FCNL's "Green" Building on Capitol Hill

Buildings have a significant impact on our environment, and there are many ways to make them more environmentally friendly. Five years ago it became clear that partial demolition and reconstruction of Friends Committee on National Legislation’s historic Capitol Hill building was absolutely necessary. Built during the U.S. Civil War, the building had serious structural deterioration. As a matter of principle, the FCNL General Committee (appointees from 26 Quaker Yearly Meetings) recommended the use of "green architecture" in the reconstruction process. This wish became a necessary criterion in the selection of the architect. The firm chosen, Burt Hill Kosar Rittelmann, is a leader in this emerging field.

The design of the renewed building employs strategies in sustainable site development, water conservation, energy efficiency, atmospheric impact, and material and resource conservation. Attention is paid to the indoor environmental quality of the building in order to enhance its positive impact on the health of the occupants and on the surrounding environment.

On average, Americans spend 80-90 percent of their time indoors, making indoor environmental quality and connection to the natural environment important considerations. Materials are being selected that do not introduce chemical pollutants into the air. The design affords high levels of natural daylight, and views to the outdoors from regularly occupied spaces.

Many strategies will contribute to the goal of making this an energy-efficient building. Efficient mechanical and lighting system, sources of natural daylighting, a vegetated roof (a meadow that reduces heating and cooling costs while reducing storm water runoff and reducing the "heat island" effect otherwise created by urban buildings), a solar shading device on south-facing windows, well insulated wall and roof construction, geothermal heating and cooling, and high-performance windows have all been incorporated into the design. By designing the entire building as a unified system, rather than piecemeal components, the higher initial costs of some of these environmentally friendly components are offset by reduced costs of other components. For example, the use of a full array of energy conserving elements permits a smaller—and less costly—heating and cooling system. Only the vegetated roof adds a net cost in initial construction, but even that is expected to pay for itself over the years in reduced heating and cooling costs, and in greater longevity of the roof itself. Although installed solar panels will not produce a significant amount of electricity in comparison to the amount consumed in the building, they are included in visible locations as a demonstration project, planned in part to send a valuable message to the senators and staff who will view them from the Hart Senate Office Building, located directly across the street.

As noted in a recent Eco-Witness Bulletin (May/June 2004), many people are not aware that "greenhouse emissions from the electrical power sector are roughly comparable to the transportation sector." In the Washington, D.C., area, businesses and individuals can choose to draw 100 percent of their electrical power from wind farms. Although the cost is slightly higher than traditional energy sources, the environmental savings from this shift to a renewable energy source make this a worthwhile investment.

Over one-third of the waste stream in the United States consists of solid wastes from the construction and demolition industry. For FCNL’s building project, a Construction and Demolition Waste Management Plan has been implemented, with a goal of diverting 75 percent of the waste from landfill disposal and combustion. Likewise, the materials that have been selected for the new construction are high in recycled content. To the extent possible, materials are selected from manufacturers within a 500-mile radius of the building site to reduce the environmental impact of transporting materials over long distances. Many natural materials are specified for the building finishes. Wood trim will be certified as sustainably harvested. Termite-damaged flooring that could not be salvaged will be replaced with bamboo flooring, which not only matches the beauty of wood but is more durable.

Yes, there is some increase in the initial cost. Friends and others have met the challenge of the $6,170,000 capital campaign, and renovation is well underway. Lifetime costs for operations and maintenance, however, will be lower than for traditional architecture. FCNL’s reconstructed building will be a witness to environmental values, right in the midst of congressional offices, for generations to come.

Arthur Meyer Boyd

Arthur Meyer Boyd is clerk of Stony Run Meeting in Baltimore, Md., and associate executive secretary of Friends Committee on National Legislation.