In conjunction with Earth Day, the American Institute of Architect’s Committee on the Environment (AIA COTE) announced this year’s recipients of the prestigious Top Ten Green Projects Award. The program honors projects “that use a thoroughly integrated approach to architecture, natural systems, and technology to provide architectural solutions which protect and enhance the environment.”

Among those recognized was San Antonio-based Overland Partners for their project—which is also their own office—the Hughes Warehouse Adaptive Reuse. Overland renovated and relocated their office to the abandoned 1917 plumbing warehouse in December 2012. The decision to move was driven by the practical need for additional space for the growing firm and the goal to create a more collaborative office culture but also by Overland’s desire to support the revitalization efforts of downtown San Antonio.

Guided by the premise that the most sustainable building is the one already built, the design team focused their efforts on maintaining the industrial character of the building. Existing elements were cleaned up but primarily left intact, the structure left exposed to minimize material use, and materials repurposed wherever possible. By renovating the building rather than building new, the project resulted in a 48% reduction in embodied energy, a measurement of the total amount of energy used to manufacture, maintain, and dispose of materials through their entire lifecycle.

The project also integrates sophisticated automated systems that optimize the building’s performance, such as shade control governed by the astronomical clock and lighting that automatically adjusts to occupancy and daylight levels. This combined with a 65kW solar panel array on an insulated cool roof decreased the building’s energy usage 73% compared to the national average.

Most notably 1,200 square feet of roof space was removed to create a courtyard that unfolds beyond the brick façade. The courtyard not only provides ample daylighting to interior spaces but has become a hub of activity within the community, acting as a venue for events like live music, yoga classes, dining, and art exhibitions.

“We didn’t intend to pursue any type of green building certification for the project, so there weren’t really specific targets we were trying to achieve for the sake of gaining points. Our goal was to make the smartest design decisions we could and create a welcoming space for our staff and for the community. Along the way we discovered many efficiencies that made the project both more affordable and more sustainable,” said project manager Patrick Winn. “It’s truly an honor to be recognized with an award of this significance—and particularly for just doing what you think is right as a designer.”

Principal Jim Shelton added, “It was an amazing opportunity to work on a project that not only transformed our office and the neighborhood but was able to show that through a holistic design approach we could create a project that was functional, economical, and sustainable. The Hughes Warehouse project has been transformational in many ways.”

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