The Partnership Factor in Great Design Solutions

A 5,000 SF workspace with a big impact – There’s a great story behind the design and construction of the Summit Foundation’s new offices in Washington, D.C. We talked with the principal players to find out about their journey to meet the Living Building Challenge, Materials, and LEED v4 certification.

Image courtesy Perkins + Will/©Eric Laignel

Often, we don’t recognize the background story when we see photographs of a completed project. We get caught up in the visual documentation and look at the colors, materials, details – the aesthetics. While the photos of this new space are compelling, there is more there than meets the eye. As one of the first projects to meet the Living Building Challenge (LBC), Petals Certification for Materials, the mission, and philosophy of the organization, met with the commitment of the design team to develop a space that physically represented that mission and philosophy concerning issues of sustainability and protecting our planet.  

The Summit Foundation is a private, family foundation focused on grant-making in ocean conservation, gender equity, and sustainable cities. They wanted to make sure their new offices also spoke to their commitment to social and environmental causes. From the outset, they wanted to meet the highest levels of certification for sustainability, material health, and design.

What is the address of the project?
1717 K Street, NW, Suite 1050, Washington, D.C. 20006

Who was the interior architect/designers?
Perkins+Will was the interior architect/interior designer for this tenant improvement project in an existing building. The building was completed in 2012 and achieved LEED Platinum designation.

When was the project completed?
The project was completed in February 2016.

What is the total square footage?
The Summit Foundation occupies 5,000 SF.

What is the square footage per person?
330 SF per user.

How many total employees are there and what’s the daily population?
There are 15 employees that work in the office every day. There is an average of two visitors per day.

What is the location’s proximity to public transportation and other amenities?
The project is in downtown Washington, D.C. at the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and K Street, adjacent to Farragut Square. The building is in within a ¼ mile of multiple transportation lines including (3) Metro Stations, and a dedicated bike lane.  As one of the major business centers in the District, there are also many nearby hotels and restaurants.

Tell us a little about the background of the project.
The Sant family knew going in that the design and build out of their new offices would be challenging, disruptive, costly and time-consuming. Led by Lex Sant, President of the foundation, they set the bar very high and throughout the project kept aiming higher. After finding the right amount of space in one of the few LEED Platinum properties in their desired location and a landlord equally committed to principles of sustainable design, they interviewed and selected Perkins+Will, to design the space. The key question during that process was, “Tell us what represents the best in class, what do you dream of doing?” Lisa Weeks, Principal at Perkins+Will, remembers the video interview and discussing Perkins+Will’s experience with LEED, and their passion for great design and cutting-edge sustainability.  It was the passion and enthusiasm expressed in that conversation, that Lex Sant said immediately informed the foundation’s decision to retain Lisa and her team for the project. A follow up in-person meeting furthered the discussion on how they could aspire to more as the project team introduced the concept of the Living Building Challenge as an additional way to push sustainability initiatives forward.

A secondary consideration was the early selection of the General Contractor. Bringing them into the process early facilitated the due diligence on materials required to ensure that all materials met compliance. Through an RFP process which outlined the requirements to meet both LEED v4 and the LBC challenge rand* construction corporation was retained during the design development/ construction document phase of the project. While the design intent was clear, the construction documents were in process as the design team was working on finalizing product specifications. Due to the stringent documentation requirements, the project team had to dig deep to research and select products that would meet the certification criteria. It was clear that the market has not yet reached a level of maturity to meet the demand for transparency this new level of certification requires.

The team persevered, and although there were many moments of frustration, they felt validated each time they vetted a solution that would move them toward certification. They could then heave a sigh of relief and felt a sense of accomplishment. The upshot was that through this process they could identify manufacturers willing to work with them and adjust as needed to reach an approval ready material or product.

“There were many challenges, a substantial amount of which stemmed from the lack of available products that met LBC standards. When we could not find a product, we worked directly with the manufacturer to create a solution. A good example was the acoustic wood ceiling. We worked with the manufacturer and the contractor to find a compliant substrate, adhesives, and staining method without sacrificing performance and appearance. We could successfully meet each challenge because we had a committed and agile team.”
Lisa Weeks, Perkins+Will

Sliding Glass Panels can transform the boardroom into a communal gathering space – Image courtesy of Perkins+Will/©Eric Laignel

Which furniture brands and architectural products did the team specify? Please touch on any notable products, how they fit into the Petals certification process.
LBC Petals Certification for materials has very stringent requirements. Documentation is key, and the criteria are very specific. The design and construction team worked very closely with manufacturers to identify and specify products that would meet certification standards. In some cases, manufacturers made concessions to re-tool and make changes that would lead to approval for use.  One of the hurdles is that for a product to be approved, the manufacturer must provide a list of all materials used. There are often issues around proprietary information. Finding EPD (Environmental Product Declaration) “declared” products based on readily available information was a daunting task and took considerable time to identify, then work with manufacturers to provide the needed documentation.  

“LBC sets very aggressive performance goals and is based on a philosophy of zero impact or positive/regenerative effect. Some might even describe the ambitious requirements as ‘just beyond what we know as possible,’ encouraging teams to pursue new ideas and abandon conventional mindsets to innovate and transform truly. Most importantly, certification through the LBC must be demonstrated by actual project performance, rather than anticipated or modeled performance.”
Lisa Weeks, Perkins+Will

The due diligence on the part of all team members led to the success of the project concerning selection and specification of materials. Using their combined expertise and connections allowed them to succeed, especially when issues cropped up that demanded a solution is presenting a challenge that would prevent certification or derail the schedule. The time needed to vet all the products specified affected both the visible and unseen elements of the design.

Beth Giltner, the Sustainability Coordinator of rand* construction, describes one situation. There were issues finding a floor leveling system that would be compliant. There was a three-week search to identify a product that had the proper documentation. Material orders were held until compliance could be confirmed. Not every client could sustain these types of delays, but the over-riding commitment to the larger goals allowed them to absorb the delay and cost(s). Alternatively, some manufacturers could step up to accelerate delivery time. When the original supplier of the compliant materials for the framing system could not meet the delivery, the team identified a source in New Jersey that was willing to shut down their plant to manufacture a system that would meet the compliance criteria and ship within three weeks.

The Summit Foundation project was the first LBC 3.0 project to use Geiger Levels Workstations and Caucus Conference Tables and Credenzas and Steelcase Gesture task chairs. Other products that met Petals criteria were supplied by Interface, (carpet), 9Wood, (specialty ceilings), Skyline Glass, 3Form Light Art, (lighting product awarded certification as a result of this project),  Ecos Paints, Imperial Paints, Armstrong Optima (ceiling tiles), Mechoshade, (window treatment), Stone Source, (countertops), M. Bohlke, (wood veneer), Dorma, (door hardware).

Is there a mobile work or work from home policy or are most of the employees there all day, every day?
Employees work in the office daily.

The café and alternative work area – Image courtesy Perkins+Will/©Eric Laignel

How much of that space is unassigned?
Everyone has an assigned workstation or office.

Open office workstations – Image courtesy rand* construction

How is the company’s brand reflected in the design?
Two of the major initiatives in the Summit Foundation’s grant-making purpose are directed toward ocean restoration, and sustainable cities. The responsible use of resources is important and the foundation wanted the design to express and inform the work that they do. The decision to meet elite sustainable building certifications (LEED v4 in addition to the LBC Petals Certification for Materials) met their criteria to achieve an aspirational design. They wanted to up the ante and move past generic sustainable design solutions. Achieving these benchmarks for sustainable construction was paramount and consistently reinforced throughout the design and construction of the project.


Image courtesy of Perkins+Will/©Eric Laignel
Extensive use of glass brings natural light into the entire office – Image courtesy of Perkins+Will/©Eric Laignel

What are some of the unique features in the new space?
The design team worked with major manufacturers to make mainstream products “green.” Cooperative building management supported replacing VAVs and installing Therma-fusers to update the air handling system to meet the LBC standards. Custom sliding glass doors at the offices and meeting rooms introduce natural light throughout the interior space.

The offices look out toward Washington, D.C.’s Farragut Square – Image courtesy of Perkins+Will/©Eric Laignel

When the company moved out of the previous space, what was the hardest aspect of the change for people?
There was a period of inconvenience as the foundation had to work remotely for an interim period, as delays in finishing the build out did not allow them to move into the new space upon vacating their previous location.

Please share any illuminating, surprising or hoped for results you might have gleaned from post occupancy surveys.
The staff is enjoying their new workspace and showing it off to visitors. The new office supports employee well-being and productivity. The larger benefit(s) experienced by each team component are as follows:

Summit Foundation:

  • Commit to the intention of the project in advance. If you are not committed to the outcome, you probably won’t achieve it.
  • Make sure you have the right design team and make sure they have the proper resources to achieve the project goals.
  • Develop the project team relationship on trust and mutual respect.
  • Building to greener standards – this is where people with extraordinary skill can show what they can do. Certification was a way achieve a higher bar of achievement. Good intent is not sufficient to go all the way.

Perkins + Will Design Team:

  • The value of rating systems is in accountability and transparency. They are the foundation for advancing ideas of sustainability and improving performance; we need a way to measure our work and the tools we use, and rating systems and best practice standards serve that important purpose. LEED and LBC are both working toward the same end – to fundamentally change the way we design the built environment.
  • Both LEED and LBC rating systems have tremendous value, especially as a mechanism for accountability and transparency. If we can’t understand the value of our design decisions relative to the environmental and social condition, we can’t expect to improve them or learn from them.
  • An enlightened client that is willing to take on the challenges is key to having the support needed to keep going even when the going gets tough.
  • When there is a true partnership, solutions are presented, reviewed and agreed upon in a climate of collaboration; there are the ability and the freedom to achieve excellence in the result.

rand* construction corporation:

  • The team coalesced around educating manufacturers. We found they were willing to help and move forward in the marketplace to transform it.
  • Although the cost and time to achieve the LBC Petals – Materials certification is burdensome, the goal of creating sustainable environments should encourage the industry to advance and meet industry demand for materials and products that meet these higher standards.
  • The Summit Foundation project was successful due to the patience and dedication of all parties to meet the goals set at the outset to provide a space that reflected the organization’s stated commitment to promoting the health and well-being of the planet – its people and its natural environment.

Want to know more?

Project Team:

Architect: Perkins+Will

  • Lisa Weeks
  • Hakee Chang
  • Michael Tam
  • Dave Bloom
  • Carrie Leighton

Perkins+Will Project Announcement

Project Website

MEP Engineer: Integral Group

Contractor: rand* construction corporation

Sustainability and Certification Consultant: Stok

Photography: Eric Laignel

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