Sustainable Design: Building for Resilience
Increased climate variability and surging population growth are placing greater demands on limited resources such as water, energy, and physical space. Our teams are considering how buildings and infrastructure can be designed to more effectively cope with these stresses and perform well into the future. Facilities need to be built not only to operate in greater harmony with nature but also to withstand the forces it may unleash.
Tetra Tech understands the value of resiliency planning and sustainable design in addressing emerging risks associated with a changing world. We develop unique solutions to some of the toughest problems—using both cutting-edge technologies and commonsense approaches.
As conceptual frameworks, resilience and sustainability increasingly guide decisions in the planning, design, and engineering of our projects. Resiliency emphasizes robustness and the ability to recover, while sustainability considers measures of environmental impact and resource conservation. Both concepts share common end goals in contributing to society’s capacity to thrive in a meaningful way. In this article, we highlight Tetra Tech projects that represent some of the industry’s very best examples of resiliency planning and sustainable design.
Increasing threats associated with storm surges, sea level rise, and higher intensity weather underscore the importance of resiliency strategies for addressing climate-related risks. Tetra Tech is working with clients on adaptation measures to reduce risks to vulnerable communities.
Advanced planning is essential to resilience in Hawaiʻi
Tetra Tech assessed vulnerability to sea level rise and provided recommendations for Hawai’i to reduce exposure and increase capacity to adapt to rising seas.
Communities in the Hawaiian Islands are very familiar with both dramatic weather events, such as hurricanes, and more gradual changes in their landscape, including coastal erosion. Hawai‘i is working proactively to make its communities more resilient through extensive planning and preparation. Tetra Tech worked with the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources to prepare the Hawai‘i Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report, which assesses and quantifies Hawaii’s vulnerability to sea level rise from passive flooding, annual high wave flooding, and shoreline erosion. Our team also provided recommendations for reducing exposure and increasing adaptability.
“Coastal communities need to incorporate exposure to chronic coastal flooding with sea level rise into land use and development plans,” said Dr. Catherine (Kitty) Courtney, a Hawai‘i-based marine environmental scientist with Tetra Tech who led the report development. “In addition, communities need a pre-disaster strategy that involves a carefully thought-out reconstruction plan. How can we be best ready to take advantage of a disaster to build back better, should an event occur? Communities need scenarios that would allow them to reconstruct in a way that reduces risk from sea level rise.”
Tetra Tech used model outputs provided by the University of Hawai‘i School of Ocean, Earth Sciences, and Technology, Coastal Geology Group to develop sea level rise exposure areas, analyze chronic flooding risks, and provide recommendations and actions to increase Hawaii’s capacity to adapt. Some of the key recommendations include practicing sustainable and resilient land use and community development, incentivizing improved flood risk management, and prioritizing smart redevelopment outside of sea level rise exposure areas.
“It’s critical that at-risk communities integrate sea level rise into long-range planning,” Kitty said. “Land-use plans should identify the best opportunities for resilient construction and factor in sea level rise exposure so that rebuilding efforts are not focused in areas that are predicted to be chronically flooded in 30 years.”
Strengthening urban environments after Superstorm Sandy
After Superstorm Sandy, critical infrastructure and equipment in buildings such as the Newport Financial Center in New Jersey were relocated to higher floors. Photo Courtesy of Lefrak
Sometimes communities do not conduct resilience planning until after disaster strikes. The severe damage inflicted by Superstorm Sandy on the U.S. eastern seaboard, and especially New York and New Jersey, underscored the need for urban communities to incorporate more resiliency against extreme weather events into their planning. In New York City, Sandy’s storm surge caused massive flooding of streets, tunnels, and subway lines that resulted in a loss of power and severe damage to buildings and infrastructure. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey estimated its total infrastructure losses at $2.2 billion.
Following the storm, Cosentini, A Tetra Tech Company, assisted the New York City Housing Authority and other entities to deliver recovery solutions, disaster assessment, and long-term resiliency planning and implementation for several storm-damaged buildings and infrastructure in Manhattan and Jersey City. Projects included Waterside Plaza, the United Nations International School, Peter Cooper Village, and large commercial and mixed-use buildings on Wall Street.
“When the storm surge hit, floodwater poured into basements, devastating buildings,” said Douglas Mass, PE, LEED AP, president of Cosentini. “Since most of a building’s mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) equipment is traditionally located below grade, this infrastructure was severely damaged or completely wiped out. Electrical switchgear was coated with salt water and fuel oil tanks were flipped over, spilling hazardous materials.”
In floodproofing buildings, Tetra Tech redesigned building systems to move critical infrastructure and vulnerable MEP equipment—such as electrical switchgear, fuel pumps, fire pumps, and fire alarm systems—to higher floors, raising them above Federal Emergency Management Agency flood levels. These relocations were subsequently incorporated into building codes.
“Long-term resiliency is about planning for extreme future events and creating an environment where buildings are safe for people to work and to live,” Douglas said. “It is about ensuring critical facilities such as hospitals and fire and police stations can stay operational, have reliable power, and be able to communicate. We have studied how to maintain reliable water flow to buildings and conducted wastewater system retrofits—replacing pumpless stations with resilient and floodproof equipment to keep treatment operations running in the event of flooding.”
Planning efforts to make urban environments more resilient should consider both the physical and technological aspects of an emergency response plan, said Onorius Vaidean, director of information technologies with Tetra Tech. “With emergency response communication systems, we add redundancies and diverse designs to ensure there is always a backup and not one single point of failure that could take an entire system down,” Onorius said.
Where resilience asks how to build infrastructure that can withstand a changing environment, sustainability considers how facilities can be designed to integrate with their surroundings—minimizing environmental impacts, waste generation, and energy consumption. Tetra Tech’s growing global sustainable infrastructure practice is using innovative design approaches to control temperature, reduce energy costs, and conserve water.
Pushing the limits of building performance in Sydney
Overlooking some of Sydney’s best vistas, ITS has attracted some of Australia’s largest firms as tenants. Photo courtesy of LENDLEASE
ITS, developed by Lendlease in the Barangaroo South precinct, is part of Sydney’s largest urban renewal project. The three towers provide a combined 270,000 square meters of A-grade office space. The buildings incorporate a diverse range of innovative design and engineering features that collectively push the development to the peak of sustainable performance.
Lendlease retained Australia-based Norman Disney & Young, A Tetra Tech Company, to provide mechanical, electrical, communications, security, and building information modeling design for the three towers.
Our team undertook a collaborative process with Lendlease Applied Insight to design an air conditioning system serving all three towers. The unique, highly sophisticated solution incorporates passive chilled beams in the central zones of the towers and active chilled beams in perimeter areas controlled by a variable air volume system. To optimize system performance, the team focused on the building facades, collaborating with the project architect and Lendlease Applied Insight on design strategies to limit the maximum load on any given facade.
The design process for the facades was representative of how the team approached every solution, according to Richard Pickering, project manager in our Sydney office. “In making the building as efficient and sustainable as possible, we looked at every element in great detail,” he said. “We optimized the technical aspects of the systems, the supply air, the chilled water, how energy was transferred around the building, and the use of heat recovery systems to ensure we were achieving the highest performance.”
Another major design consideration for the ITS project was to construct the buildings with the future in mind. “As building services engineers, our responsibility is to incorporate elements into the design that are truly sustainable and will contribute to energy efficiency and reducing our carbon footprint; but part of that also relates to how the systems and the building itself can be designed with adaptability for future flexibility and to address possible climate impacts,” Richard said.
One of ITS’s “future-proof” designs includes a single integrated communications network for all the buildings’ systems that uses open communication protocols to provide capacity for additional systems and future technologies. Moreover, while the building was initially commissioned for ventilation for one person every 10 square meters, the actual handling equipment and risers were sized to handle one person per 8 square meters, allowing for higher population densities in the future.
“To have a building that is scalable and equipment with the flexibility to adapt to continue operating at peak efficiency is probably one of the most important factors to the sustainability of the building and its ability to remain relevant in years to come,” Richard said.
Our team has subsequently designed sustainable interiors for ITS tenants, including some of Australia’s largest publicly listed companies. Our designs provide modern, flexible, technologically enhanced work spaces that have led to reduced energy requirements and improved staff engagement.
Optimizing energy use in Los Angeles from the outside in
The 73-story Wilshire Grand, the tallest building in the western United States, minimizes energy and water use and has achieved LEED Gold certification. Photo courtesy of Hunter Kerhart
The design elements—and the strategic use of those elements—that go into creating a building facade play a critical role in energy performance. With the Wilshire Grand, a 73-story hotel and office tower in downtown Los Angeles, California, and the tallest building in the western United States, an envelope study performed during the conceptual stage informed an ideal facade design that balances energy efficiency and aesthetics to help meet the project’s aggressive sustainability goals.
Glumac, A Tetra Tech Company, conducted an envelope analysis that addressed a multifaceted design challenge: Create a high-performing envelope—the physical barrier between interior and exterior environments—that integrates the owner’s priority of a design fitting with Class A office space and a 5-star hotel. Tetra Tech’s Los Angeles and New York City offices collaborated to develop design concepts. Our team analyzed numerous envelope alternatives and carefully considered how climatic factors and specific site conditions would influence performance. Data and insights gained through energy modeling enabled the project team to fine-tune the envelope parameters—determining the best use of window glazing, vision glass, insulation, and shading devices—to optimize both the elegance and the energy efficiency of the facade. Drawing on their significant high-rise expertise, our New York City office also provided peer reviews throughout design and construction.
“We developed energy models and assessed the possible impacts of different window and wall configurations on the building’s facade with different orientations,” said Michael Adams, LEED AP, BD+C, energy analyst with Tetra Tech. “Since Southern California is a cooling-driven environment, we focused on the efficiency of the south- and west-facing sides of the building where our cooling load is the highest—especially during the late afternoon when sun penetration is most direct.”
In engineering a final design, our team worked closely with the owner to maximize the provision of windows without sacrificing energy performance. “This required balancing the owner’s expectations with the project’s energy goals as well as the California energy code, which is one of the strictest in the country,” said Kameron Beeks, LEED AP BD+C, a Los Angeles-based mechanical engineer with Tetra Tech.
Tetra Tech also worked with the project structural engineers, as the structural framing for the Wilshire Grand required large columns on the perimeter of the building. “We collaborated with their team to set up a grid that enabled the columns to be placed in locations acceptable to the hotel and office tenants, but which still benefited the facade in terms of energy savings and creating optimal window sizes,” Kameron said.
Combined with other energy-efficiency measures, the Wilshire Grand’s high-performance facade design is anticipated to help save $896,428 annually on energy costs—a 24.2 percent overall energy cost reduction—relative to an ASHRAE 90.1 2007 baseline, the minimum requirement for energy-efficient building design.
Reaching new heights of sustainable design in Shanghai
Tetra Tech helped create a towering structure that is a benchmark for sustainable design and technological innovation in China. Photo courtesy of Gensler
Halfway around the world from the Wilshire Grand stands the Shanghai Tower, the tallest building in China and the second tallest in the world. The Shanghai Tower rises 632 meters (128 stories) and encompasses more than 5,500,000 square feet, including Class A office space, retail space, a boutique hotel, and cultural venues.
The high-profile project has received global acclaim for its novel architectural design and use of sustainable technologies and renewable energy systems. Rainwater harvesting, a blackwater treatment system, cogeneration, ice storage, a geothermal system, 270 wind turbines, and a bioclimatic design featuring a double-skin facade for reducing heating and cooling loads count among the impressive features that have helped Shanghai Tower achieve LEED Platinum certification—a rare designation for a supertall building. But what might be less known is the sheer impact of the underlying engineering of the tower’s systems and designs on energy savings.
Shanghai Tower & Construction Co., Ltd. selected Tetra Tech to provide MEP, fire protection, telecommunications, audiovisual, and security system engineering design for the tower. Our team collaborated with the project architect, Gensler, to develop an MEP strategy that would create a new regional benchmark for building systems design.
“Based on the architect’s concept of splitting the tower into nine vertical neighborhoods, we began viewing the structure as several smaller buildings stacked on top of each other,” said Edward Barbieri, PE, LEED AP, principal engineer. “That became the basis for the MEP design.”
Shanghai Tower’s energy-efficient design reduces source energy consumption while maintaining user comfort and high indoor air quality.
Working closely with the architect, our team helped develop an atrium buffer zone to reduce cooling costs. The building design incorporated 15-story, 360-degree atriums for the entire height of the tower, and Tetra Tech developed an HVAC design that minimized energy use by dual purposing the building’s spill air to provide conditioning to these zones. We also integrated efficient strategies into the building design such as heat recovery systems, multiple central plants for low-energy transport and effective heat transfer, and overhead variable air volume air conditioning systems with demand-control ventilation.
In approaching the project, Ed said his team had four main goals: to create an energy-efficient design based on high-quality and high-efficiency equipment; to reduce source energy consumption; to design a building automation system with control strategies to minimize energy consumption while maintaining user comfort and system reliability; and to ensure a high indoor air quality environment.
Compared to base scheme estimates, the building achieved 45 percent lower lifecycle energy costs and 25 percent overall energy savings, 70 percent of which came from the MEP equipment designs.
“Sustainability goals should be established at the beginning of a project, with owners and architects strategizing with the MEP engineer early in the design process to review options and incorporate the best systems to meet those goals,” Ed said. “We believe in taking a holistic approach to sustainability, specifying efficient systems that reduce a building’s environmental impact while also looking at resiliency and hardening methods,” he said. “We must design better buildings for a better future.”
A commitment to our future
A city is the sum of its parts—buildings, communities, coastlines—and efforts to enhance long-term resilience and sustainability must reach across all of them. Tetra Tech’s community resiliency specialists and global sustainable infrastructure teams are demonstrating what can be achieved through collaboration, creativity, and an unwavering dedication to the highest principles in planning, design, and engineering. By leading in projects that advance resiliency and sustainability, we can continue to deliver the most effective solutions to our clients and help ensure a vibrant and enduring future.