Sustainable Strategies for Expansive Facilities

Fentress’s portfolio is valued at over $43 billion and serves more than 650 million people annually.

Strategies of waste reduction, recycled content maximization and conservation are consistent regardless of the scale of the project. However, there are a few consistent strategies to consider when designing expansive facilities:

  • Harnessing daylight to minimize energy use and control heat gain. 
  • Integrating with the community and multimodal transportation networks.
  • Creating spaces and systems that will welcome future adaptations.   

The following projects illustrate these strategies:

Passenger Terminal Complex at Denver International Airport

Fentress’ entree into expansive facilities came with the commission to design the 2,250,000-square-foot Passenger Terminal Complex at Denver International Airport.  Fentress took over a project suffering from uninspired design, exorbitant cost and schedule overruns. The solution to reverse these incontestabilities was the creation of a light-filled volume to echo Colorado’s dramatic mountain scenery. Despite skepticism on the ability of a tensile structure—then a nascent building technology—to achieve the necessary spans and withstand area snow volume, Fentress countered precedent and flipped the airport’s massive infrastructure from the roof to underground. The shift allowed up to 150-foot light-filled roof peaks to come to life while conserving resources. Hundreds of tons of structural steel and building materials were eliminated. The design also powerfully harnessed natural light. The Denver airport dramatically changed contemporary ideas on airport design, introducing expressive form to welcome travelers to a place and its culture.

Colorado Convention Center Phase II

In 2010, the Colorado Convention Center (CCC) announced its certification through LEED–EB, making it—at 2,300,980 gross square feet—the largest convention center certified under LEED-EB to date and among the largest LEED-certified convention facilities in the US.  As Denver residents, Fentress Architects recognized the Center’s potential to reshape the city.  So, the focus was on establishing and reinforcing its connections with the urban surroundings. The integration of a light rail station within the building has advanced economic growth and revitalization initiatives for the once-barren 14th Street. Fentress’ work catalyzed a surge of infill development that continues to bring new life, investment and activity to Denver.

Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX

At 1.4-million square feet, Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX became the world’s largest LEED Gold certified airport when it opened in 2013.  Adding to the complexity of this immense facility is the fact that renovation and construction occurred while the terminal remained fully operational. Fentress’ state-of-the-art, people-centered design allows abundant natural light from clerestories and broad windows.  Environmentally-friendly concepts were integrated at every stage and every level of the project.

Operational and performance goals of improved energy performance, reduced water consumption, waste, and emissions were met, in part, through integrated strategies that aligned with the larger aesthetic and experiential objectives. For example, Fentress conducted extensive sun-shading studies during the design of the roof structure to minimize heat gain and maximize daylighting.

Additional strategies include a high-performance thermal envelope, drought-tolerant landscaping, the provision of a purple pipe infrastructure in anticipation of future availability of municipal-supplied non-potable water, programmed space for recycling, an early procurement program for materials that contain recycled content, specification of non- or low-emitting materials, and the incorporation of free shuttle bus service to provide better connectivity to and from the airport, the city and the region.

Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center

LEED Gold-certified Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center in Denver remains one of the most sustainable courthouse complexes in the United States. It hosts the Colorado Supreme Court Law Library, a visitor’s Learning Center, and a 4,000-square-foot green roof.  The granite-clad Neoclassical building respects the archetypal presence of its neighbors. It steps back to acknowledge a center of learning: the Denver Central Library. The design also focused on completing the flow of a pedestrian walkway between the Library and State Capitol.  The result is in a direct, physical link to the Center’s functions for users and visitors as they move across the campus. The Carr Judicial Center makes substantial use of durable and recycled materials. It remains 30-percent more energy efficient than standards demanded.  In addition to its green roof, sustainable features include a photosensitive daylight harvesting illumination system, a state-of-the-art and highly efficient mechanical system, and locally sourced materials such as marble from Marble, Colorado.

Case Study: Renovation of the Miami Beach Convention Center

Today, Miami Beach Convention Center is both a global hub for arts, culture and technology and a healthy, resilient amenity for the community.

Miami Beach’s rich history of arts and culture has strengthened the city’s quality of life and economy.  Built in the 1950’s, the original Miami Beach Convention Center (MBCC) was a generic structure. Its ‘big box’ aesthetic had no discernible main entrance. Its location amid small city blocks created vehicular congestion for area residents, workers, and visitors alike.  All in, the City of Miami Beach had five objectives to achieve with the transformation of its convention center:

  • increase capacity;
  • create a clear and lively entrance;
  • add exterior and interior elements reflective of the region’s natural character;
  • attract international economic, cultural, environmental, and technical events;
  • and invite pedestrian engagement as well as reduce vehicular traffic. 

Biophilic, Sustainable Design

One of the greatest challenges for the design team was harmonizing the program’s monumental size with convention-goers’ need for human-scaled, intuitive spaces and operators’ need for a versatile, resilient building. Exterior façade “fins” made of angled, aluminum linear forms help achieve this harmony and dapple lobbies and pre-function areas with daylight. In doing so, they provide a graduated transition between indoor and outdoor environments. The design team’s study of how light enters water and how underwater divers experience natural light informed this lighting strategy.  

Sustainable Design

In hot, humid Miami Beach, the old facility’s ambient lighting and space cooling accounted for more than 50-percent of total annual energy use. Wrapping the exhibit hall and meeting rooms with perimeter transition spaces such as pre-function circulation and service corridors significantly improved the building’s passive thermal properties. Sun-shading provided by the “fins” and upgrading the building envelope was also helpful. Additional solutions include:

  • a new, light-colored roof,
  • high-efficiency chillers,
  • a Building Management System with occupancy set-points based on actual planned programs, and
  • high efficiency lighting. 

These measures are projected to save 18-percent, or $300,000, annually. It is worth noting that the new design’s calculated Energy Use Intensity (EUI) is 40.9 kBtu/sf, which surpasses the EPA’s median of 45.4 kBtu/sf. All combined, the sustainable design and construction solutions employed helped MBCC achieve LEED Silver certification from USGBC. 

Resilient Design

Miami Beach is also a hurricane-prone and severe weather event community that necessitates resilient structures. The MBCC’s new LEED Silver design provides safe shelter for area residents by helping the Convention Center District to meet the City’s resiliency plan. 

A pre-existing, six-acre asphalt parking lot was converted into a park replete with gardens, lawns, art installations, and shaded areas.  In fact, more than 12 acres of greenspace and over 1,300 new trees were added. Approximately 100 existing trees were preserved.

We restored mangrove habitats and native vegetation to provide environmental stabilization. We also reinforced the primary drainage waterway in Collins Canal Park, which lies north of the site. Pervious acreage on the 25-acre campus increased by 245-percent. This significantly improves MBCC’s ability to manage storm runoff on-site and reduce heat island effect.

Finally, we implemented both wet and dry flood-proofing measures. Measures include raising the base floor elevation by 12 inches and relocating all critical building systems to the second floor, which allows the center to remain operational as an emergency response and community shelter during hurricanes and other climatic-disruptive events.

Fentress Architects: Pioneering Sustainable Architecture Since the Early 1990s

Fentress Architects was founded in 1980 on the heels of two significant energy crises: the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 and the Iranian Revolution of 1978.  Among the many innovations and movements precipitated by these events is the modern sustainable architecture and green building movement.  The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Energy Committee was founded in 1973. Later, in 1990, the AIA Committee on the Environment was founded. 

Sustainability Pioneers

Within 10 years of its founding, Fentress had won several prominent commissions. The following contributed substantively to the sustainable architecture movement:

  • Denver International Airport’s Passenger Terminal Complex: The imaginative roof pays visual homage to the majestic Rocky Mountains. It also utilizes the site’s more than 3,000 annual hours of sunshine to provide exceptional energy savings and biophilic benefits for travelers and staff alike. 
  • Natural Resources Building for the State of Washington: The Natural Resource Building was a forerunner in the development of indoor air quality standards and the US Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED program. “The facilities will provide the public and employees an enjoyable, energy efficient and healthy work environment using new air quality design requirements, which will lead the way for future standards in our nation.” — K. Wendy Holden, Former Director, State of Washington Department of GSA
  • National Wildlife Art Museum: Irregular lines and the use of native stone allow the museum to embody the spirit of its delicate site and essence of the Jackson community, while setting new standards in quality and architectural design sensitivity for the area.  The warm, humanistic design expertly responds to important challenges. These challenges include developmental pressures and their impact on the natural environment and plant and animal communities.

LEED Firsts

Since the launch of USGBC’s LEED Program in 1998, Fentress Architects has designed over 50 LEED-certified buildings that comprise nearly 10 million square feet, including:

  • California Department of Education Headquarters: In 2006, three years after achieving LEED Gold, the California DOE Headquarters became the first building in California, and second largest building in the world, to be awarded LEED EB Platinum certification.
  • Green Square Complex in Raleigh, North Carolina: With a 10,000-square-foot green roof, a system that eliminates stormwater runoff—North Carolina’s number one cause of water pollution—and so much more, Green Square Complex became North Carolina’s first LEED Platinum facility.
  • Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC): Terminal B was the first entirely new passenger terminal west of the Mississippi River to become LEED Silver Certified.  Terminal A is “self-certified.” The rental car facility, or ConRAC, follwed “best practices” for green building, including a roof-mounted 3.4-acre, 1.1-megawatt solar array.
  • Terminal C at Orlando International Airport (MCO): Terminal C is on target to become the first new LEED v4.1 certified passenger terminal in America. 

Looking Ahead

At Fentress Architects, we believe we have a responsibility to future generations to effect positive change on our natural environment.  So, in addition to being seasoned LEED-certification experts, Fentress team members are also highly skilled and knowledge in the burgeoning areas of:

  • Net Zero Architecture: including net zero energy, net zero carbon.
  • Regenerative Design: including ILFI’s Living Building Challenge
  • Sustainable Landscape Practices: including Green Business Certification Inc.’s Sustainable SITES Initiative (SITES)

BNA’s New Concourse D Receives Top Award

Southeast Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives Names Concourse D ‘Commercial Airport Architectural Project of the Year’

Less than a year after opening, Nashville International Airport’s state-of-the-art Concourse D has earned airport industry acclaim for excellence. The Southeast Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives (SEC-AAAE) this week announced Concourse D as the recipient of its 2021 Commercial Airport Architectural Project of the Year Award, an industry-recognized mark of distinction for BNA’s fourth major concourse.

BNA received the award among peers at SEC-AAAE’s annual members conference in Savannah, Georgia. SEC-AAAE is the largest chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives and represents airport management professionals in 12 Southeastern states, including Tennessee, in addition to the Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia.

“We are honored to receive this award from SEC-AAAE and are immensely proud of the Concourse D project,” said Doug Kreulen, BNA’s president and CEO. “This award represents more than two years of hard work that resulted in a multi-faceted modern concourse for BNA travelers. It also signifies $55 million in contracts for small, minority and woman-owned business enterprises (SMWBEs), a 72 percent local workforce and a commitment to sustainability. It’s BNA at its best, and we thank our SEC-AAAE colleagues for this tremendous recognition.”

Concourse D is a major component of BNA® Vision, the dynamic expansion and renovation plan for Nashville International Airport. The $292 million facility opened in July 2020 with 115,000 square feet of new terminal space, six domestic aircraft gates operated by Southwest Airlines, compelling public art displays and a variety of customer conveniences. It was built in tandem with a 200,000-square-foot terminal expansion that added new ticketing and baggage claim space to the north and south ends of the central terminal, a 136,000-square-foot renovation of existing terminal space and an 11,000 square-foot central utility plant.

This award from SEC AAAE comes only three months after Concourse D received another noteworthy recognition: LEED Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for green design and construction. Upon achieving LEED Silver, Concourse D became one of only nine newly constructed airport facilities in the world to attain this distinction under USGBC’s rigorous LEED v4 standards.

Traveler amenities and special features include high ceilings, two compelling public art installations, art cases showcasing selections from BNA’s permanent collection, Wi-Fi, restrooms, a mother’s room, an indoor service animal relief area, compelling airfield views, dynamic electrochromic technology that blocks out excessive heat and sunlight, and new terrazzo flooring. Additional space is available for future concessions.

Concourse D was built by Hensel Phelps Construction Co. and designed by Fentress Architects. Other key partners included Corgan (master architect for BNA® Vision), I. C. Thomasson Associates Inc. (mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineer), Smith Seckman Reid Inc. (commissioning agent) and S&ME (civil engineer/landscape designer).

The Concourse D and Terminal Wings Expansion was the first major terminal expansion project completed as part of the ongoing BNA® Vision program, which is dramatically remaking the airport to meet future demand and existing needs. Other BNA® Vision projects to be completed by 2023 will include a larger central terminal, a state-of-the-art International Arrivals Facility, expanded central security checkpoint, an on-airport hotel, top-to-bottom terminal renovation, a variety of new dining, retail and service amenities and a massive terminal parking garage complex.

Source: Nashville International Airport®

Fentress Architects’ Director of Sustainability, Deborah Lucking, Elevated to AIA College of Fellows

Fentress Architects is proud to announce that the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has elevated Director of Sustainability Deborah Lucking, FAIA, to the prestigious 2021 College of Fellows, the AIA’s highest honor awarded to members who have made significant contributions to the architecture profession. With 102 member-architects elevated to the College of Fellows this year, Deborah was the only AIA Colorado member to receive this honor.

“Deborah has single-handedly elevated and advanced discourse around sustainable design, leading Fentress Architects to constantly reach beyond our past achievements to place our firm’s work at the forefront of green and resilient design for large, energy-demanding structures,” said Fentress Architects Principal in Charge of Design Curtis Fentress, FAIA, RIBA. “She is not only an important part of our firm, but to all the communities where she works.”

Since joining Fentress Architects in 1996, Deborah has successfully contributed to the design for award-winning projects including the LEED Platinum Green Square Complex in Raleigh, NC; the Denver Art Museum Martin Building Renovation and Sie Welcome Center in Denver, CO; the net-zero energy Contra Costa County Administration Building in Martinez, CA; the Miami Beach Convention Center in Miami Beach, FL; the Colorado Convention Center Phase II Expansion in Denver, CO; and the Concourse D and Terminal Wings Expansion at Nashville International Airport.

Throughout her 40+-year career, Deborah has been an advocate for sustainable, high-performance buildings and spaces that enhance user experience, contribute to the larger community, and model exceptional design. Her leadership in practice has resulted in the over 24 million square feet of diverse building types—including airports, courthouses, convention centers, and museums—designed for sustainability and resiliency through a variety of programs. Deborah has helped Fentress project teams achieve over 40 LEED certifications, including 18 LEED Gold and 5 LEED Platinum.

“I am deeply honored to have been elevated to the American Institute of Architects College of Fellows,” said Deborah Lucking, FAIA. “Sustainable design is all about good design that improves the human experience; I am committed to delivering good design and creating a better tomorrow for future generations. I have been extraordinarily fortunate to have been able to work on projects that have significant impacts, both locally and nationally. Most of all, I have benefited from the inspiration and collaborations among my peers, clients, and the communities where I have worked, and for this I am both grateful and humbled.”

As a founding member of the AIA Colorado Knowledge Community on Resilience (now the Committee for the Environment) and a past Chair of a LEED for Airports Working Group, Deborah is actively sharing her insight within the practice to reach wider audiences.

Sustainable Design Takes Flight at Nashville International Airport’s New Concourse D

BNA’s Concourse D is One of Only Five LEED v4 Silver Airport Facilities in the United States

Fentress Architects is pleased to announce that the new Concourse D at Nashville International Airport (or BNA, as it is also known) has achieved LEED Silver certification, highlighting the project’s sustainable, wellness-oriented design and construction process. This distinction makes Concourse D one of only five newly constructed airport facilities in the United States, and one of nine airport facilities worldwide, to earn LEED Silver under the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) rigorous LEED v4 standards.

LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the most widely used green building rating system in the world and an international symbol of excellence. LEED v4’s flexible, performance-based approach and progressive sustainability benchmarks are designed to optimize building performance and support occupant health and wellbeing.

“Fentress Architects has been at the forefront of green building design for over four decades,” said Curtis Fentress, FAIA, RIBA, Principal in Charge of Design at Fentress Architects. “Energy conservation is a key element of not only our design approach, but our values as a firm. We are proud to have leveraged our expertise, along with the commitment of all partners involved in this significant project, to realize BNA’s forward-thinking sustainability standards.”

The Hensel Phelps | Fentress Architects Progressive Design-Build Team completed the $292 million, 115,000-square-foot expansion of Concourse D in July 2020, marking a major milestone for BNA® Vision—the dynamic expansion and renovation plan for Nashville International Airport. The project elevates the airport as a world-class facility with six domestic aircraft gates, public art, diverse traveler amenities, and improved ramp amenities and function space.

“LEED certification is a coveted mark of environmental distinction and innovation,” said BNA President and CEO Doug Kreulen. “We’re building not only a bigger airport, but also a better, ‘greener,’ more sustainable airport. I’m proud of our commitment to these principles and appreciative of all the hard work that went into obtaining this recognition.”

The project team’s integrative and passenger-centric approach incorporated several green design and construction components to optimize building performance and passenger comfort while minimizing environmental impacts, including:

  • Electrochromic glass that blocks out excessive sunlight and heat for passengers’ comfort while reducing glare and energy consumption for climate control;
  • Energy efficient and programmable lighting that dims when natural light is adequate for visibility;
  • Focus on human health and wellness with features including an abundance of daylighting, green cleaning practices, water bottle filling stations, public art installations, and more;
  • Light-colored building and paving materials that retain less heat, reducing energy use while mitigating heat-island effect;
  • Geothermal cooling reduces energy consumption and costs for climate control;
  • Water-conserving plumbing; and
  • Waste-reduction focus with recycling bins throughout the concourse and 80 percent of construction waste diverted from landfills.

Other key project partners include Corgan (master architect for BNA® Vision), I.C. Thomasson Associates Inc. (mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineer), Smith Seckman Reid Inc. (commissioning agent), and S&ME (civil engineer/landscape designer).

“At every stage of the project, from the design process to construction, the project team remained committed to aligning our approach with the airport’s sustainability targets,” said Deborah Lucking, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Director of Sustainability at Fentress Architects. “Fentress is committed to advancing sustainability and human wellness in the built environment and achieving LEED v4 Silver showcases the project team’s dedication to going far beyond the minimum LEED requirements to achieve certification.”

As a Top Green Design Firm in the U.S., Fentress’ portfolio includes several world-class, sustainable airport facilities such as Mineta San Jose International Airport’s Terminal B (LEED Silver); Los Angeles International Airport’s Tom Bradley International Terminal (LEED Gold); Sacramento International Airport’s Terminal B (LEED Silver); and San Francisco International Airport Replacement Airport Traffic Control Tower (LEED Gold). Fentress recently completed the new Concourse E Extension at Portland International Airport, which is expected to achieve LEED Gold certification. Additionally, the firm has several green airport projects underway, including Orlando International Airport’s new South Terminal C (on track to achieve LEED certification) and George Bush Intercontinental Airport’s Mickey Leland International Terminal (designed to LEED Silver).

Miami Beach Convention Center Brings LEED Silver Certification to the Heart of Miami Beach

MBCC is One of the Most Technologically-Advanced Convention Centers in the United States

The MBCC’s context-driven design reflects the natural elements of Miami’s acclaimed beaches, including waves, manta rays and coral reefs. Photo credit: ©Robin Hill.

Fentress Architects, a global design firm specializing in the creation of memorable public architecture, is excited to announce that the redesigned Miami Beach Convention Center (MBCC) recently achieved LEED Silver certification from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), marking a significant achievement in realizing the City of Miami Beach’s sustainability standards. Completed earlier this year, the 1.435 million-square-foot redesign included an expansion and renovation of the existing 1950s-era center to accommodate upgraded show needs while creating a sleek, modern and regionally inspired design befitting MBCC’s reputation as a world-class entertainment destination. The venue has become internationally known for hosting annual events such as Art Basel Miami Beach and eMERGE Americas.

“The Miami Beach Convention Center’s LEED Silver certification exemplifies the significant coordination, innovation and green building leadership that was demonstrated among the entire project team,” said Deborah Lucking, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Director of Sustainability at Fentress Architects. “This project stands as a testament of resilient, sustainable and forward-thinking design that will serve as a commitment to the community now and well into the future.”

Context-driven design

Located in the heart of Miami Beach, Florida, MBCC’s design realizes the City of Miami Beach’s vision to reposition the center as one of the most technologically advanced convention centers in the U.S. while enhancing the facility to comply with FEMA code as part of a resiliency plan to safeguard against future hurricanes and flooding. To create a design that reflects the city’s vibrant culture and natural environment, the design team immersed themselves in the landscape and lifestyle of Miami’s South Beach.

Fentress collaborated with Arquitectonica on the context-driven design to incorporate natural elements of ­the ocean, beach and underwater life such as waves, manta rays, and coral reefs. The exterior façade is designed with over 500 unique aluminum “fins” – angled aluminum linear forms – to create a curving undulation reflective of the nearby ocean waves. This contextual inspiration was brought inside with colors and patterns that emulate receding water, sea foam, and local coral reef patterns. The team also translated satellite images of nearby ocean waves, coral and sandbars into custom patterns for the carpets throughout pre-function and public circulation areas.

“This exciting milestone for the MBCC represents the culmination of a long journey, demonstrating the MBCC’s serious commitment to resiliency and sustainability,” said Freddie Peterson, General Manager at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

Site responsive architecture

The façades’ angled fins create a curtain wall that responds to the solar orientation of each façade, filtering dappled light throughout the daylit lobbies and pre-function spaces to provide a seamless transition between indoor and outdoor environments. Hurricane-resistant connections and projectile resistant glazing on the exterior façade establish a strong and stable building envelope. Additionally, the elevation of critical building systems to the second floor allows the building to remain operational during hurricanes while raised floor elevations respond to rising sea levels.

Creating a resilient community amenity

In collaboration with West8, Fentress Architects transformed the existing six-acre surface parking lot into a vibrant public park – a key element of the project’s resilient design that includes a tropical garden, game lawn, shaded areas, and veterans’ plaza. Additionally, Bent Pool, a public art installation by international artists Elmgreen & Dragset celebrates Miami Beach’s dynamic culture and natural environment. In total, the design team added twelve acres of greenspace, preserved more than 100 existing trees, and added over 1,300 new trees. As a result, the design increases the pervious acreage of the 25-acre campus by 245% and significantly reduces heat island effect. The project is designed to a 25-year, 3-day storm event as the maximum stage for site drainage retention.

Johnson County Courthouse Celebrates Substantial Completion Milestone

Global architectural design firm Fentress Architects and Johnson County Board of Commissioners recently announced the substantial completion for the new Johnson County Courthouse, prominently located at 150 W. Santa Fe St. in downtown Olathe, Kansas.

The seven-story, 356,831-square-foot courthouse, designed by Fentress Architects in a partnership with Treanor HL, and constructed by JE Dunn Construction, replaces the aging, overcrowded existing courthouse by consolidating the Tenth Judicial District Court, District Attorney and supporting spaces into a distinctive civic building. The new state-of-the-art facility includes 28 courtrooms, flexible space for six additional courtrooms and supporting functions including a Law Library, Court Administration, Court Clerk, Help Center, Court Trustee, Justice Information Management, Sheriff’s Office and other services necessary to serve all judicial and administrative needs for the Johnson County community.

“This milestone represents a significant accomplishment in realizing Johnson County’s vision for a more efficient, community-oriented and forward-thinking courthouse,” said Brian Chaffee, FAIA, Principal at Fentress Architects. “The courthouse’s design celebrates Johnson County’s historical roots while embodying its innovative vision with a memorable structure that will serve as a longstanding commitment to the community. We are looking forward to continue working with the County, Treanor HL and JE Dunn Construction as we realize the project’s final completion.”   

Designed to USGBC LEED Gold with principles as delineated by the WELL Building Institute, the new courthouse will serve Johnson County for the next 75 years, accommodate the expected growth of 10,000 residents per year and fulfill the County’s goal to reduce energy by 30 percent. The open and accessible design harmonizes with traditional federal architectural features to create an approachable, yet efficient facility that reflects the importance of justice and the Rule of Law.

Inspired by materials and forms found in Kansas geology and history, the courthouse’s prominent façade features a limestone-clad ribbon wall above the main entry, creating both a sense of place and a welcoming entrance. The “Emporium of Justice” serves as the courthouse’s main lobby where visitors enter and pass through security. An expansive glass curtainwall and punched windows advance the transparency in government functions. Additional features including terrazzo floors, glass handrails, acoustical plaster ceilings and custom millwork contribute to the courthouse’s durability and monumental image.

The new courthouse creates a functional, accessible, safe and secure facility that will serve the long-term needs of the Johnson County community,” said Daniel Wehmueller, Project Manager at Johnson County. The building’s distinct design has already become a Johnson County landmark. We couldn’t be happier with the project team’s innovative and creative approach that has helped the County bring this vision to life.”

Public art funded by Johnson County’s Public Art Program creates an engaging, one-of-a-kind courthouse experience. “Open Prairie,” a public art piece installed by Los Angeles-based Ball-Nogues studio, integrates seamlessly into the building’s design and creates a network of vibrant colors as visitors enter the courthouse. Additionally, Goddess of Justice has been relocated from the existing courthouse to the new facility.

In addition to the new Johnson County Courthouse, the project team developed the north parking lot. To create a resilient amenity for the community, the project team will transform the existing courthouse site into a new greenspace for the community.

The team is currently installing systems and ancillary furniture, which will continue through November. Johnson County staff will begin occupying the courthouse in September, and the building is intended to open to the public in the first quarter of 2021.

Design for People + the Environment


Architecture is an important form of connection to people, culture, geography, and the true spirit of a place. At Fentress Architects, we believe a building’s design should create an enduring link between people and the natural environment—an intrinsic connection that uplifts the human spirit while creating a positive impact on our communities and environment. That is why we prefer to practice inherently sustainable design, an approach that produces architecture to support the health and well-being of both the environment and humans for its entire life cycle.

In order to bring this concept of inherently sustainable design to life, let’s explore a few case studies where sustainability meets innovative design.

Fentress Architects’ design for the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX resulted in one of the largest LEED Gold terminals in the world. Photo: Nick Merrick © Hedrich Blessing, courtesy of Fentress Architects

Case Study: How Can You Create a Human-Centered Airport Experience?

While some building types may readily lend themselves to an inherently sustainable design approach, it can be applied to all, including airports. For decades, these megastructures have been thought of as solely harmful to the environment. Beyond the greenhouse gas emissions and noise pollution, the buildings themselves were historically fraught with resource and operational inefficiencies. The good news is they don’t need to be that way. In fact, as our own designs illustrate, airports are embracing inherently sustainable design.

After 25 years without major upgrades, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) was outdated and unable to serve its functional demands. In 2009 a $14 billion capital improvement program was launched to redevelop the airport. Representing the centerpiece of this airport improvement program, we embraced the challenge of transforming LAX’s cramped, windowless “passenger processor” facility into a world-class, people-centered experience.

As a highly visible public building, the project required input from dozens of stakeholders and the public in order to meet the client’s and community’s needs. The design concept evolved out of a year-long visioning process that was guided by the following goals: signature architecture that reflects LA’s unique character, LEED Gold certification, improved passenger experience, long-range functionality, and compatibility with next generation aircraft, like the Airbus A380.

Inspired by the Pacific Ocean, the Tom Bradley International Terminal’s site-responsive roofline optimizes building performance by reducing solar glare and heat from the ocean from the west and bathes the terminal in natural light from the northeast. Photo by Nick Merrick

Optimizing Daylight

Of those quintessential characteristics that define a place, it is the quality of light that is among the most distinctive. Daylighting not only creates a sustainable building solution by reducing energy consumption, but it also enhances human comfort. For the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT), we capitalized on Southern California’s abundant daylight by deploying multiple daylighting strategies that are expressed in the wave-like roof forms.

The site-responsive, stainless steel roof optimizes building performance by reducing solar glare and heat from the ocean from the West and bathes the terminal in natural light from the Northeast. To improve wayfinding, the roof form stretches over column-free structures to create expansive interior spaces that form a rationalized programmatic layout of passenger circulation and amenities. Expansive glass curtain walls offer views of the airfield and the nearby Santa Monica Mountains while clerestory windows fill the 150,000-square-foot Great Hall with sunlight.

As an infill project, the overall configuration and orientation of TBIT were dictated by existing buildings and runway alignments. Nonetheless, by the modulation of each overlapping roof form, our designers created both north-facing clerestories and deep overhangs that protect the southern and western exposures. Detailed daylighting analyses also identified areas and times in the building that required glare protection while allowing us to strategically place seating and retail configurations to leverage day-lit shaded zones.

Fentress Architects designed stainless steel roof forms that stretch over column-free structures to create dramatic, expansive interior spaces that form a rationalized programmatic layout of passenger circulation and amenities in order to improve wayfinding and level of service. Photo by Nick Merrick

Improving Building Performance

To further optimize building performance, we undertook several environmental measures including:

  • Using a high-performance thermal envelope
  • Adopting an early procurement program for recycled materials and specification of non- or low-emitting materials
  • Recycling or salvaging more than 75% of construction and demolition waste
  • Applying drought tolerant landscape planting
  • Installing energy-efficient lighting fixtures and controls with occupancy sensors to reduce lighting costs and save energy during off-peak hours
  • Incorporating HVAC controls that reset temperatures to maximum efficiency without sacrificing occupant comfort
  • Designing interior finishes with recycled materials and using low-emitting paints, adhesives, carpets and sealants in the interior

The result is an airport terminal that is a gateway to LA and a sustainable amenity to the community.

The LEED Platinum Nature Research Center re-imagines the very idea of the museum as a building type by creating an interactive space filled with natural light and opportunities for hands- on learning. Photo by Jason A. Knowles

Case Study: How Can Architecture Bring People Together?

Sustainable design requires more than a check-box approach in ensuring the design meets necessary benchmarks. To create inherently sustainable designs that encourage people to think more deeply about the environment, architects must form a bond between individuals, the community, and the building.

For the LEED Platinum Green Square Complex in Raleigh, North Carolina we worked closely with O’Brien Atkins Associates to bring scientific research, environmental efforts, and the community together by using sustainability and science as design inspiration. The complex transformed a pair of bleak lots in the heart of downtown Raleigh into a multi-use sustainable development that brings together the existing Museum of Natural Sciences with a new Nature Research Center and a headquarters for the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NC DENR), while also adding public plazas and landscaped open spaces.

To create a design that reflects NC DENR’s mission to provide science-based environmental stewardship to the public, we harmonized their values into a forward-thinking, technology driven and environmentally conscious design through state-of-the-art media, exhibits, and laboratories that demonstrate the process of scientific discovery.

A Model for Sustainability

Since its completion in 2012 the Green Square Complex has served as a model of environmentally efficient design. Our team implemented significant sustainability measures, including extensive energy-efficient and water-efficiency techniques, to optimize the use of natural resources while exercising environmental responsibility.

The “Daily Planet,” a key feature of the Green Square Complex in Raleigh, North Carolina, has become a popular meeting place for staff and visitors alike. Photo by Matt Robinson

Designing for the Community

Designs that are inherently sustainable produce architecture that provides a community amenity. The Green Square Complex is situated in a neighborhood known as a hub to North Carolina’s government agencies. In order to create a public space where the community could gather, we intentionally added public plazas and landscaped open spaces. A key feature is the “Daily Planet,” a four-story spherical projection environment and auditorium that breaks free of the building envelope and has become a popular meeting place.

The LEED Platinum Green Square Complex features a 10,000-square-foot green roof and maximizes daylighting with transparent interior and exterior walls. Photo by Nick Merrick

Optimizing Site Potential

The location of a building controls a variety of environmental factors, necessitating the need for architects to implement creative strategies to ensure the design optimizes the site’s full potential. To enhance sustainability, we installed a pervious pavement to reduce stormwater runoff.

Green roofs on both the Nature Research Center and DENR Headquarters provide multiple environmental benefits, including improving stormwater runoff and retention, creation of natural habitats in an urban environments, reduction of heat island effect, filtration of pollutants out of rain water, and building insulation.

Sunshades on the LEED Platinum NC DENR headquarters block harsh sun during the summer and penetrate light during the winter. Photo by Nick Merrick

Maximizing Architecture

Multiple daylighting strategies are implemented throughout the DENR headquarters: light shelves, full glass atria, light tubes, prismatic louvers, and photo dimming around the building perimeter to maximize daylighting. Meanwhile, photovoltaic louvers shade the Nature Research Center’s atrium. Highly efficient Low-E glass further enhances energy efficiency and optimizes daylighting. Together these strategies serve to significantly reduce energy consumption.

Additionally, salvaged materials from both the existing and demolished buildings were reused. For example, marble salvaged from the existing building now serves as countertops for the DENR reception desk.

The Green Square Complex is a showcase for cutting-edge sustainability technology that has been warmly embraced by the community-at-large.

The Sanford Consortium of Regenerative Medicine (SCRM) is certified LEED Gold, recognizing a new standard in sustainability for a research building. Photo by Steve Keating

Case Study: How to Advance Sustainability in Laboratory Design

Laboratories tend to be high energy consumers. On college campuses, labs use up to 10 times the amount of energy consumed by traditional classroom space. Although enhancing their sustainability is a vital step in developing an environmentally conscious built environment, it’s also challenging due to stringent codes and safety concerns.

In order to shift this paradigm, the team at Fentress implemented a context-driven design approach for the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine (SCRM) that aids in advancing scientific research while simultaneously minimizing the building’s impact on the environment. SCRM, which achieved LEED Gold, promotes innovation and discovery as it sets a new standard for sustainability in a research building.

The Fentress-designed research center thoughtfully opens spaces up to views and ocean breezes, ensuring the design takes advantage of the site and local climate to lower utility costs and improve the quality of workspaces. Photo by Steve Keating

Leveraging the Natural Environment

As with every Fentress building, our design for SCRM sought inspiration from the site’s natural environment. In this case, we leveraged La Jolla’s temperate climate and the site’s Pacific Ocean view to drive sustainability.

To maximize daylighting in the exterior office pods, we laterally shifted the labs to allow sunlight to reach interior work areas. Shading devices, combined with operable windows, displacement ventilation, and chilled beams, enhance user comfort and serve to improve energy efficiency, estimated to be 21% better than standard (ASHRAE 90.1-2004). By cantilevering the office pods off the building envelope, the design increases circulation and promotes outdoor access, allowing researchers to take advantage of the mild San Diego weather.

Spaces are thoughtfully opened to views and ocean breezes to ensure the design not only takes advantage of the site and local climate, but that it also lowers utility bills and improves the quality of workspace in a way that is a catalyst for behavior change. Collegiality and collaboration are fostered through inviting, strategically placed amenities that encourage interaction and physical activity.

For the design of the Sanford Consortium of Regenerative Medicine, Fentress Architects cantilevered office pods off the building envelope, which allows researchers to take advantage of the mild San Diego weather while enhancing circulation and outdoor access. Photo by Steve Keating

Improving Rainwater Harvesting

The project’s rainwater collection system and landscape design feature recycled and salvaged materials. Water conservation strategies—low-flow plumbing fixtures; the use of gray water for plant irrigation, toilets, and urinals; and more—have improved the project’s water efficiency by 40% over baseline expectations.

As a result, SCRM recognizes a new standard in sustainability for a research building.

How to Design for Long-Term Commitment

As architects and designers we must look beyond trends and design styles when it comes to creating inherently sustainable architecture. Drawing inspiration from a building’s context and taking a holistic approach that embraces all stakeholders—from the client and its users to the community at large and the environment—we can create architecture that stands the test of time and gives back to the communities it serves well into the future.

First appeared in: Green Building & Design Magazine