Passivity isn’t a characteristic valued around many office buildings. It’s usually the go-getting office worker who’s most prized. But when it comes to the design of office buildings, passive is increasingly seen as a positive. And that’s a big reason the Passive House office movement is garnering support among stakeholders from health-minded Millennials to champions of structural efficiency and worker productivity.
Passive House buildings adhere to an exacting array of design fundamentals in creating air-tight structures. The result is less energy consumption to heat and cool the buildings and maintain consistent temperatures. Office environments benefiting from Passive House design have been demonstrably proven to enhance employee comfort, health and productivity, while at the same time reaping increased energy efficiency.
The Rocky Mountain Institute, an organization focused on research and consulting on issues of sustainability, reports Passive House design aggressively insulates against the elements, captures solar heat gain in winter and shades from solar gain in summer. Passive House design also provides natural ventilation, reduces temperature swings with thermal mass, uses daylight as the primary light source, controls glare, seals all gaps for air tightness, generates solar electricity and maximizes view.
A trailblazer in the Passive House office movement is Mark Goodman & Associates, a Chicago-based real estate firm specializing in property development, investment and acquisitions. The company is developing the nation’s largest Passive House office building in the Windy City’s white hot West Loop neighborhood. The building at 310 N. Sangamon will rise a dozen stories and feature 268,000 square feet of office space, as well as 7,800 square feet of retail space. It will use 86 percent less heating energy, 46 percent less cooling energy and provide consistent comfortable temperatures daily.
Energy and sustainability
Firm president Mark Goodman believes office building development has undergone a technology-driven transition about every 40 or 50 years. Walk-up loft buildings served as dominant style until elevators ushered in high-rise buildings, whose first generation featuring operable windows for ventilation extended from the 1920s into the 1960s. The widespread arrival of air conditioning brought with it center-core-designed, non-operable windowed office high-rises of the 1970s and later, culminating in the continuous glass curtain wall office buildings that boast 25 feet or more of window lines.
The OPEC oil embargo of the 1970s changed the nation’s thinking about energy consumption, Goodman says. Since that time, the U.S. has grappled with its vexing energy issues through a variety of conservation initiatives and production.
“In addition, many believe that the carbon dioxide gas releases are affecting not only our environment and health, but our weather patterns as well,” he says.
“A major commercial office building needs to be designed with these thoughts in mind. This in my mind, is one of the next major evolutions of office building design: energy and sustainability. For these reasons, when Jay Longo of the architectural firm SCB informed me about Passive House, I immediately embraced the opportunity to learn more about it and consider if for our project.”
To stabilize the climate, efforts must be taken to reduce global emissions, 40 percent of which flow from buildings, said Katrin Klingenberg, executive director of Passive House Institute U.S., dedicated to making Passive House mainstream.
“Passive House construction provides deep energy savings and will enable the building sector to be part of the climate solution,” she says. “ One day, everyone will live in homes and work in offices that meet carbon reduction goals. With 310 N. Sangamon, Mark is helping to lead the way to comfortable, energy-efficient, carbon-reducing work spaces for the next generation of workers.”
Reduced carbon footprint
Passive House and similar construction represent natural next steps in the quest to dramatically improve energy efficiency, Goodman believes.
“This next generation of office buildings will be very oriented toward energy savings,” he says. “Our carbon dioxide footprint should be greatly reduced, maybe by as much as 80 percent, [along with] a very significant reduction in utility costs.”
A beneficial byproduct of Passive House design should be the cost savings associated with healthier employees. Several studies and models point to a correlation between less recirculated air and lower disease transmission. A study led by researchers from Harvard University found the additional first cost and operational energy costs of higher ventilation rates plus energy recovery are more than counterbalanced by the economic savings flowing from a staff of healthier employees.