Archive for the ‘Office’ Category

Bio-Hacking the Office Environment: “Safe Haven”   Leave a comment

Bio-Hacking the office environment:   Safe Haven

When the mind connects with some visceral feeling from the outdoor experience, it excites the brain.  Sending positive  messages from inside a building that stimulate the brain is bio-hacking and believed to be a powerful counterpoint to both the old vanilla office interior and the new trendy, but sometimes equally ineffective, splashes of color,  unnecessary creature comforts and uncoordinated sensory blitz.  Dennis Kowal Architects designs WELL buildings that intentionally interact with the human spirit. 

An example of a good  bio-hack is the bio-entrained  concept of a “safe haven”.  Wolves love a den and us humans experience some of that same feeling of safety  when we are contained on three sides, preventing someone from sneaking up behind us.  Much like a childhood memory of lying in a tent and watching the rain through open flaps, a similar enclosed refuge inside a building taps into that native and pleasant instinct of a haven.

A three-sided alcove appeals to our memories of caves, dens and protected porches.

The “Safe Haven” creates security and safety, much like comfort-food brings familiarity at mealtime.  When properly designed, it is almost impossible to not be drawn into this lair and sit for a meet or just relax for some solo thinking.

The Dennis Kowal Architect’s interiors department created this wood-trimmed alcove to accept almost any furniture arrangement.  The same alcove was treated differently in various locations around the building and has proven to be a successful spontaneous collaboration avenue.   Some contain work tables, white boards and tete-a-tete seating while other alcoves offer lounging furniture and a place to charge a tablet or cell phone.

We dare you to walk by and not want to “try it out”.  Once seated, the next person arrives and ‘voila’, you have the beginnings of collaboration, discussion or new connections.

Bio-hacking the Office Environment: Lighting   Leave a comment

Bio-Hacking the office environment:   Lighting

Dennis Kowal Architects designs WELL buildings meant to improve productivity and health by resonating with biological systems in a positive way…much like nature.  Bio-Hacking is feeding helpful messages, like, “it is the peak of daytime and a good time to work”, to the brain.   Circadian lighting is one such hack that mimics the 480 nm blue light wavelength of the bright blue sky and helps the body to set a diurnal rhythm.   Office interior lighting that synchronizes with natural light patterns reinforces a schedule through entrainment.   By contrast, recent studies from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine have shown working in odd-colored lighting or windowless offices reduces the quality of nighttime sleeping; the equivalent of losing 45 minutes of sleep each night.

This new office design, by Dennis Kowal Architects, incorporates carefully designed light fixtures and lamps that produce even lighting that reaches the worker’s retina at precise minimums.  Newly discovered intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (in addition to rods and cones in our eye) respond to certain wavelengths of light and set our body’s bio-rhythms.    The light is measured in melanopic lux and reinforces the messages that daylight sends to the body.  Wrong wavelengths at the wrong time can trigger melatonin in the body which starts the sleep cycle.

Sending the right messages via lighting improves office productivity, creativity and engagement. The Institute of Medicine reports that as many as 70 million adults in the United States have a chronic sleep or wakefulness disorder.    Such disorders and chronic sleep deprivation are associated with increased risk of certain morbidities including diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, hypertension and stroke.

Dennis Kowal Architects designs buildings that focus on occupant health and well-being.  This requires a blend of art and science along with a comprehensive understanding of bio-feedback, architecture and the human systems.   

Design wins 2013 Green Building Award   Leave a comment

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Design wins 2013 Green Building Award

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The Virginia US Green Building Council (JRGBC) honored these offices with the 2013 Green Building Leadership Award.   Last year, the United States Green Building Council certified the project LEED Gold.

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Taking a 1960’s, 25,000 square foot building in Richmond, Virginia, Dennis Kowal Architects transformed the existing building into a modern office environment and training center.   With only small additions at both ends and an imaginative infilling of an underutilized open courtyard, the total gut-renovation put back an energy efficient and low VOC office environment.

Even interior offices have views and daylight thanks to the new plan layout (see below) and use of “borrowed lights”, windows that open to adjacent rooms with natural light.  Outside offices have operable shades to control the light and glare-free indirect lighting fixtures are used in the major spaces.  The changes in lighting and equipment reduced the energy use by 15% and occupant satisfaction and comfort has risen dramatically from the pre-renovation building.

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Low-flow plumbing fixtures reduced water usage by 30% and save 34,000 gallons of water per year.   All heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning equipment and controls were removed and replaced with a new variable system with energy recovery technology. The deteriorated single-pane window units were replaced with double-pane, thermally insulated units with low-emissivity coating to reduce solar heat gain and the skylight is made of a highly insulated translucent sandwich panel.   The existing metal halide site lights were upgraded to new light-emitting diode (LED) fixtures and new vehicle recharging stations were added to the parking lot.

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The general contractor salvaged and recycled 87 percent of all construction and demolition debris, used regionally-manufactured building materials containing recycled content, and purchased wood products harvested from sustainably-managed forests.  Indoor air quality was protected from the start of construction and later by use of low-emitting building materials and furniture.  The owner is continuing with this effort using green cleaning products and equipment.

Even the old and leaking flat roof has been covered with a hipped standing seam metal roof that reflects the sunlight and lowers the heat island effect through the use of a reflective solar paint.

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The project was a team effort with Dennis Kowal Architects as the principal designer and disability expert.  DKA partnered with Mosley Architects of Richmond to provide the construction documents and LEED submissions.   Colorado Architect, John Dickerson, was the project’s hearing impaired consultant.   Together, Dennis Kowal Architects, office building designers, and specialist in the design for the blind and physically handicapped,  designed this award winning plan for the renovated administrative offices and training center for the Virginia Department of the Blind and Visually Impaired center in Richmond Virginia.

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Dennis Kowal Architects designs office environments with the occupants in mind.

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Exxon goes Green in Style!   Leave a comment

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Exxon goes Green in Style!

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The Lobby of Exxon Energy Systems uses natural Vermont slate on the floor to absorb the heat from the low angle winter sun.  The heat is redistributed to the offices by heat pumps.    Visitors get a great view inside and out and are sometimes unaware of the natural energy systems working around them.

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Who says sustainable design must be colorless and drab?  When Exxon Energy Systems wanted a 100,000 square foot office/research building at Princeton’s Forrestal Center,  Dennis J. Kowal, AIA, LEED AP,  combined a strong design with energy saving features.  The four story building is sheathed in insulated metal panels  and special window systems which are different at each sun exposure:  north, south, east, and west.   On the exposures where summer sun is not an issue, the walls are flat and the windows are in the plane of the exterior wall.   But  windows exposed to the strong summer sun are designed to allow the skydome light in and keep the solar gain out.  The windows  are permanently tipped away from the direct solar gain (see photo above which is similar to the offices) which provides natural shading in the summer.   The low angle winter sun is able to shine into the space, warm the surfaces and floors and warm the offices.

Another feature of the design includes incremental heat pumps which reduce the length of duct work runs; thereby reducing embodied energy in the manufacture process and  consumption of extra resources.  Because the window system is designed to bring in natural light without the glare and summer solar gain, the offices are less dependent on artificial lighting and thereby conserve energy.

A geothermal system was designed for both the air conditioning and heating of the building, but the Department of Environmental Protection declined the permit because it was a new concept to them.  Did we tell you…..this building was designed and constructed over 25 years ago! … ahead of its time in concept and development.  Today, geothermal permits are routine and day-lighting is all the rage, but this is one of the projects that started it all.

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The deep profile of this southern exposure allows for super-insulation and great energy efficiency. The wall section acts like a periscope bouncing natural light in and keeping direct solar gain out.   Day-lighting reduces the energy cost for artificial lighting and increases occupant satisfaction and efficiency.
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 The four story building mixes window profiles based on exposure to the summer sun. Natural light is bounced into the offices (note the bright sloped wall above the window) while glare and heat remain outside.
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Dennis Kowal Architects integrates master planning, space planning, building design and Interior Design to a variety of corporate and industry clients. 

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The site design  introduced concepts that were new at the time, such as bioswales, that used vegetation and root systems to purify parking lot runoff before returning the water to the ecosystem and pervious pavers at the entry plaza that naturally absorbed rainwater.

Also, mature trees were brought into the parking lot to provide substantial shade to the vehicles which reduced off-gassing of car fuel tanks and reduced the heat-island effect of the pavement.  The Exxon building is still a stellar example and precursor to the LEED concepts that are just starting to take hold in America.

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Dennis Kowal Architects help corporations reduce building energy costs while making them look good!

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Design for the Blind   2 comments

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Design for the Blind

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Designing for special needs clients is often misunderstood.  For one, there is no space today that is exclusively for the sighted or exclusively for the blind.  Buildings are for people with a variety of needs who have a variety of characteristics.  Therefore, the design must incorporate a mix of approaches.

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DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS has been designing for the blind, physically handicapped, autistic, developmentally disabled, and learning disabled for 30 years and their completed work creates a friendly environment without shouting “special needs”.      “I learned a long time ago that blindness for most is just a characteristic like short or tall and it comes with its own challenges and limitations; but it is not necessarily a disability” says Dennis Kowal about his experiences with the many blind professionals who conduct rather normal lives.   The majority of the visually impaired get around without a white cane (less than 35% use a cane) or a guide dog (less than 3% use a guide dog).   As a person ages, there is a one in ten chance of major vision loss but then their needs may be different as they may no longer drive, go to school or work.

At the National Headquarters of Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D), Dennis’ design was based on orthogonal geometry, the easiest navigation system.     Curves can disorient whereas ninety degree turns are easier to follow for someone with no vision.   That same person  composes a picture of the space from sensing the perimeter as opposed to walking into the middle and looking around as a sighted person might.  Therefore, the placement of furniture and removing obstacles at the perimeter became important to the design process.  Finally, acoustics also help compose the picture.  Large volumes sound different than small spaces or lower ceilings.  And just as too many colors is garish for the sighted, too many sounds can be annoying to the visually impaired.

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Cleanly designed edges with the minimum of obstacles are friendly to both the sighted and unsighted.

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The visually impaired enjoy the same things as everyone else;  fresh air, the warmth of the sun on their face,  and a glare-free environment.   Mechanical shades reduce glare and control the natural light in this lobby.

Since many will enjoy the cafeteria, a connection to the beautiful site through full height windows can still be enjoyed by many. Overhangs and the nearby woods itself  provide natural shading and sound panels in the ceiling control noise. 

Operable windows bring in fresh air to the office area and exterior shading devices allow  Daylight to brighten the interior without glare.

The wetlands were protected by separating the building from the parking lot with this boardwalk through the woods.   Both the sighted and unsighted enjoy a walk in the woods and the wide berth allows guide dogs to pass.

The building wall embraces an outdoor eating area providing a sense of enclosure with the freedom of a wall-less room.

The bottom line is always the happiness of the occupants even in the processing areas where books on tape are distributed across the nation to the visually impaired.

This 83,000-volume Master Tape Library is the largest educational resource of its kind in the world and Dennis designed three continuous movable shelving systems to handle the product. These 12’ tall carousels are 80’ long and rotate by computer signal to bring the selected audio master tape to an opperator for duplicating.

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DKA created custom designed conveyor systems that recognize specific tapes and automatically distribute them.

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DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS designs for the blind, dyslexic and physically handicapped.

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