Summit Studio


sustainability1Environmentally Responsive Design

The condition of the environment is a high profile issue and awareness of environmental responsibility is ever increasing in the design community. Whether it is because of the moral concern related to preserving the planet for future generations, concern for energy savings and life-cycle costs, or simply trying to provide a healthier environment for staff and residents, facility owners and industry leaders are recognizing that building a community is not a passive activity.

As an advocate for sustainable design, we believe that good design practices inherently promote green design. Working on over $300 million of LEED certified or LEED certifiable projects has provided first-hand knowledge of how natural light, spatial configurations, views, control of HVAC systems, building material selection, building orientation, recyclability of materials, and site selection, as well as other factors, can create an environment that will enjoy lower operational costs, enhance the quality of life for residents, and avoid a negative impact on the natural environment.

Summit Studio has been characterized as a firm of environmental problem solvers rather than a group of radical dirt worshipers.  We are pleased that our sustainable efforts take a formerly extreme ideal into common-sense rational practice.  Our firm recently completed our own corporate sustainability plan that will be available on our new website in a few months

Mark McConnel, our in-house LEED/Sustainability specialist has spent the past decade educating public and private entities and clients concerning the appropriate application of sustainable planning and design techniques. Some of his past speaking engagements include presenting to the Society of College and University Planners, Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects, and WVTF Public Radio “Living on Earth” and “Common Ground” programs regarding sustainable design. Mark also served as a guest lecturer at Roanoke College in Urban Geography and is currently consulting on sustainability issues with the DuSable Museum of African American History.

More detail than you probably want…

Our philosophy for incorporating sustainable design strategies into a project is based in the economic realities of life-cycle cost analysis and in determining the greatest benefit, both environmental and economic, for the investment in each building component.  The challenges of many building types combine with other traditional sustainability issues to provide compliance opportunities our team is uniquely qualified to handle.  We are at our best when solutions are constraint-based.

We construct a budget with the owner based on two parallel sets of values: life-cycle economic benefit to the owner and collateral, or non-economic, benefit to the owner.  For the first value we establish an initial pay-back schedule with the owner, determining a time threshold over which the monetary value of the increased initial expense of a material or system will be returned to the owner through energy savings and similar economies.  For example, the owner could tolerate an increase in 20% in the cost of the mechanical system provided that the energy savings resulted in that 20% being paid back in 5 years.

For the second value we work with the owner to assign priorities to materials and systems that do not have the potential to pay for themselves but are integral to the building sustainability program.  The priorities can be influenced by marketing, public relations, educational components, community influence, LEED points available, etc.  We then set a dollar value based on the potential increased cost of these benefits and work with the architects to design within the monetary limits.

A properly executed sustainability program is completely integral with the project design and implementation but has a separate cost / benefit analysis.  The costs associated with LEED compliance in the building construction can be separated from the “non-LEED’ costs but not without complete understanding of the complexities and interdependencies involved.  For example, the sunshades can be removed from the windows and save $50,000 however we know through the energy modeling of the building that this will increase the load on the HVAC system by 20 tons; thus increasing the initial expense of that system by $12,000 and the annual operating cost by $15,000 per year.

We maintain cost control through active monitoring of the system costs throughout the design.  During implementation, flexibility is key and a willingness to explore options that yield the same results or LEED points through less costly means.

Current LEED projects led by Summit Studio staff (some while with other firms)

Our Health, Winchester, VA – LEED Silver Certified
Gypsy Hill Place, Staunton, VA – LEED Certified
Dusable Museum of African American History, Chicago, Ill – LEED Gold (consultant)
Mariposa at Bethany, Bethany Beach, DE – LEED Silver Certified (consultant)
Whitney Center, Hamden, CN – LEED Certified (consultant)
Imperial Center for the Arts and Sciences, Rocky Mount, NC – LEED Certifiable
HopeTree School, Salem, Virginia – LEED Certifiable