Green Building | August 20, 2010 |
Does Salem's Building Disaster Give LEED a Bad Name?
Salem, Oregon is a-buzz with the news that its LEED Certified Courthouse Square building and transit mall have been declared structurally unsound. The ten year old home of Cherriots bus service and hub for local government is being evacuated as we speak. City departments are scrambling to lease office space in other buildings, and quickly move before catastrophic failure of the building threatens them.
Sounds like the introduction to some horror movie, but it is true. The Courthouse Square Building in Salem has been declared structurally unsound and tenants have been given 30 days to move out so the building can be closed. The LEED Certified building has been the crown jewel of the city, until recently when major structural problems were found.
No one knows, or is saying at least, what is causing all the structural issues. Cracked walls and ceilings are the hallmark of what appears to be a buckling post-tensioned concrete slab. The concrete was recently tested and found to not meet the specified strength. Garbage was found in the slab when samples were taken. Claims against the architect and the general contractor have already been settled, but the amounts do not come near the $30 million price tag for the building.
What bothers me most about this situation is that projects like this can give LEED a bad name. Energy efficiency, recycled materials, and green roofs don’t do anyone any good unless the building is sound. LEED projects get a lot of press these days, although they are becoming more commonplace, and projects like this can leave the public wondering what designers were thinking. Are they focusing too much attention on being green and not enough on good design?
I’ve heard it said that green design is good design. It takes an integrated team approach to design a high-efficiency building. Systems have to meld seamlessly together, working with each other, as opposed to jockeying for position and space in the complicated web that is a building. Extreme high-efficiency buildings, such as those attempting LEED Platinum, require a more symbiotic relationship between the building systems, even using each other to further their efficiency.
Unfortunately, this rarely happens in the world of municipal “lowest bid wins” design. Owners want, or require, a high-efficiency building, but are unwilling or unable to pay for the work that is required to design one. I am not saying it is not possible to design a green building in this realm, just that it can be more difficult. We have to learn to look beyond the immediate cost of a design or building, to the life cycle costs of the building system as a whole. Ten years is not a long life for a commercial building, certainly not one that claims to be environmentally friendly.
Reprinted with permission from Green Building Elements