The construction industry bears a heavy responsibility in reversing the ongoing environmental impact caused by materials and transport emissions during construction and operational carbon once the building is complete. MHTN Architects take the responsibility seriously, placing sustainable solutions on the company’s list of core values.
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The Salt Lake City-based firm prioritizes ongoing education and keeping up with sustainable building trends. MHTN has been involved in several projects that bring this dedication to green design solutions into focus, including its own studio, which is housed in an existing building. This decision was based on the knowledge that renovating an existing building produces a fragment of the embodied energy required for a new build. Plus, the location met other goals, such as providing a walkable neighborhood with surrounding amenities and close proximity to public transit, as well as a public green space.
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To compensate for the lack of passive design in a building that is oriented east to west instead of the preferred north to south, the team developed ultra-efficient lighting strategies throughout the space, including placing the most-commonly used spaces in the path of the natural light.
In addition to lighting, the team used efficient materials to enhance the acoustics and mechanical systems for air quality and temperature control to optimize employees’ opportunity for creative and collaborative thinking. Since wellness is also a core value of the company, the studio’s layout creates a flow of movement and provides ergonomic options such as sit-to-stand workstations.
The company also promotes a flexible dress code and personal heating and cooling options with the goal of making employees comfortable so they can reach their peak productivity and personal satisfaction. To further this concept, the building features biophilic elements that encourage a connection with nature. The company offers quiet nooks, a nap space and a flexible work policy that encourages employees to rest and recharge with a focus on stress management. These efforts combined to inspire MHTN to pursue WELL Building Certification for the space.
The architectural studio is now open in the Historic Ford Building. The process of designing the space overflowed into a refreshed company mindset around sustainability. The team explained, “The world-shifting events of 2020 have certainly added another layer and put into perspective what sustainability means to MHTN. Input was cultivated through a series of workshops and surveys that ultimately led MHTN to adopt a more holistic, three-pronged approach to sustainability that addresses energy performance, human health and wellness and organizational resilience.”
In alignment with its goals to remain earth-centered and promote a positive human impact, the company has signed the Architecture 2030 Commitment, which is oriented towards eliminating carbon emissions from buildings by 2030. The company developed an internal research and development team to develop and monitor actions the team makes on each project. For example, the new building is equipped with energy monitoring equipment that measures energy efficiency and provides feedback for the team as they plan and design spaces for clients.
“As we integrate sustainability into our firm culture, creating high-performing, healthy buildings becomes more and more seamless,” said Darrah Jakab, AIA, NCARB, CPHC, Associate Principal of Sustainable Design. “When the client embraces this, it can take projects to the next level. There is always an opportunity for every project to be sustainable in some way, and we seek to find that.”
In addition to their own office, MHTN’s environmental focus is seen in a range of new projects, such as the redesign of the West Bountiful Elementary School in Utah to place a focus on elements that engage creativity and imagination for the students and staff. Along with the benefits to the inhabitants, the design resulted in a zero-energy status through the use of solar panels, a tight building envelope, a ground-source heat loop and efficient LED lighting.
“When it comes to sustainability, it truly does take a village,” Jakab said. “We at MHTN are motivated by opportunities we have to contribute to sustainable solutions and take the impact that architecture has on climate change seriously.”
This dedication is seen in another project, the University of Utah Carolyn and Kem Gardner Commons, which showcases innovative design as the first building at the University of Utah to use ground source wells to provide 96% of the heating and 60% of the cooling energy requirements. This efficient energy system offers substantial savings, estimated at $70,000 annually.
For the Utah State University Moab Academic Building, MHTN supported the campus’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality by year 2030 by implementing passive design strategies that reduce energy use. Design elements include optimum building orientation, shaded roof overhangs, high-performance glazing and above-code insulating values. It has led the project towards qualification for both LEED Silver Certification and ILFI Zero Energy Certification.