PDT volunteers with the ACE Mentor program

PDT volunteers with the ACE Mentor program

Alyssa Phanitdasack, Matt Pitzer, Keegan Carmichael, and Adam McKinnon of PDT Architects are volunteering with the ACE Mentor Program, an after-school program for high school students interested in the architecture, construction, and engineering fields.

What is a Green School?


PDT recently led green schools presentations for each of our two newest school clients, RSU 39 in Caribou and MSAD 75 in Topsham. The presentations were educational, inspirational, participatory, and the beginning of our green schools goal setting process for each of the projects.

What is a Green School?

A green school is healthy, comfortable, energy efficient, material efficient, and easy to maintain and operate. A green school is located on an environmentally responsible site, is adaptable to changing needs, is safe and secure, and is a building that teaches. The design, construction, and operations of a green school are based on long term, life cycle costs that result in minimized environmental impact, improved occupant health and productivity, and reduced long term operational costs.

Benefits of a green school

Benefits of a green school

How do we design a green school?… With an integrative design process.

An integrative process encourages project teams to identify shared goals early in the design process, analyze synergies between all parts of the project, and explore multiple strategies to meet project performance goals. The process embeds the value and meaning of sustainability into how we work on our projects.

What this means for our work in simple terms is that we frontload the design process. • We holistically understand the existing context. • We set shared goals with the owner prior to design. • We bring all team members to the table early in the design process. • Applying systems thinking, we set up feedback loops and other collaborative procedures to optimize all the decisions we make.

We will take the conversations from each of the green schools presentations and begin to prioritize unique sustainability goals for each project. We will carry those goals throughout each project - weighing our options, considering life cycle costs, looking at synergies between systems, and making sure both clients end up with a cost effective, healthy, and environmentally friendly building that can truly enhance productivity and make education enjoyable and rewarding.

Green Education at the Courthouse

energy savings
energy savings

The Capital Judicial Center in Augusta, Maine, designed by PDT Architects, opened in March. The 4-story 120,000-sf courthouse combines superior and district courts with other court functions on a steeply sloping site adjacent to the historic Kennebec County Courthouse, to which it is linked by a second-floor bridge. The design observes ideal courthouse planning principles, with separate, secure circulation for staff, detainees, and the judiciary.

The project is targeting LEED Silver certification. High efficiency zone heating and cooling is provided by chilled beams and radiant floor heating. One of the most stunning features is the natural daylight that pours into the public lobby and corridors as well as into the courtrooms and workspaces.

Green Education

In addition to the building itself, a comprehensive green education program will be installed in the courthouse later this summer. Green education signage will be installed into the building's spaces to educate the occupants and visitors of the green building features of the courthouse. The signage will be installed in both the public and secure staff areas. Rack cards summarizing the sustainable features of the building will be available in the first floor public lobby and sustainable living facts will be on the digital displays throughout the building. For a preview of the signage, see below.

Green Education1-sml
Green Education2b-sml
Green Education3-sml

Passive House Not Only For Homes

On March 16th, Günter Lang, Austrian passivhaus expert, gave a presentation on the Passive House building standard. The term Passive House refers to a rigorous, voluntary standard for energy efficiency in a building. A project that follows Passive House principles results in an ultra-low energy building that requires little energy for space heating or cooling. Thermal comfort is achieved to a maximum extent through passive measures (insulation, heat recovery, passive use of solar energy and internal heat sources). Günter Lang’s presentation demonstrated the great potential and versatility of the Passive House standard not only for single family residences which are most commonly associated with the standard, but also for apartment buildings, affordable housing, schools, courthouses, healthcare, office buildings, retrofits and entire city districts. Sponsored by passivhausMAINE and AIA Maine, the talk referenced a variety of large scale building types and a variety of construction types to show that there are many ways of building a Passive House building.

Some Firsts and Largests

RHW Tower

First Passive House Skyscraper The corporate headquarters of Austrian Raiffeisen-Holding in Vienna, rising 240 feet, only 60 feet wide, and with a glazed double-skin façade, exceeds our previous perceptions of what a Passive House looks like, and for the first time a skyscraper was designed and built (by Atelier Hayde Architekten and Architekt Maurer) to meet Passive House standards.

Three main factors allow the building to meet the Passive House standard:

  • Thermal efficiency of the well-insulated double facade
  • Use of daylight to reduce electrical lighting requirements
  • Advanced mechanical systems

The World’s Largest Passive House district Heidelberg’s Bahnstadt is the world’s largest Passive House district. Bahnstadt is a model for how Passive House can become the standard for large scale developments, districts and entire cities.

Heidelberg’s newest city district, Bahnstadt is being built completely to the Passive House Standard. The basis for this is an integrated energy concept that was developed and passed by the Heidelberg City Council alongside urban development and other key concepts necessary for such a scheme. The Passive House Standard is legally binding through contracts and was set via a development law mechanism. Additionally, compliance with the Passive House Standard has been integrated into the building permit process.  Special energy consulting and financial aid is available for builders and developers.  Currently, the first segment of residential building is mostly finished, already offering living space for some 1,500 people. The entire residential part of the project is currently two years ahead of schedule due to the high demand. In addition to living space and a kindergarten, the district will also offer Passive House cafes, restaurants, office space, a laboratory, a supermarket, a movie theatre, and a building supply store. (Passive House Institute press release, 30.06.2014 )

LifeCycle Tower

Prefabricated Wood High-Rise Construction (or An 8 Story Building Built In 8 Days)The LifeCycle Tower ONE in Dornbirn, Austria was completed in 2012 and is a PassiveHaus certified high rise constructed with prefabricated wood and reinforced masonry components. Prefabrication allowed for the 8 story building to be assembled on-site in 8 days. LifeCycle Tower TWO, the Illwerke Montafon Center in Montafon, Austria, of the same construction type, was also completed in 2012. The Illwerke Montafon Center is 5 stories tall, with a basement, and has approximately 100,000 sf of floor space. These buildings demonstrate how passive house standards can be applied to both mid- and high-rise wood construction and prefabricated modules.

Simple buildings with simple systems

Wood towers and Passive House skyscrapers will be seen more and more in the future. The double facade will be used more often around the world. A precedent has been set for pre-manufactured Passive House buildings that can be used for temporary housing and then relocated to different sites as necessary. Gunter Lang emphasized that the Passive House standard can successfully be incorporated into any building design (everything emits energy!) and implemented into local policies and codes as well.

  • Design simple buildings with simple systems.
  • Design buildings that passively use the sun, water, earth and air as much as advanced building systems.
  • Design with energy use reduction and a high performance envelope in mind.
  • Be a good advocate. Most buildings built now will need to exist in the future without reliance on fossil fuels so design for that now.

Passive House Case Study Resources

Passive House Database (you can even add your own Passive House project to the database!)

Passive House Regions (PassREg)

Passive House 2014 Awards

International Passive House Association (iPHA)

Healthy Materials

Pam Anderson, Joan Klein, Suzanne Morin, and Allison Zuchman of PDT attended the Healthy Materials Summit in Boston in November. The Healthy Materials Summit, the first to be held in New England, was a giant leap in broadening the dialogue about making a greater positive impact when choosing building materials and products. By requiring full disclosure and transparency of material composition for each product that goes into our buildings, we can challenge manufacturers, designers, specifiers, and end-users to make informed decisions not only about the environmental qualities of materials but also about how materials we choose impact human health and comfort. At the Summit, industry leaders Nadav Malin (BuildingGreen), Bill Walsh (Healthy Buildings Network), Denis Darragh (Forbo Flooring Systems), Tracey Powel (ASSA ABLOY), Heather Henriksen (Harvard Office for Sustainability), and Melissa McCullough (Environmental Health & Safety, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute) spoke about where the market is now, the opportunities and challenges around driving the marketplace toward health product declarations, and the branding of their own organizations around material transparency and sustainability.

Twenty years ago the industry started promoting green materials. That translated into a myriad of products with varying degrees of recycled and regional content. Toxins were addressed most commonly with low- or no-VOC products. Today a more holistic approach is needed to also address life-cycle costs and the health impact of materials. EPD’s (environmental product declarations) and HPD’s (health product declarations) are two tools being adopted by the industry that move us in that direction.


An EPD is a summary of the environmental characteristics of a product based on its life-cycle assessment. The life-cycle assessment is based on information from sourcing and transportation of raw materials, to product installation, durability and maintenance, all the way to repurposing, recycling or disposing of the material at the end of its life.

A health product declaration (HPD), the focus of the Summit, is a nutrition label for a building product. A HPD reports a product’s contents and each ingredient’s relationship to the bigger picture of human and ecological health. A HPD increases transparency by disclosing ingredients and their potential health hazards and reduces redundancy by referencing existing hazard lists, EPD’s and other information that is available industry-wide. Unlike the EPD, the HPD has a standard, fixed reporting format which creates consistency, makes clear which information is reported and which is not, and is free to use.

For more information see the following resources: Health Product Declaration Collaborative Perkins+Will Transparency List Pharos Declare

Hybrid Operating Room

Design was recently completed for a new 1,250-sf hybrid operating room and adjoining control room. A hybrid OR merges the surgical capability of a large-scale OR with the imaging advantages of a catheterization lab. It allows for less invasive, safer procedures, leading to an increase in positive outcomes and faster patient recovery. The hybrid operating room will incorporate the most current integrated operating room technologies. A modular ceiling diffuser system, which removes contaminants and provides HEPA-filtered air, will be hung directly above the patient table. An X-ray imaging system that moves freely in the treatment area will provide more room around the patient table and allow easy access to other equipment. An engineered modular ceiling and wall system with stainless steel clad surfaces will support flexibility and minimize downtime to adapt the room for continually changing needs.

Evidence-based design and a sustainable design approach will support the health and safety of both the patients and the caregivers.

Hybrid OR 3D Plan
Hybrid OR View

PDT's healthcare studio is also working on an ICU renovation, hospital imaging rooms, a surgery center master plan, an audiology center, and a neuroscience research facility that includes exam rooms, imaging and testing rooms, research offices and lab spaces.

Learn more about PDT's healthcare projects here.

Passive House: Keeping it Simple

The North American Passive House Networks’ 2014 Conference and Expo was in Portland, Maine on September 22nd and 23rd. Brian Curley, Bob Curtis, Marilyn Leivian and Chelsea Lipham attended from PDT Architects. To say the least, this was a cool conference to have in Portland, Maine. A few highlights from the conference can be found below. Ideas related to building science and the irrational complexity of some of our building systems were distilled into a lot of the passive house ideas – if you superinsulate the exterior envelope in a cold climate, do a proper job of sealing and eliminate thermal bridging, accommodate ventilation and corresponding heat recovery you need a much smaller (if any) heating system. I am a multifamily housing guy so I loved seeing the retrofits of the existing housing stock in the UK, Germany, Austria, Belgium, etc. be transformed into passive house standard housing for regular people - and the best part, truly using our resources properly for the greatest good by creating both comfortable and affordable housing.  --- Brian Curley, PDT Principal

Keeping it Simple

The primary objectives in creating a passive house, repeated throughout the conference, are user comfort and keeping it simple. A few strategies to achieve that are:

  • Design and construct a high performance envelope by minimizing (and eliminating) thermal bridging, super-insulating walls and ceilings, and sealing every hole!
  • Optimize indoor air quality by using HRV’s and ERV’s for ventilation, fresh air supply, and humidity control, and use low and no-VOC interior finishes and products.
  • Primary Boiler = Triple glazed windows + insulated “heat sink floors” + supplemental heat gain from occupants. (Shading devices and overhangs are critical to manage warmer weather month heat gains.)

LifeCycle Tower

Perhaps one of the most interesting presentations was given by Nabih Tahan of Cree Buildings. His presentation outlined a prefabrication process for an eight story office building in Austria that meets the passive house standards. The concrete core was built first onsite. The wall and floor assemblies (wood structure with thin concrete floor slabs) were built offsite and then assembled onsite in only 8 days.

A video of the process can be seen here:

Additional Resources

The conference was full of many other interesting presentations and ideas including panelized construction, real time temperature and humidity sensors in walls, the introduction of the PHPP (Passive House Planning Package) modelling software, and a Portland area PassivHaus tour. For more information, see the links below.


North American Passive House Network

North American Passive House Networks’ 2014 Conference and Expo

International Passive House Conference 2015

Design and Health Initiative

The AIA (American Institute of Architects) recently released two resources around their design and health initiative: the AIA Design and Health Research Consortium initiative and the document Design & Health Topics.

AIA Design and Health Research Consortium

The AIA Foundation, the American Institute of Architects (AIA), and Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture is establishing the AIA Design & Health Research Consortium to advance revolutionary, university-led research in the area of design and health. The consortium will be comprised of teams of experts in architecture and public health.

For more information and to join the consortium (submissions Due October 15th), click here.

AIA Design & Health Topics

Design & Health Topics is a document developed by the AIA's Design and Health Leadership Group, made up of nationally recognized public health officials, planners and architects in the field, to describe the scope of the architect’s role in design and health. This document outlines a framework for enhancing the health and well-being of all populations through built environment design and policy.

The World Health Organization constitution (1946) defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Well-being includes social connectedness, spiritual fulfillment, life satisfaction, and happiness. These conditions depend in part upon health, and in turn contribute to health.

The built environment has an important impact on health and well-being. However, these links to health—compounded by unique cultural, demographic and geographic considerations—often extend beyond the workaday practices and vocabularies of design professionals.

The Design and Health Leadership Group recommends six evidence-based approaches to health that architects can control through design practices and policies: environmental quality, natural systems, physical activity, safety, sensory environments, and social connectedness. These approaches suggest a new minimum standard of conscientiousness as practicing architects, educators, and interns consider the implications on health outcomes.  (Source: AIA Design & Health)

To download the document, click here.

Backpacker or Urban Condo-Dweller?

At the end of July, I attended the Sustainable Design Leaders’ Summit in Seattle with 50 sustainability directors from architecture firms across the country. The discussions varied from specific project tasks such as material choices, building performance analysis, and post-occupancy evaluations to overall firm sustainability strategies and the role of the architect in advocating for sustainable practices, choices and policies in the AEC industry. Some of my favorite quotes from the conference are:

  1. The nature of all things is cooperation.
  2. We reorganize ourselves almost daily.
  3. Create bumpers, not bunkers.
  4. Are you a backpacker or an urban condo dweller?

The last two quotes are the most compelling, and curious.

Create bumpers, not bunkers

Two things come to mind.

  1. Too much uncertainty creates instability.
  2. Develop a shared baseline of knowledge.

On a design project, or any project actually, it is important to manage the uncertainty. Create enough structure for team members to move forward, and also be comfortable taking risks. Institutionalize transparency in information sharing and team process (rather than working in bunkers or silos). What are your design bumpers? What are the criteria that inform your project? Establish your playground early on. Set clear intentions and boundaries for the team to bump up against along the way to guide the creative process, but not stifle it. (Important to note: You can’t trust the process if there is not one.)

Are you a backpacker or an urban condo-dweller?

Zyliss garlic press
Zyliss garlic press

What is the tool of choice for a backpacker? A Swiss Army knife. A Swiss Army knife is a tool that does a lot of things fairly well to complete simple tasks, but does not do any one detailed task exceptionally. An urban condo dweller, on the other hand, has many specialized tools (a food processor, a coffee machine, a garlic press) to complete specialized tasks.

How does this relate to sustainable design?

Use the right tool at the right time.

During concept design analysis we use simple box models to compare various solutions. We study big-picture concepts to determine good/better/best scenarios. We compare a variety of scenarios quickly using simple tools to set the direction of the project.

We are all backpackers in concept design.

Farther along in the design process, once we have narrowed our choices to the best solutions, we start to dig deeper with more specialized tools. We are urban condo dwellers at this point—we forgo the Swiss Army knife and use specific tools to study certain technical concepts very well.

This is an important distinction. If we jump ahead to the specifics without setting goals, comparing big-picture strategies, or looking at system synergies, we are likely to miss opportunities.

Questions to consider early in your project:

  1. What are the Owner’s and the team’s values and intentions for the project?
  2. Have project goals and team processes been clearly stated to all team members?
  3. Is the project team comparing various options before jumping ahead to the details?
  4. Are team members using the right tools at the right time?

Concept Design Principles

  1. Determine project values
  2. Set clear intentions
  3. Define process, roles and tools
  4. Compare options
  5. Use the right tools at the right time

That sets us all off to a good start.

Allison Zuchman Sustainability Director

P.S. If you are in Seattle, it is worth your time to check out Islandwood (outdoor learning center) on Bainbridge Island and the Bullitt Center (net-zero, Living Building Challenge) in downtown Seattle.

Bullitt Center
Bullitt Center