Lessons Learned

Integrated Design: An integrated design process is critical to the success of a comprehensive green building. Sheinberg attributes the success of this building in part to "very smart decisions made the first day." He observed that "the biggest benefits are going to come from the basic design concept, not later" in the process. For example, the pinwheel floor plan layout was determined early on, and addresses sustainability, IAQ, character, and functional design issues.

While the project team already planned to create a green building, the charrette conducted by Global Green USA played an early catalytic role in creating consensus and enthusiasm among the design and development teams on strategies to be researched and incorporated. Ultimately, the charrette assisted in setting the direction for the building's systems, materials, and appliances. The commitment of the owner, combined with knowledgeable and dedicated architects, was also crucial. "I think the fact this project is pushing the envelope in terms of green and sustainable design has meant that the project team has responded with greater passion and commitment to the entire process. . . . Without that higher expectation, it would have been just another project. I didn't expect this benefit. Everyone involved truly seems to love this project," said Carson. Project manager Carson and architect Sheinberg both were willing to be involved in the nitty-gritty details, putting in numerous hours to ensure that subcontractors met the building's intent—for example, ensuring that they used the low-toxic caulks that were specified and did not smoke on the job site.

Early Involvement of the General Contractor: The nature of a public bid process raised several issues and concerns. Since the Plaza Apartments was a hard bid project, relying on a competitive bidding process at the end of design development (rather than the more typical negotiated bid process where a general contractor [GC] joins the project team early on and provides costing assistance to the team during the design process), the GC could not be involved until the construction phase. Not having the GC on board at the charrette stage meant that there was no opportunity to get input from the person most likely to have intimate knowledge of current market conditions for building products and hands-on experience with the materials. Although the architect did much of the research and legwork early on, he experienced difficulty in determining the best way to document the green requirements, as it was as yet unknown what kind of experience and commitment the GC would possess in terms of green materials and processes, knowledge of LEED requirements, and other necessary details.

To address such constraints, Carson and Sheinberg believe that involving the GC as early as possible, including in a charrette, contributes the contractor perspective to the process and will ensure continuity. If a public bid process or other constraint precludes early GC involvement, they suggest hiring a GC to participate in the charrette, and if that isn't possible, making sure a construction manager or owner's representative attends the charrette and meetings to ensure that the green goals are carried through from design into construction.

Sourcing Green Materials: The constraints of a hard-bid project also raised the issue of identifying enough suppliers to competitively bid green products. In San Francisco's hard-bid projects, three suppliers typically need to be identified. However, it was difficult to find three suppliers for several low-emitting products. For example, formaldehyde-free cabinetry was specified, but the GC's bid included standard manufactured cabinetry. It turned out that the GC could not secure formaldehyde-free manufactured cabinetry from typical sources so instead planned to purchase wheatboard cabinetry from a custom cabinet shop—at three times the cost of standard cabinets. Since the GC had to absorb this cost, the owner and design team agreed to modify the design specs from wood veneer to plastic laminate (p-lam) veneers to reduce the overall cost impact to the GC.

Fortunately, the cost of many green products continues to decrease, making them competitive with standard products. For example, several additional formaldehyde-free particleboard and wheatboard products are now available, which will provide cabinet manufacturers with the ability to source materials to produce green products. Says Carson, "Once this market change occurs, we can do the right thing without killing ourselves or our budget."

Looking back, Carson states that greening the Plaza Apartments has been "worth the struggle. Affordable housing developers already know how important it is on so many levels. We are getting to the point where it won't be as hard. Manufacturers are getting on board, prices are coming down, and products are becoming more readily available. . . . It is finally becoming easier to accomplish."

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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