LEED Offices are Really Green, Elegant and Surprisingly Conventional

USGBC office lobby photo

Photos by Eric Laignel via Envision and Metropolis

The LEED Program is managed by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) and has become big business, so they needed bigger offices. The renovation of an existing building was designed by a team led by Kendall Wilson of Envision Design, who cut their green teeth doing the offices for Greenpeace ten years ago. It is clean and sleek, but doesn't jump out at you as overtly green; as Suzanne LaBarre writes in Metropolis:

It doesn’t feel green. The Eero Saarinen Womb chairs in the lobby, the sparkling terrazzo floors under your feet, the crisp white paint on the walls, glass everywhere—and more glass....If not for the oversize logo carved into wood at the entrance like a medallion, the office could easily be mistaken for the cool recesses of a fashion magazine.
USGBC office cube farm photo

It is also stunningly conventional, with perimeter executive offices and cubes in the middle, not much changed from the Mad Men era where their lovely Saarinen chairs came from. That's conscious; evidently USGBC President Rick Fedrizzi wanted "classic mod­ern furniture, light everywhere, and crispness. And it had to be corporate—very corporate."

USGBC office plan photo

But there is a price to pay. LaBarre writes in Metropolis:

Gone is the age of the starchitect, the her­oic megalomaniac, conducting a glass-and-steel symphony of his own composition. He’s been tossed in the dustbin alongside the masters of the universe, the relics of a profli­gate (if nonsingular) era. Taking the lead, sus­tainable design has made a fetish of effic­iency, preferring a team of specialists to a solitary genius.

USGBC private office lobby photo

It is all very lovely, and very corporate, just like Fedrizzi wanted. But is it the model we need to take green design forward? LaBarre is as conflicted as I am:

Does a corporate look suit an organization whose employees find inspiration in Van Jones? Or is that disconnect precisely the point? As much as the aesthetic seems to belie the institution’s character, it’s in lockstep with its mission—to spread green building far and wide. Corporations are among the last frontiers and, by dint of their size, the ideal candidates to usher in change.

But even the biggest, most established corporations are moving away from Mad Men era office plans, and few can afford those chairs these days. It is too bad that they didn't push the envelope a bit more.

A lot more pictures and a great article at Metropolis

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