Solar-powered Lowell Justice Center will be Massachusetts first LEED Platinum courthouse

June 4, 2020 by  
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Half-an-hour north of Boston, the Massachusetts city of Lowell has recently welcomed the new Lowell Justice Center, a modern facility on track to become the state’s first LEED Platinum-certified courthouse. Designed by Boston-based Finegold Alexander Architects , the $146 million courthouse has consolidated a series of courts and service offices that had formerly been located in outdated and dysfunctional buildings across Lowell and Cambridge. The Lowell Justice Center also serves as a new and welcoming civic landmark that emphasizes transparency, local history and community. Located on a 3.2-acre site within Lowell National Historic Park, The Lowell Justice Center serves as the cornerstone of the city’s Hamilton Canal District development masterplan. The 265,000-square-foot modern building comprises 17 courtrooms , a variety of office spaces and a two-story entrance lobby that can accommodate waiting lines of over 100 people at any time. Related: Renzo Piano reveals designs for Toronto courthouse targeting LEED Silver “The justice center is designed to create a welcoming and calming environment, featuring generous natural daylight, warm finishes and public art that reflects the diverse history and culture of Lowell,” said Moe Finegold FAIA, principal in charge for Finegold Alexander Architects, in reference to the quadrilingual quotations and words about justice that decorate the building as well as the natural material palette and artwork that pay homage to Lowell’s textile history. The courthouse is also universally accessible with sloped walkways and offers easy access via public transportation, car or bicycle. Ample glazing reflects the courthouse’s values of transparency while letting abundant natural light into the building to minimize reliance on artificial lighting. The center has also been designed in response to its site and to follow passive solar principles to meet high standards of energy efficiency. In addition to highly insulated walls and high-performance mechanical and lighting systems, the courthouse also contains a chilled beam HVAC system and photovoltaic panels to help achieve performance targets 40% better than code. + Finegold Alexander Architects Photography by Anton Grassl Photography via Finegold Alexander Architects

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Solar-powered Lowell Justice Center will be Massachusetts first LEED Platinum courthouse

Climate change, deforestation lead to younger, shorter trees

June 4, 2020 by  
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Recently published research in  Science  magazine warns that older, taller  trees  are quickly becoming a thing of the past, consequently leaving forests in disarray. Forest dynamics being disrupted like this spells trouble for ecosystem equilibrium and  biodiversity .  While natural disturbances —  flooding , landslides, insect infestations, fungi, vine overgrowth, disease, wildfire and even wind damage — negatively impact  forests , they do not compare with the magnitude of harm humans have precipitated. Consider how over-harvesting trees for more land use has altered forest landscapes. The felling of numerous tree stands has severely dwindled the carbon sinks required to fix excess atmospheric carbon resultant from human-induced  greenhouse gas emissions .  Related:  What’s causing the decline in monarch butterfly populations? Without the necessary  carbon  storage from forest trees, global temperatures will continue to rise and intensify consequent climate change damage.  Climate change  exacerbates conditions through insect and pathogen outbreaks that further compromise tree health and development. In fact,  research  has shown that annual “carbon storage lost to insects” equals “the amount of carbon emitted by 5 million vehicles.” This illustrates how substantial tree decline due to insects can be.  Why are biologists worried about the adversely shifting forest dynamics? As the  U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)  explained, “Wood harvests alone have had a huge impact on the shift of global forests towards younger ages or towards non-forest land, reducing the amount of forests, and old-growth forests, globally. Where forests are re-established on harvested land, the trees are smaller and  biomass  is reduced.”  Conservationists  subsequently admonish that continuing with business as usual will only worsen the conditions that increase tree mortality rates and the accompanying biodiversity crisis. As  NPR  reported, “Researchers found that the world lost roughly one-third of its old growth forest between 1900 and 2015. In North America and Europe , where more data was available, they found that tree mortality has doubled in the past 40 years.” It is believed these worrying trends will persist unless changes are made and new protection policies enacted.  Research team lead, Nate McDowell of PNNL, realized there was a major problem as he studied how global temperature rise affected tree growth and the changes occurring within a forest. Satellite imagery and modeling data unveiled a comprehensive view of the state of global forests and their shifts from older, taller trees to younger, shorter ones. The overall picture is of extensive loss. “I would recommend that people try to visit places with big trees now, while they can, with their kids,” McDowell advised. “Because there’s some significant threat, that might not be possible sometime in the future.” McDowell’s research ties in closely with last summer’s study from  National Science Review , which showcased how exposure to both rising temperatures and extreme temperature ranges have decreased  vegetation  growth throughout the northern hemisphere. The finding upended previous beliefs that  global warming  would increase vegetation photosynthesis and extend the photosynthetic growing season. Instead, global warming was seen to increase the chances of  drought  and wildfire, which reduced water availability and therefore distressed forest vegetation. + Science Via NPR and PNNL

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Climate change, deforestation lead to younger, shorter trees

LEED Platinum Akademeia High School caters to millennials

April 13, 2020 by  
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When  Medusa Group Architects  was tasked to design a high school in Warsaw, the Polish interdisciplinary design studio’s team seized the opportunity to address the perceived failures of the public education system to keep up with changing millennial needs. As a result, their design of Akademeia High School, completed in 2015, encourages a welcoming and flexible “lifestyle atmosphere” where students are encouraged to stay in school even after classes end. Built primarily of locally sourced timber, the school also boasts low energy consumption and has achieved LEED Platinum certification with a total of 86 points.  Spanning an area of 14,369 square meters, the Akademeia High School comprises a U-shaped building that wraps around a central  courtyard . Taking inspiration from urban design and place-making principles, the architects deliberately introduced a sense of ambiguity to many of the indoor spaces to encourage students to adapt the rooms to multifunctional uses. Seating, for example, is no longer limited to benches and chairs but also encompasses sculptural interior surfaces and the stairs of the outdoor amphitheater-like structure facing the central courtyard. The school cafeteria has also been transformed from a traditionally single-use space into a  multi-use  space akin to a “fashionable restaurant” that is open throughout the day for various functions. “This is a place where you can work with literature, meet with a psychologist, wait for parents and at the same time sit at a laptop and do homework, preparing the elders,” explain the architects in their project statement. “We wanted pupils in small groups to learn the culinary art from the kitchen, get to know the flavors and make inspiring, culinary travels – geography with gastronomy in one.” Related: A clean-energy school in southern France draws power from the sun Students can further their culinary arts education on the accessible roof, where an  urban garden  grows and houses beehives during the summer. The herbs grown on the roof are used in the school cafeteria. The rooftop space can also host classroom activities, from biology and physics to astronomy and geography.  + Medusa Group Architects Photography: J?drzej i Juliusz Soko?owscy

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LEED Platinum Akademeia High School caters to millennials

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