We enjoyed being part of Peerless Rockville's "Extreme Green Tour" of the newly completed LEED-certified Tower Oaks building (at Wootton Parkway and Tower Oaks Boulevard). The tour was photographed by Dean Evangelista, whose photos appear below, along with my commentary.
We were given an overview of the Tower Companies' architectural philosophy by Jeffrey Abramson (right) of the Tower Companies, and a tour of the building by David Borchardt (left), the Director of Sustainable Development. Mr. Abramson spoke about having read an article in 1997 which stated that the commercial building industry was responsible for 40% of the pollution in America, an eye-opening moment that made him determined to redefine the way buildings are thought of and constructed in the US. The Tower Companies focused on two main areas in developing the Tower Oaks building: wise use of natural resources such as energy, water, and materials which are not harmful in an indoor environment, and "fulfillment of desires," designing a building that would help the people who inhabit it to achieve fulfillment, to feel refreshed and energized at work -- to "elevate the human experience."
The tour began in the lobby, a lovely spacious area with floor-to-ceiling windows on the east and west sides (the entrance faces due east, in accordance with the principles of Vedic Architecture
), a floor of Tennessee pink marble, timer-driven lighting and air-quality systems, and plentiful greenery inside and out.
Dave Borchardt pointing out many of the features that led to Tower Oaks' LEED certification: water-saving fixtures in the gym, drywall with recycled content, carpet of natural wool, corn-based wall fabric, office doors with a core made from discarded wheat, and sound insulation in walls from post-consumer denim (discarded during production).
Flowering plants and greenery in pots and garden areas throughout the building lend it an air of tranquility.
Along with the lush green areas on this floor, we also learned about more of the green features in the office area, including the use of Interface carpet tiles (recycled and recyclable), FSC-certified wood from a managed forest in the partitions, wall paneling of Shadow Stone (seen in the photo), a commercial product made from quarried stone scraps, and office lights which employ "daylight harvesting," meaning they will dim if the light from outside is bright enough to compensate. Mr. Borchardt noted that in March, when the office was surrounded by recently-fallen snow, lights on the entire floor dimmed.
The tour concluded with a word from Mayor Susan Hoffmann:
"A clean and green Rockville is my goal, my ambition --my #1 priority really-- I want Rockville to become the greenest, cleanest city in the world... Every decision we make in the City, whether we're looking at new vehicles, at new materials, all of the things that impact the environment and our carbon footprint, is made with that goal in mind... Kudos to Tower Companies and Mr. Abrahamson, who builds the way he does because it's the right thing to do. I know the slogan here is "Doing the right thing never looked so good," and this is the proof of that. Look how magnificent this building is, and it's also the cleanest, healthiest building you've probably ever been in."
- Rockville Mayor Susan Hoffmann
Other energy-saving aspects of the building include:
Gym and locker rooms available for employees utilize low-flow fixtures and showerheads. In addition,6,000 gallons a day of air-conditioner condensate is recycled and used to water the garden area around the building.
The kitchen and eating area on the 9th floor features cabinets of bamboo, Icestone recycled glass/concrete countertop, recycled glass flooring, and EnergyStar appliances throughout. Eating booths are made of bamboo and covered with a corn-based fabric.
The tour included a model of what Tower Companies would like to implement across the street, including a parking garage topped by a huge array of photovoltaics to power it. As of 2009, they were unable to do so because of the cost (and lack of incentive from federal, state and local government) to do so.
Before the tour of Tower Oaks, Jim Doman, a carpenter certified to do MD Home Energy Performance audits, gave a talk about typical sources of energy loss in homes - including old refrigerators (on average, 8% of total electricity use is for refrigerators), drafts through windows in historic homes (solved with zinc weatherstripping, as at Frieda's cottage, sealing upper sash & weight pockets, adding storm windows), open fireplace dampers, and airflow through spaces around wires, outlets, and recessed lighting.