The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Brock Environmental Center

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Brock Environmental Center

By Martin Smith

When it comes to green buildings, The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) is no rookie. 15 years ago, in 2001, CBF was the first in the world to claim a LEED Platinum certified building as its own. Their Philip Merrill Environmental Center, CBF’s Annapolis, Maryland headquarters, incorporates composting toilets, rainwater harvesting, and various other water-saving strategies that enable it to achieve a 90% reduction in water use compared to a conventional office building. As CBF is a non-profit whose sole objective is to restore and protect the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, this is certainly one organization that walks the talk (or paddles the babble?) Now, in 2016, CBF has gone above-and-beyond the status quo once again, one-upping their Maryland office with a brand new 10,000-square-foot Living Building Certified center in Virginia Beach, VA. What is it that makes their latest Brock Environmental Center one of the greenest buildings in the world?

Renewable Energy

For those unfamiliar with the Living Building Challenge (LBC), in order to become certified, a building must be 100% renewably powered on site. (The latest version, LBC 3.0, actually requires a building to produce 105% of its energy on site—making it “net positive”). In order for project teams working on ultra-green buildings to actually achieve the net zero energy goal, it is first necessary to complete iterative energy, wind, and daylighting modeling.

The team working on CBF’s Brock Environmental Center used modeling to determine key energy conservation strategies, directional wind patterns (to be used for natural ventilation designs), and optimization of natural daylighting. After the appropriate strategies were implemented in the architectural design, further smart technologies, such as photosensor dimming-control systems that reduce electric lighting when daylight is present, were built in.

Active renewable energy systems should only be determined after a building has squeezed out every last passive energy saving strategy. Taking cues from the initial energy modeling that showed strong Chesapeake Bay winds around the site, the project team decided to go with wind turbines for a part of their renewable energy package. After partnering with the Center for Wind Energy at James Madison University to optimize wind turbine design, and with the US Fish & Wildlife Services to ensure the small-scale turbines were bird-friendly, they installed two 10-kW turbines next to each side of the building. To complete the LBC’s renewable energy requirement, the project team decided to top off the building’s energy portfolio with a large PV solar panel system on the roof, totaling over 40kWp (kilowatt peak).

To see the Brock Environmental Center’s wind turbines and solar panel array in action, check out their own building dashboard website, which shows in real-time its energy and water use generation.

A Resilient Structure

Designing with resilience in mind is perhaps the most important strategy for green building today. What good is a 100% renewably powered, geothermal well HVAC system, solar panel-cladded building if it is completely flooded by a climate change-induced hurricane in 3 years?

The project team behind CBF’s Brock Environmental Center appear to be very cognizant of the future storms Mother Nature has in store for us. The entire building is raised 14 feet above sea level, which should be well above the higher water level expected in the coming decades. There are also no paved parking lots or impervious surfaces located on the site—this allows stormwater to naturally drain into the ground. Even emergency access and handicap areas use permeable pavers that allow water to soak through.

For more details about the creation of this beautiful, one-of-a-kind building, check out the TEDx video below from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s President and CEO, William Baker.