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Solution of the Month

Inconvenient Research: Envision Design goes to extra lengths to achieve shorter radiuses.

Envision Design
June 2010

By David Sokol

Envision Design founding principal Kendall Wilson, FAIA, is explaining the difficulty of achieving LEED Platinum. “By the time you get to Gold there aren’t any more easy points—you work your way up the chain to the more difficult credits. But a lot of those credits end up being energy credits in the realm of the MEP engineer.” For the Platinum-certified Generation Investment Management (GIM) offices in midtown Manhattan, a lot of points also ended up in the realm of the skyscraper that houses this 5,000-square-foot commercial interior. GIM is located on the 48th floor of One Bryant Park, the first LEED-Platinum tower in New York.

Generation Investment Management (GIM) offices in midtown Manhattan
Photo courtesy Envision Design
Generation Investment Management (GIM) offices in midtown Manhattan.

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Yet Envision didn’t merely enjoy the fruits of others’ labor. The Washington, DC–based studio devoted considerable effort to sourcing sustainable materials and furniture. The design team shouldered the task to achieve a superlative LEED-CI score, as well as to protect GIM’s famous boss from eco-criticism: “There is a lot of misinformation out there about Al Gore, and we took it upon ourselves to look at materials in great detail,” Wilson says of finding interior ingredients with eco credibility, and which were made within 500 miles.

The extra research yielded some disappointments.

Reclaimed wood from upstate New York initially seemed an appropriate flooring option, until Envision learned that the planks are processed in China. It also nixed Portuguese cork, since it was finished in New Zealand. “You need to think about the journey something takes from its origin,” Wilson notes. Ultimately he learned that the Mohawk Group was working on a new modular carpet tile for its Lees Carpets division. In response the company created a special early batch, which includes 100-percent post-consumer recycled Type 6 nylon face fiber and 100-percent post-consumer recycled PET backing.

GIM also features pantry flooring that includes recycled tires, metal framing whose recycled content was extracted in Maryland, low-VOC latex paint manufactured in upstate New York, and partitions fabricated locally from local glass, among other sustainable finishes. Yet Envision’s greatest achievement may be in convincing manufacturers like Mohawk to experiment.

Another notable collaborator in that regard was Haworth, which supplied the project with demountable glass partitions, X99 conference chairs, and many other products. Envision preferred the look of Haworth’s Patterns desk system, and the Greenguard certification of its Masters Series. So, for GIM, Envision requested that Haworth remake Masters in the Patterns style. Moreover, FSC-certified veneer had come from Europe, so the manufacturer sourced a rift cut American white oak veneer instead; it also met the design team’s request for FSC-certified formaldehyde-free substrate. Meanwhile, for the lounge furniture made by David Edward, Envision requested all the green upgrades, from soy-based form to recycled polyester upholstery. The Baltimore-based furniture maker had never before packed all possible sustainable options into a single order.

Overall, 27 percent of GIM’s materials and furniture were made with post-consumer and pre-consumer recycled materials; 43 percent of all materials and furniture specified in the construction were manufactured within a 500-mile radius of the site, a figure that drops to 20 percent when extraction is also factored in; and 93 percent of all wood for the construction and furniture is FSC-certified.

If the design of Generation Investment Management strikes you as a bit timid, don’t blame that aesthetic on sustainability: It’s not that there weren’t green products enough to create a spectacular interior, says Wilson; rather, flamboyance is “not what a financial institution does. These firms want to project an image of conservatism and steadiness.” In fact, thanks to GIM, now there are more products on the market. Lees has plans to launch its super-recycled carpet tiles, and Haworth accepts orders for the Al Gore version of the Masters Series.

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