June 15, 2007
  First Green Building on Capitol Hill a Metaphor for Environmental Values

by Russell Boniface
Associate Editor

How do you . . . turn a building that was literally falling down into a modern, green building?

Summary: The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), the largest peace lobby in Washington, D.C., aims to meet LEED certification with the successful two-year green renovation of its Civil War-era Capitol Hill headquarters. Washington D.C.-based Burt Hill Kosar Rittlemann Associates’ green design for the red brick, reconstructed building includes a green roof, light scoop, geothermal heating/cooling system, bamboo flooring, energy-efficient windows, and an access ramp. Renovation was completed in 2005 at $6.17 million.

Founded in 1943 by members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and adjacent to congressional offices, FCNL is the oldest registered religious lobby in Washington. Warned by architects that its historic, Civil War-era structure was literally falling down, FCNL selected Burt Hill Kosar Rittlemann, known for its expertise in green architecture, to bring the building into this century.

New office a greener pasture
FCNL, a strong proponent of the environment, wanted for its restored office increased energy efficiency, better environmental quality, and green materials and resources. “My favorite part of working on the FCNL project was that our client was as dedicated to green design as we are, and we don’t find many clients like that,” says Gina Baker, AIA, director of sustainable design at Burt Hill Kosar Rittlemann.

FCNL hopes the following features will qualify the building for LEED certification:

  • A green roof that absorbs rain runoff and decreases the building's heat island effect; the roof is landscaped with low-maintenance sedum plants that do not require irrigation
  • A south-facing, glass-faced, copper-sheathed light scoop on the roof that captures natural light and conveys it downward into the three floors of the building's central core through glass block floor panels
  • A geothermal system that uses 10 wells, each 350 feet deep with contained piping that delivers non-fluorocarbon fluid at a constant 55 degrees F for the building’s heating-cooling system
  • Natural materials for the interior, including bamboo flooring throughout the building; wood trim from certified, sustainably harvested beech and maple; and recycled acoustic ceiling tiles and carpets
  • Energy-efficient windows made of low-emissive glass that allow light into the building while insulating against heat and cold.

The renovation also included ADA-compliant access ramps to the front and side doors, an elevator to all floors with voice-annunciation system, and widened hallways. “Our vision for this building was one that would have a lot of light, be ADA compliant, and would walk softly on the earth by being a really green building on Capitol Hill,” says Joe Volk, FCNL executive secretary.

Green in the details
The FCNL building also features finishes with no volatile organic compounds or toxins. Components are largely made from renewable-source materials and manufactured or harvested within 500 miles of the project site. During reconstruction, waste was salvaged and reused, and the building’s furniture is made from recyclable materials. “The modular furniture can be moved around so future generations aren’t stuck with the way we set up the workplace,” explains Volk.

To complete the green picture, the FCNL roof is also equipped for future installation of a PV array, the electricity contract purchases renewable-energy-source credits, and the low-energy electric traction elevator has no hydraulic fluid. Low-flow toilets and water fixtures and environmentally friendly cleaning material round out the sustainable elements.

“The general committee, with a risk of faith, exercised the courage to take on the opportunity to create a new building on Capitol Hill for the next 60 years of our work,” says Volk. “This building is a metaphor for our work. FCNL has to rebuild another house—a house of democracy, which is threatened and falling down. We need architects to build that house of democracy back so that it is safe, secure, and strong, but also so that it reflects all the values of America in the way we tried to do this building.”

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