through execution to deliver projects on time and on budget. Forward thinking developers and builders will continue to innovate, with architectural planners and project managers as their partners to rebuild in an inclusive, resilient and sustainable way.

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