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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, August 30, 2004

Going for the greening of downtown office design

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

One little office in downtown Honolulu is now the "greenest" in the state.

Architect Joe Ferraro demonstrates that the windows in the renovated American Institute of Architects offices once again can open to let in the island breeze, part of a "greening" project.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

The American Institute of Architects' fourth-floor office in the historic Stangenwald Building on Merchant Street last week became the first commercial interior space in Hawai'i to win a gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for its environmental efforts.

"To be the first in the state demonstrates strong leadership and sets a high reference point for other projects," said Keith Winn, who runs the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program that certifies projects for the council.

Joe Ferraro, architect for the project, said the office, with its environmental technology and "green" materials, has become a model for others in Hawai'i and that tours of the office are given regularly to point out highlights.

"People prior to this were saying they were doing green building, but no one had a standard to measure that by," Ferraro said. "This sets those standards. It makes us look closely at our energy use and the environmental impact."

A group of architects, contractors and suppliers — many volunteering time and discounting products — worked for about four months to transform the old 1,867-square-foot space into the modern, sustainable project it is today.

By the numbers
  • 122 LEED certified buildings
  • 10 certified commercial interiors
  • 1,453 registered projects seeking certification
  • 50 states with projects
  • 12 countries with projects
The dropped ceiling was removed, along with old wiring and light fixtures, Ferraro said. About 70 percent of everything taken out was recycled — including the sheetrock walls, which were turned into compost.

The large windows were made operable again to let in natural light and ventilation. Ergonomic and recycled office furniture was brought in, and the use of carpeting, paint and finishing with low volatile organic compounds reduced the health risks to those working inside.

Ferraro said the project cost about $100,000 and has been a learning process for everyone involved, who can now apply those lessons to other projects.

"I see it as becoming a part of the building code," he said.

Ferraro said developers often shy away from a green building concept because they think it will be more expensive. But he noted that green offices save money on electricity and provide a healthier workplace that can mean fewer employee sick days.

Barbara Bohnett, communications services manager for American Institute of Architects Honolulu, said the green office is a great place to work.

"The thing I appreciate most is the natural light and the fact that we can open our windows," Bohnett said. "So many buildings are hermetically sealed. That just seems such a shame in Hawai'i, that we don't take advantage of what we have to offer right here."

The LEED certification program was developed by the nonprofit Green Building Council as a way to show that a project has sustainable design and materials built into it.

The LEED program requires that projects seeking certification be ranked in six subject areas and offers four levels of certification — certified, silver, gold and platinum.

Sustainable design is defined as a development that minimizes or eliminates environmental impacts in five general areas: site selection, water conservation, conservation of energy and resources, selection of materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.

Other projects seeking certification are the state's new cafeteria at Waipahu Intermediate School; the University of Hawai'i medical school in Kaka'ako; Punahou School's new Case Middle School; a new state energy laboratory on the Big Island; and the planned National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency's National Marine Fisheries Services Honolulu Laboratory in Manoa.

For more information, go to www.usgbc.org.

Reach James Gonser at 535-2431 or jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com.