Sunday, December 30, 2012

Great Reads of 2012, Towards a Zero Energy Home

     Another great read on architecture and sustainability applied in action...
     Check out Towards a Zero Energy Home by Scott Gibson and David Johnston. While a few years old, it's another book recommendation I want to share as we exit 2012 and segue into 2013.
     Whether a curious homeowner looking to renovate, add on or build-new, or a seasoned design and building professional, this is one of the best books I've come across in the last year or so.  It offers a pragmatic overview of why Zero Energy Homes are important, what they are and offers fascinating case studies from all over the country of how people just like us approach them.  Especially interesting is the article towards the end on the Pill-Maharam house completed a few years ago in Charlotte, Vermont.
     The book offers direction towards better energy efficient  high performance home design, with practical explanations, ample illustrations and real world experiences of people doing their best within their means to lessen their impact and live more sustainably.  What we're doing together really is a work in progress.  We're trying hard and working to do better in 2013.  The next generation deserves we give it our very best! With books like this we can't help but be well supported to do better.
     Have you read it?  What did you think?  I read while flying across country in one sitting.  It was a long but worthwhile flight where I ended up underlining and tagging many pages for future reference.  I don't normally gobble up books like this so quickly but I couldn't help it.  It was like I was reading about my everyday professional life as an architect seeking new, cutting edge information.  Anyway, enjoy the read if you come across it in 2013.  I hope you do!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Workplaces as Collaboration Zones: Fostering Creativity and Innovation

Wordle: More workspace design workclouds  I've been reading a lot lately about workspaces as we know it.   As technology enables ever more un-bundling of traditional ways of doing business, increasing the ease of nomadic behaviors, spreading us apart from one another in so many ways, re-evaluating the role of workplaces in powering work cultures forward is imperative.  The workplace plainly needs to grow up and better connect to the times. 
     Who knows in twenty years will we even need offices as we understand them?  Maybe you're already wondering that today when you look around your offices at your wall offices, cubicle farms, conference rooms, cafeterias, open work areas, server rooms (what's a server room anyway...? Do they still exist?) and on and on.  
     Many of us over the last few years increasingly work remotely some of the time from our offices in Starbucks, Panera Breads, LIbraries, our homes, CoWorking storefronts, our kids basketball games, camping trips, the beach, our living room.  Some of us work completely out of spaces like these most of the time, going onsite only brief amounts of time in more of a consultative mode, visiting the home office or client's work sites.  This latter untethered work behavior is likely to become more the norm in the years to come.  Are you ready for this?
     Your people, their salary, benefits and what not dominate your yearly costs.  Likely your facilities, your actual offices, real estate costs, fixed equipment, hardware, software, furniture etc. figure in a much smaller piece of the pie, like somewhere close to 15% or less.  Like your people, who you hope to be high performing, is your workplace high performing, relevant to your business needs of today and tomorrow?  Especially knowing how form follows function or in another way, what the work is at your business and is that work and its business needs aligned really with your space?  Are your people working with the best resources or is there a mismatch?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Workplace 2013 and Beyond - Do you have vision and a plan?

It's back to school time so with that it's time to get those 2013 plans in place.  What better time than now to re-examine how your facilities and workplaces operate? Can you do better?  I bet you can!

Check out our questions below.  We offer them to you to ponder.  whether you're in the C-suite, facilities, HR, IT, Finance if afterwards you're left realizing your workplace and facilities have some issues please don't hesitate to contact us.  Maybe we can help you sort them out, assess your situation more clearly, develop and plan for success together.  If we can't help you we'll find someone in our extensive network of expert professionals who can.

Their goal is to help make our workplaces in 2013 a better, more effective  and higher performing with stronger sense of community and purpose, serving the big vision of why you come to work each day.  If these questions help you get there, sparking the necessary conversations around conference tables, board rooms so be it.  They're doing their job!

The Questions:
- Are you looking at your 2013 financial and staffing projections and do you see too little or too much seating, workstations or offices around you?  Do you have enough storage, warehouse space, production areas? Is that a big deal? Will this hurt or hamper you in the coming year.

- Is your Real Estate footprint to big?  Do you have space or property you could re-purpose to rent others or sell?  You'd be surprised how you can downsize work areas, up the amount of collaboration space and reduce your Real Estate footprint.

- Is your office in the right location to serve your business, your customers effectively?  Do you have the right site services, enough parking, the right kinds of visibility etc.?

- Are you wondering and worrying how to attract and retain employees in the coming year to get the work done you're forecasting? Look around your workplace with their eyes.  Would you want to work here?  How could it be different, better?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Using 3Form Varia EcoResin in Creating a High Performance Interior

Dear 3Form:

We wanted to say thanks for making such spectacular products inspired by nature in your Varia Eco-Resin panels. They really make a difference in adding a special quality to a space, and in the case for the project we're working on, helping bring our client National Life Group's sustainably minded brand DNA to the forefront.
We specified the Ginkgo leaf pattern with the 200.11.01 Ready to Go hardware system in a 3/8" panel cutdown from a 4'x8' panel. They provide ethereal translucency and help distinguish "front yard" areas serving major business unit neighborhoods. We also used them as space dividers as such combined with low seating and planters between a major hallway and a collaboration / hotelling zone. A few fallaway remainder pieces were incorporated into a reception desk upmounted screen which really worked out well.
Jane Walsh and Rene Clement from 3Form, your Northeastern Regional reps and sales team, were very helpful throughout the project. For more check out this link

Thanks 3Form!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Energy Efficient Mortgages, A Smart Choice for Homeowners?

     We recently learned about a relatively new concept in home mortgages focused on energy efficiency, the Energy Efficiency Mortgage or (EEM).  Such mortgages offer homeowners looking at buying new homes and some cases rehabs additional financing choices beyond conventional mortgages.  Energy efficiency mortgages recognize the value of a home's energy efficiency performance in the actual mortgage.  For savvy eco-conscious and green consumers considering both purchase price and long term operational costs of owning and maintaining a home with this kind of loan might be worth learning more about.
     For us, great residential design is about designing beautiful homes which resonate with a family's values, hopes, dreams and required functions.  It also encompasses integrating energy efficiency and renewable energy options into the process where feasible, financially and practical with a longer term vision in mind.  
     Given today's record high prices at the pump and an unclear energy cost future such thinking is extremely practical and possible.  Who wouldn't want more predictability in energy costs from year to year rather than facing uncertainty with the onset of every Winter? With the addition of Energy Efficient Mortgages into the mix perhaps this will help further mainstream adoption of such practices.
     These loans "give borrowers the opportunity to finance cost-effective, energy saving measures as part of a single mortgage and stretch debt-to-income qualifying rations on loans thereby allowing borrowers to qualify for a larger loan amount and a better, more energy efficient home." (Energy Star - Energy Efficient Mortgages) In short these loans give potential homeowners greater buying power and leverage in improving a home's performance.
     EEM programs are available through Energy Star lending partners, HUD's FHA and the Department of Veteran's Affairs.  The FHA program also has the Rehab option of doing an EEM through it's 203(k) rehab mortgage insurance program. The program requires compliance with mandatory energy conservation standards upgrading the homes thermal efficiency through added insulation, weatherstripping, air-sealing openings as well new HVAC systems meeting certain criteria.  The required criteria date from 1992 or before so the bar isn't very high performance wise.  Along with the other programs, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also offer energy efficient mortgages.
     We contacted a few EcoBroker certified Realtors certified in Vermont to see if they'd heard of this program and had any success with it. I spoke with Andy Cochran an EcoBroker and broker manager from Lang, McLaugry, Spera in South Burlingtion.  He hadn't yet heard of it.
     We spoke with Theresa Merelman of Stowe Realty, a Green certified broker in Stowe through the National Associate of Realtors.  She also hadn't yet heard of any EEM loans happening but was hopeful with the steady but slow recovery buyers might find the program helpful.  (Note the link to goes to Theresa's Green Resource page...It's pretty helpful).
    Efficiency Vermont, which doesn't have information about EEM loans on its website does have a great part of its site devoted to helping Vermonter's Building or Buying a Home.  The site gives an overview of the value of considering building or buying Energy Star homes, information about the Vermont Energy Star and Energy Code Plus programs it runs.
    We  have a few calls into some other Vermont realtors and brokers to find out if they've heard of the EEM program or others like it.  We'll add more information to this post when it becomes available.  Our goal is provide helpful information to homeowners considering buying, building or adding on to new homes or renovating existing ones, especially if they're thinking about energy efficiency and conservation measures.
     Remember, next time your thinking of doing a mortgage, ask your broker about an Energy Efficient Mortgage and don't forget to check out Efficiency Vermont's Residential side of its website for the latest information about incentives, weatherization programs, qualified contractors.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

National Life Group VBSR mixer

Chris Graff, National Life VP for Communications speaking
to gathered guests in the executive office area foyer.
     Last week Thursday March 21, National Life Group hosted a Networking-Get Together for VBSR (Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility).  Chris Graff, VP for Communications for National Life welcomed over a 100 people from the VBSR, business and legislative community.  Arocordis Design and a host of other businesses were sponsors.
     Creative Office Pavilion's Vermont dealership, a Herman Miller distributor, Arocordis Design, and Office Environments of Vermont, the  Haworth dealer for architectural walls used on the project were the key design team for the project.
     Chris and then Tim Shea, 2nd VP of Facilities and Contracting shared why they were transforming their offices to a model collaborative, energy efficient and high performance workplace in  two and soon to be three floors (approximately 140,000 square feet) in their classic late 50's office building on the National Life campus overlooking downtown Montpelier.  They spoke about their desire to create a workplace which in its very design embraced National Life's mission, values and brand promise helpful in attracting and retaining staff and connecting visitors to the energy of the company.
     They described how its business area work spaces, originally conceived during the tenure of George Aiken in the 1950's with office workstations dating from the 70's and early 80's, no longer met the business needs of their 21st century workforce.  State of the art in the 1970's, tall 80" high Herman Miller workstations, perimeter offices severely limited today's necessary collaborative team based interactions, played havoc with heating and cooling systems and severely limited the beautiful views to the surrounding bucolic hills and valleys.  Outmoded organizational space standards for office and work area sizes were entitlement based rather than performance based as is more the norm today.
View from front yard down with a variety of informal  and
open work areas to secure access areas behind
movable architectural walls.
     Chris and Tim continued to describe the key aspects of the space and then tours were given to the overflow crowd who exhibited tremendous enthusiasm in what they saw.  For more photos and information about the project click on this link to our Commercial & Institutional project section.  
     We'll be writing more about the project at a later time as it's still under construction and design given the size of the project. So stay tuned and check back in a couple of weeks.
     If you'd like more information about the workplace strategies and more in depth project detail don't hesitate to reach out to us.  We'd like to help others in the same way we're helping National Life!


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Notable Workplace Design Trends

    The high performing workplace, like the complicated world we live, work and play in is isn’t necessarily simple to achieve.  Such a workplace reflects the need to soundly integrate work processes, physical settings and furniture along with technology in service to the overall business needs of the organization and its larger mission.  It’s also hard work and demands constant organizational engagement over time.
     Rather than talk about the workplace of the future, a term routinely used over the last forty years, we believe it’s important to focus on creating and cultivating workplaces which promote collaboration, innovation and a sense of entrepreneurship aligning with an organization’s mission, brand and values.
     The following trends are vital to consider in the coming years in the design of the enduring high performing workplace.   They are adapted from a number of sources as well as our own experience.

  1. Integrated workplace solutions:  Integration of architecture, interiors, operational processes, branding, information technology, furniture and office systems
  2. Sustainability Action: More direct integration of sustainability concerns in workplace design, ongoing operations reinforces employee engagement and brand strength.  Also supports lower operational costs through energy efficiency, resource conservation.
  3. Branding & Storytelling: Company wide core values, history and brand promise reflected in physical design of work space, finish and color selection along with media and wall graphics.
  4. Motivation, Opportunity, Inclusiveness: It’s not about carrots and sticks, but motivating employee’s sense of purpose, desire for advancement and organizational engagement, all helping in attracting and retaining quality staff. Workplace design echoes and amplifies the strengths of a diverse workforce in reinforcing employee engagement.
  5. Collaboration: Adapt best practices in collaborative focused space planning, space design and use of technology to workstation design, meeting and teaming spaces appropriate to business needs.
  6. Mobility and Virtual Work: Workplaces support off site workers in alternative work settings, whether home, co-working spaces, telecommuting, collaborative telepresence.  Workplaces also support mobile workers by providing spaces for engagement such as hotel spaces, touchdown areas as well as use collaborative technology to connect while off site.  Address and non-address spaces will be come more prevalent.