Built on a tight budget by a team that had never before worked on a LEED building, Alberici Construction's headquarters outside St. Louis evolved during the design process from targeting basic certification to achieving LEED Platinum, with more points than any other project of its time.
Photo © Debbie Frank
Location Overland, Missouri (Mississippi River watershed)
Gross area 110,000 ft2 (10,200 m2)
Cost $21 million
Completed December 2004
Program Office, conference, warehouse, parking
TEAM & SOURCES
Architect Mackey Mitchell Architects
Owner Alberici Redevelopment Corporation
Engineers Stock & Associates (civil); Alpe Audi (structural)
The building has been highly successful by most measures, and its open office layout helped transform the company's culture. It was fortunate that Alberici was its own client on this pioneering project, however, as the team's inexperience led to some decisions that would plague them through the first few years of occupancy.
Primary among these was the failure to predict that, even without ground-source heat pumps, the team had created a complex machine that would require significant expertise and effort to fine-tune and manage. The underfloor air system and natural ventilation controls, for example, taxed the abilities of the commissioning agent, and daylight-dimming controls were only partly working for over a year after initial occupancy.
The project was certified under LEED for New Construction 2.1, which focused only on "regulated" energy loads (heating, cooling, ventilation, and lighting governed by ASHRAE 90.1). As a result, the team overlooked the large energy load from a data center that provides number-crunching capacity for this and other Alberici facilities. Because of these hiccups, energy use during the first year of occupancy was much higher than predicted, though the team eventually was able to wrestle it down to align with original projections.
The innovative site design also carried challenges. The native landscaping was highly controversial among the staff, who associated well-managed landscapes with more of a golf-course look. Based on that experience, Thomas Taylor, general manager of Alberici's sustainability consulting arm, says, "I wouldn't recommend putting native prairie grass on a campus without spending a lot of time with the owner to make sure they know what's going to come next."
And although the prairie restoration on the property was ecologically successful from day one, the team didn't predict the amount of water that would enter from adjacent sites, notes Taylor. Extra runoff caused erosion along driveways, which the team controlled with conventional civil engineering solutions until last year, when they installed a series of bioswales to manage the flow while retaining the site's ecological value.
The project's success is perhaps most evident in the new business it spawned: Since its inception in 2006, Alberici's new consulting arm—Vertegy—has already completed 34 LEED-certified projects. Like the cobbler whose children go shoeless, however, managing its own office remains a challenge for Alberici. Current energy performance data were unavailable for this story because it is still hard to extract relevant information from the building's sophisticated building management system. In spite of—or even because of—these challenges, the team's willingness to take risks and share what they've learned is helping transform the industry.