140 New Montgomery: The Future of Green Building Design

140 New Montgomery: The Future of Green Building Design

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

140 New Montgomery is a landmark 1920’s Art Deco building in San Francisco and just became the HQ of Yelp. Last week, I took a closer look at its recent renovation with interior design expert Sara Andersen of Perkins+Will. We explored the 15th floor of the building, the home of Software AG’s San Francisco team, and she explained why wellness is a key part of green building design’s future. Would you believe, the building even features a “bike spa”? More on that later.

“Architecture interiors have a big impact on our environment and we need to do it responsibly,” says the green-enthusiast Sara Andersen, who points to the Living Future Institute and its performance-based Living Building Challenge as her inspiration.


Here are some key design features of 140 New Montgomery:

1. The building is certified LEED Gold by the US Green Building Council and features operable windows, efficient energy and water systems.

2. The structure has a narrow floor plate, so you’re never more than 25 feet from an operable window. Each of its 26 floors has its own air handling equipment and natural ventilation reduces the need for high-energy heating and cooling systems.

Sara Andersen of Perkins+Will, 140 New Montgomery, SF - Photo credit: Fresh Dialogues3. The large windows allow maximum use of natural light and all lights have daylight sensors, so they only go on when required.

4. The building’s efficient water system includes low-flow plumbing fixtures and use of recycled (grey) water for toilets.

5. Carpets are made from recycled fishing nets created by sustainable carpet designer Interface. Check out this video for the inspiring story of a triple win: for the environment, the community and the bottom line.

Alison van Diggelen checks out the "bike spa" tools at 140 New Montgomery, SF - Photo credit: Fresh Dialogues 6. The building has a “bike spa” in the basement, featuring a deluxe locker room and shower suite (complete with “140 New Montgomery” branded shampoos) and the snazziest space to tune up your bike for the commute home: the re-purposed historic wood-paneled executive board room, reclaimed from the original building.

7. Most doors from the original building were also reclaimed and reused.







“It’s about wellness,” says Sara Andersen. “When you have healthier happier employees,  there’s less sick days, there’s more collaboration and that leads right to the bottom line.” She says that AG Software finds that the new space helps promote recruitment and retention of its tech staff. Despite its “work from home” policy option, more staff are choosing to come into the office, increasing collaboration and (presumably) creativity.

The Future

Andersen is currently working on the interior design of a 250,000 office tower in San Francisco that features a central atrium, bridges and an inviting open stair to encourage movement, interaction and collaboration between employees.

“It’s about getting people to move…when you get up you change your posture, your circulation gets going, your brain is fresher,” she says. “They wanted to encourage the cross pollination among their groups. It’s being embraced globally.”

Her team at Perkins+Will is also collaborating on active design guidelines with the City of New York.

Intrigued? Find out more about 140 Montgomery and its former role as HQ for Pacific Bell

1. Top tech writer Alexis Madrigal has written an excellent report about the building’s historic and tech significance for The Atlantic. Check it out: “A 26 story history of San Francisco.”

2. KQED Forum’s Friday host, Dave Iverson led a fascinating discussion of the building’s design and history on Forum in March 2014.

This interview is part of a six-part video series “The Future of Green Building” sponsored by Webcor Builders.

Beyond Random Acts of Greenness: The Future of Green Building

Beyond Random Acts of Greenness: The Future of Green Building

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

I sat down with Phil Williams of Webcor Builders to find out how the building industry is responding to climate change by quantifying a building’s environmental impact (water, CO2 production, etc) using Natural Capital Accounting (NCA).

“CFOs of major corporations are saying, ‘before it was random acts of greenness,'” says Williams. “Now I can start to measure our environmental impact.”

As he explains it, a global standard of measuring and quantifying a building’s impact can provide owners, renters, architects, and builders with valuable information with which to make key decisions about buying, renting, land use, building materials, energy systems etc.

As well as the World Bank, the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, closer to home, Climate Earth in Berkeley is working on the task.

Climate Earth’s White Paper “Valuing Natural Capital” states: “The objective of this project is to develop an estimate of the environmental costs of the greenhouse gas emissions, induced land use changes, and water consumption. For land use change and water consumption, environmental costs are dependent on where the activity takes place, and we developed local cost estimates to account for those differences. Greenhouse gas emissions are a global pollutant, and the costs are roughly indifferent to where the emissions take place, and so a single global number is sufficient to account for those costs.” The paper concluded that the Stern Review’s figure of $110/metric ton of carbon and carbon equivalent is appropriate.

“NCA takes some of those numeric evaluations – kilograms of CO2, liters of water, hectares of land – and puts them into economic evaluations that large corporations and nimble companies can look at, ” explains Williams. “These are not just environmental metrics, these are just financial metrics.”

He predicts that by the end of 2014, there will be recognized standards in Natural Capital Accounting for construction, apparel and other retail products.

Find out more about the Future of Natural Capital Accounting from the World Forum on NCA which takes place in Edinburgh, Scotland this November.

During our interview, Williams also explains the concept of making buildings “Future Ready” i.e. flexible enough to add solar, and other energy-making, energy-saving components after the building is completed.

“Future ready is a positive approach, it’s not about adding more, it’s not about ultimate flexibility,” says Williams. “It’s about providing the right amount of infrastructure to afford flexibility.”
This is part of a series on the Future of Green Building, sponsored by Webcor Builders. For more in the series, check out these videos and stories

Read more about Green Building stories featuring Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon and Apple and by checking the Green Building tab above or clicking here

SF Exploratorium: World’s Largest Net-Zero Museum

SF Exploratorium: World’s Largest Net-Zero Museum

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

What’s the biggest and most impactful exhibit at the new San Francisco Exploratorium, opening April 17th?

Get this: It’s not the 330 year-old Douglas fir tree, sliced open to reveal stunning time markers, or the 20 foot tall “Tinkerers’ Clock,” powered by windshield wiper motors.

No. It’s the entire Exploratorium structure itself, an audacious experiment in green building that aims to create the world’s largest “net-zero” energy museum.

What’s “net-zero,” you ask? Simple, it’s a building that creates as much energy as it consumes.

How it works

Peter Rumsey, CTO at Integral Group led the design of the building’s net-zero components and explains to Fresh Dialogues how it all works in this video.

Net-zero energy features include:

Exploratorium Solar PanelsApprox. 6,000 high efficiency  solar panels;

A complex system that brings in 74,000 gallons of water per hour from San Francisco Bay to heat and cool the building via miles of floor-embedded pipes;

A rain-water catchment used for flushing toilets.

Rumsey may be an enthusiastic advocate for green building, but what gets him most excited is the idea that the San Francisco Exploratorium will inspire kids to think net-zero is the way of the future.

“They’re going to say, ‘Wow, that’s one of the things we can do to solve this whole big climate change problem,” says Rumsey. “We can design and build buildings that make their own energy and don’t create a carbon problem.’ As kids grow up and become leaders in society, they’ll be the ones saying, ‘we should just do that zero energy thing. I saw it when I was a kid…it was no big deal.'”


Exploratorium kids & bubbles

Despite much talk about the state of the art green building features, Rumsey says, “There’s nothing cutting edge about the building…we’ve taken things that are ‘off the shelf’ and applied them in creative and innovative ways. We call it ‘state of the shelf’.”

Find out more…

See what’s green in the Exploratorium (interactive floor plan)

Take a tour behind the scenes at the Exploratorium (video)

Listen to KQED’s Exploratorium story by Molly Samuel

Read Paul Rogers’s story in the San Jose Mercury News

Read more about net-zero buildings

Here’s a map of some creative net-zero buildings worldwide

With thanks to the Exploratorium for sharing the many stunning images of the building and exhibits featured in our video.

Why Green Roofs Matter: Paul Kephart

Why Green Roofs Matter: Paul Kephart

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

It’s well known that green roofs are good for the environment, but did you know they can have major impact on your productivity and energy costs? Paul Kephart has been building green (or living) roofs for over twenty years, from Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. We met at one of his Silicon Valley projects, the Stanford Medical Center, and he explained how green roofs not only save in heating/cooling costs, but can increase worker productivity and even speed up patient recovery rates. He predicts that green roofs will go mainstream in the near future, especially in California where companies like Facebook are embracing the concept. Check out Facebook’s new Frank Gehry campus design featuring a rooftop park. Here are some of the highlights of our conversation:

What is a green (or living) roof?

“A layer of soil and plant material that typically covers the top of a structure…We find these on residential, civic and commercial buildings throughout North America.”

Kephart recently worked on the Transbay Center in San Franciso which will feature a 5 acre rooftop park.

What are the key advantages of green roofs?

“They cool the city by decreasing the ambient temperature around the building by as much as 60 degrees in the summer months; they also help us save on our energy costs by thermally regulating the building envelope and increasing energy efficiency and reducing the cool load by up to 20 degrees in the conditioned space…they provide habitat for migratory birds and insects: butterflies, humming birds…”

“We know in a hospital setting..when patients have access to green, they heal 35% faster. That’s one of the reasons why Lucille Packard Hospital incorporated this greening as part of the structure.”

How do they help during a storm like Hurricane Sandy?California Academy of Sciences

“One of their main benefits is storm water management. It’s like a big sponge. When it rains, all that water is absorbed in that column of soil and it mitigates for these flash flood events…They become more resilient to these catastrophic events or more resilient long term to changes in climate or spikes in energy demand.”

What about return on investment, ROI?

Kephart cites the Vancouver Convention Center project which achieved a ROI of four years. Part of that rapid return included the reuse of grey water in the building.

What’s driving the use of green roofs in the private sector for companies like Facebook?

“What we’re trying to do is protect the structure, the building envelope, regulate its thermal performance which means a great life cycle analysis for those that are interested in that bottom line. That’s one of the key components, one of the primary drivers of this greening movement in North America and beyond It’s why this industry has grown 80% over the last five years. We’re seeing a return on investment. This landscape is a non-mowed California grassland..it takes very little input and water to provide a beautiful green space, fresh air, habitat. ”

“When people have access to a park or greenery or look out  of their corporate offices on this kind of setting, that they’re more productive and have less absenteeism. That’s why you see corporate America, like Facebook saying let’s build this beautiful  park on top of our structure. Corporate America begins to adopt a greening and sustainable standard as part of its architecture, it’s a great statement…and demonstrates that it’s possible…California is going to adopt these green measures and it’s going to take off.”

What’s in the future for green roofs?

“With political will and public education and this emphasis on financial return on energy savings, we can turn this around and green our cities.”

This Fresh Dialogues interview was recorded at Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto, December 20, 2012. Camera work and stills courtesy of Lina Broydo.

PlanGrid Offers Solution to Blueprint Blues

PlanGrid Offers Solution to Blueprint Blues

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Last week, Fresh Dialogues visited PlanGrid, the recent Y Combinator startup winner that’s tackling what some call the “insane paper” problem that the construction industry produces. Computer-Aided Design (or CAD) works well as a green and efficient solution for the design phase, but once on the field, architects, site managers and construction supervisors still have to lug around giant reams of blueprints. Thirty year old CEO Ryan Sutton-Gee explains how he had a lightbulb moment when the iPad came out and COO Tracy Young demonstrates their solution. Using the cloud, PlanGrid can upload up to 60,000 blueprints to an iPad, and enable construction teams to edit, update, tag photos and instantly share information as construction progresses. Sutton-Gee likens the on-site photo tagging ability to Instagram, with automatic uploads allowing construction teams to verify time, date and location information at each stage in the construction.

Here are some highlights from my conversation with Sutton-Gee and Tracy Young:

On the Paper Problem

“Our estimate is that $4 Billion was spent in 2011 just on paper in construction alone, which is a ridiculous. It’s an insane about of paper. It’s an insane amount of trees.”

On the PlanGrid Solution

“There are the hard cost savings of reducing paper and then there are the soft cost savings of saving time and reducing rework. On several projects, we’ve reduced the paper consumption by 90%.” PlanGrid CEO Ryan Sutton-Gee

“You could fill up all of downtown San Francisco with paper – that’s how many trees we’re saving.” PlanGrid COO Tracy Young

On Silicon Valley

“We are being used by very large Silicon Valley companies – that everyone is familiar with – to build some of their office spaces. (Apple’s new campus  perchance?) People in Silicon Valley are always up with tech. They’re the early adopters in everything, including us.”

On Y Combinator and Startup Advice

“It was really great with Y Combinator. The most important thing that took a while to realize is that it’s actually not that risky…Even if everything had gone totally wrong for us, at worse I would have spent six months working on something I was really passionate about…That was the opportunity cost… If you’re in an industry and there’s a huge problem and there’s a technically feasible solution…go for it!”

This is part two of our four part series on The Future of Green Building, sponsored by Webcor Builders