Since opening in Austin’s 2nd Street District in 2010, the 37-story building Block 21 has been a hive of activity. Its 1.1 million square feet is divided among a 251-room W Austin, The Residences at W Austin condominium, Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater, and a variety of retail and office spaces.
Courtesy W Austin
Working with design lead Andersson-Wise Architects, the client behind Block 21—a joint venture between the Canyon Johnson Urban Fund II and Stratus Properties—has championed sustainability as strongly as mixed use. Strategies ranging from stormwater management and integral shading to high-albedo surfacing, district cooling, and efficient systems contributed to the project’s earning LEED-Silver certification in time for its first anniversary.
A new installation on the W Austin rooftop adds another use to Block 21, and simultaneously boosts its green credentials. In early spring 2012, a partnership of Central Texas Bee Rescue (CTBR) and W Austin installed 10 beehives atop the 37th floor of Block 21. The honey produced within this first high-rise apiary in the city is now trickling into the W’s restaurant menu, bar cocktails, spa treatments, and even guestroom mini-bars. “Installing this apiary is another step in our continuing journey to be leaders in sustainable practices,” Stratus CEO Beau Armstrong said in a statement.
CTBR is a local nonprofit organization committed to saving and relocating feral hives. Beekeeper Walter Schumacher tamed Africanized bee colonies, and worked with the W’s “green team” to nestle the populations next to ventilation ducts and other rooftop equipment. The initial installation of 10 bee boxes are joined by 110 different garden baskets featuring herbs, flowers, and organic citrus and olive trees, although the bees do pollinate flora as far as two miles from home. CTBR also supplements bees’ diet with a homemade fruit juice that replaces the refined sugar water most common to other apiaries.
Stewardship of the rooftop involves shading and misting the hives to prevent heat damage and, to ensure longer-term relief, rotating hives to an area near Barton Creek so that bees can have respite from honey production. (Thirty other hives located at the vacation spot can be rotated into service.) Valerie Broussard, who, as the forager for W Austin and its restaurant called TRACE, says, “We’ve been thrilled with the whole process and honey output thus far, which has been about 600 pounds from our 10 hives.” Forecasting annual production is a little difficult, Broussard adds, because “The timeline of the spinning depends on how hard the bees work, how hot it is, and how much rain we get.” All profits from the apiary are being reinvested in bee rescue efforts.
Block 21 has buzzed with new sustainability initiatives since ribbon cutting. The development team authored a Green Operations Opportunities for Block 21 with LEED-EBOM certification expressly in mind. Moreover, all tenants agree to take responsibility for this life-cycle footprint, and follow the “Block 21 Green Guidebook for Tenants” for construction waste management, indoor air quality, and resource efficiency. The publication was produced by Austin-based sustainability consultant CMPBS.
Sourcing plays a large role in Block 21’s ecologically responsible operations and maintenance, and to that end, the launch of the rooftop apiary is quintessentially locavore. The setup should only improve in time, too. At W Austin specifically, in addition to the sweet rooftop installation, Broussard reports that TRACE has begun harvesting herbs grown in house—and most likely pollinated by its black-and-yellow residents. Her colleague Drew McQuade, general manager of the hotel, also notes that an internal campaign that helps employees identify materials for recycling and composting has recently pushed landfill diversion rates to 70 percent.
W Austin’s apiary illustrates the lesson that sustainable design does not end with a building’s ribbon cutting. It may also prescribe a best practice to be replicated elsewhere: Schumacher expects his bees to densify blooms within a 2-mile radius of Block 21; moreover, a July report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science concluded that bee population coincides with number of flora. If proximity of bees improves plant survival, then the creators of future sustainable landscapes and green roofs may want to identify the apiary nearest their projects to guarantee success—or install one themselves.