Designing a truly green building is a frequently disputed tenet of architecture. What does it mean exactly to be ‘green’? Sustainability is defined, yet the comprehension and implementation of sustainability is constantly shifting, responding to environmental changes, technological advancement, and our evolving philosophy on what it means to be sustainable.  At Lionakis, we embrace this dynamic discipline and perceive sustainable architecture not merely as a responsibility, but an opportunity to create lasting and meaningful places. A great tool, or framework, for employing sustainability strategies is green building rating systems. Certification programs such as LEED, CHPS, and SITES have helped standardize sustainable architecture. We most frequently participate in LEED, although have several CHPS and SITES projects as well. We are also uniquely positioned with our in-house Sustainability Studio to incorporate sustainability strategies on all projects regardless of green building certification. An excellent example of sustainable design at Lionakis is the Sonora Courthouse project.

Achieving LEED Silver, the historic Sonora Courthouse replacement project is a prime example of practical, sustainable design in civic architecture. The project team focused on stewardship of the site and community, envelope transparency, sustainability and local material procurement, and cohesive incorporation of the building into the wider Justice Campus. The project featured several notable sustainability strategies to strengthen building habitability and resiliency while reducing environmental impact. The Sonora Courthouse project, located on a gorgeous 188,107 square foot property, maintains 37.83% of open space, and the site plan was designed to successfully preserved numerous old trees that exist on the site.  Larger landscape areas allow for increased gray water infiltration, which in turn replenishes the local water table and reduces stormwater runoff. Addressing the overwhelming impact of transportation emissions, the project site is located within a 1/4-mile walking distance from a local transit center that accommodates four bus lines. The building’s proximity to the transit center encourages the use of public transit and reduces pollution due to individual automobile use. Of the 158 parking spots included on-site, 5% or eight spots are designated preferred parking for low-emitting fuel vehicles. These spaces are close to the main entrance of the building, a subtle benefit for drivers using more sustainable vehicular transit.

With water scarcity a stark reality in California, the project team emphasized both outdoor and indoor water use reduction. Utilizing the Water Sense water budget tool, the landscape team reduced outdoor potable water demand 68.49% from calculated baseline conditions with an evapotranspiration rate (ETo) of 7.9. Evapotranspiration is the combination of evaporation and plant transpiration into the atmosphere. The water sense budget tool is used to estimate the (ETo) in inches per month for the critical month of the year, based on the project’s zip code. This rate can vary based on sunshine, wind, humidity, and temperature. Further, the project achieved a 39% reduction from the baseline for indoor potable water consumption. Each indoor fixture was selected to target a 20% reduction from the EPA requirements. The project team accomplished this ambitious target by choosing low-flow lavatories, break room/kitchen sinks and showers, as well as water-conserving fixtures.

The project team approached energy efficiency and passive design strategies on a holistic level.  The building orientation, notably an east-west configuration, was determined based on the desire to reduce energy use through passive heating and cooling. A whole building energy simulation was conducted to assess the projected energy savings that the project could achieve prior to the construction. This project demonstrated a 38.49% energy savings in comparison to the baseline. To further reduce energy use, the project installed 100% LED fixtures, which are much more efficient than fluorescents or incandescent lights. The project team integrated a commissioning process strategy intended to ensure that the project meets both design intent and the owner’s operational needs. The value of the commissioning process lies in its ability to track overarching goals and objectives, specifically regarding building systems performance. The process improves planning and coordination, leading to fewer corrective actions needed during construction, reduced energy consumption during building operation, and lower operating costs.