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Natural Resources Defense Council Santa Monica Office by Moule & Polyzoides Architects and Urbanists

Santa Monica, California: Urban adaptive re-use and green design are combined to provide a model that both an environmental organization and an architect hope will inspire others.

by ArchNewsNow
September 3, 2002

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) – a pioneer in “green building” design – is putting its philosophy into action. The national non-profit organization recently unveiled final plans for the development of a new Los Angeles office that sets a benchmark for environmentally sustainable commercial space.


For architect Elizabeth Moule, principal of Moule & Polyzoides, Architects and Urbanists, the project has implications far beyond green building methods to encompass environmental and urban planning strategies as well as architecture. “An environmental organization locating in an urban setting sends a very important message in re-using and re-tooling already urbanized land,” she says.


The 15,000-square-foot NRDC office, on Second Street in the heart of pedestrian-friendly Santa Monica, is being carved out of a building that has been occupied by a number of enterprises (most recently, it was Yo San University, a school of traditional Chinese medicine). According to Moule, the building’s new look will “heighten its regional character with references to seashore bungalows, lifeguard stations, and lighthouses.” The office will be a living laboratory, where staff, students, visitors, and passing pedestrians will be able to experience cutting-edge environmentally sound design. An interactive Environmental Learning Center at street level will feature educational exhibits, an e-Activism Center, and retail space for materials to educate the public about Southern California’s environment – an ideal opportunity to take advantage of the site’s high volume of pedestrian traffic.


For the offices above, “the focus is on public and shared spaces rather than offices, meant to gather people within the building – collective not privatized spaces,” Moule says. A major concern for the design team was bringing as much natural light as possible into the entire building – not an easy task on a tight urban site (the building’s footprint is only 5,500 square feet). Obvious solutions include large street-front and rear windows where conference rooms and libraries are placed (for the best views), and clerestories in interior walls. Even more dramatic will be a sequence of rooftop light wells that will bring light all the way down to the first floor. “It’s like being in a lighthouse,” Moule muses.


The building's new design features and systems should serve as an affordable model that can be applied to office complexes throughout Southern California (and, with variations, just about anywhere). Ultimately, the NRDC office will use 75 percent less energy while still maintaining the same modern high-tech standards as any standard building. It is near transit lines, and staff will have bike racks and showers available. The organization is also partnering with the City of Santa Monica and local utility companies to install alternative fueling stations in the parking garage across the street.


Environmental considerations in the planning and construction of the $3.81 million project include the collection and reuse of gray water and rainwater, maximum use of daylight, including photovoltaic cells to generate renewable electricity directly from the sun (enough to keep the office functioning even through a blackout), and the use of non-toxic materials. When completed next year, the building will be a showplace for the most advanced green building design, construction techniques, and materials available today. In fact, it is already under consideration for a LEED™ (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.


“It is a remarkable example of re-use,” Moule explains. “Most of the materials we’re using are salvaged, re-found, of high-recycled content, or renewable or recyclable.” In addition to saving resources by rehabilitating an existing building, the project involves a construction waste management plan to reuse or recycle over 95 percent of construction waste and demolition debris. Materials include wallboard using gypsum from power plant scrubbers, and wood substitutes such as bamboo and products made from agriculture waste products like straw, sunflower shells, and rice hulls – and wherever wood is used, it will be certified as sustainably managed. (The project is even recycling materials from old movie sets – an unexpected advantage to being near Hollywood!) The sensitivity concerning use of products extends to examining the impact that the manufacturing processes and means of shipping the products has on the environment.


Sustainable energy has been at the core of prior NRDC office greening efforts and Santa Monica is no exception. NRDC's goal is to be effectively "off the grid" by producing more energy on site than it consumes through the use of fuel cells and photovoltaic panels. Advanced energy efficiency measures in lighting, air conditioning, and office equipment will reduce energy consumption more than 40 percent below the nation's most stringent energy code. The building will use no ozone depleting refrigerants or materials, the power contract with the utility system will be for 100 percent renewable energy, and an advanced building energy control and measurement system will track performance.


The new office is anticipating about a 70 percent savings in water usage as well. Gray water from sinks and showers and storm runoff from the roof that is purified on site will irrigate the native plant landscaping. A porous paving system will be used on the interior courtyards to allow water to percolate into the ground, instead of running off into storm drains. Waterless urinals and low-flow plumbing fixtures will reduce potable water use by another 30 percent, and toilets will be flushed with purified gray water.


NRDC hopes its new Santa Monica home will send a powerful message to the building industry and the public about the environmental and economic benefits of green design. “Our new Southern California office reflects NRDC’s commitment to improving our local environment,” says Frances Beinecke, NRDC’s executive director. “Buildings cause enormous environmental damage, which is why we are making a concrete commitment to green design and construction. We hope our example will spur others to employ elements of our innovative design in their own buildings.”


Architect: Moule & Polyzoides Architects and Urbanists

Developer: Natural Resources Defense Council

MEP: Syska Hennessy Group

Structural: Nabih Youssef & Associates

Environmental Planning: Environmental Planning & Design

Commissioning: CTG Energetics

Cost Estimate:  Davis Langdon Adamson

Specifications:   Fields Devereaux Architects & Engineers

Project Management: Tishman Construction Corp. of California


Moule & Polyzoides, Architects and Urbanists, has been engaged in architecture and urban design since its inception in June 1982, and became a corporation in 1990. Principals Elizabeth Moule and Stefanos Polyzoides have pioneered a new approach to architecture and urbanism, focusing on physically reconstructing the American metropolis, rebuilding a sense of community, and addressing the environmental dilemmas of suburban sprawl, all grounded in active social, environmental, and economic issues. Their work is known for its respect for historic settings and engagement with the existing city and the landscape.


The firm has an international reputation for design innovation and a strong track record demonstrated in over 100 completed projects that include: houses and housing; preservation and re-use; campus architecture and planning; civic architecture; transit oriented development; urban development; and town planning. The work of Moule & Polyzoides, Architects and Urbanists, a Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) and a California Corporation, has been published all over the world and has been showcased in various museum and university exhibitions. In addition, the firm has received numerous awards for excellence.


The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

(click on pictures to enlarge)

(Moule & Polyzoides)
The NRDC's new office in the heart of Santa Monica will reflect the regional character of beach bungalows and lighthouses.

The original building on Second Street

(Moule & Polyzoides)
Rear elevation

(Moule & Polyzoides)
The new office will include courtyards and a rooftop patio.

(Moule & Polyzoides)
Water management diagram: The NRDC office will reduce water usage by about 70 percent.

© 2002