Gallery: Merrill Environmental Center: the Greenest Building Ever?

Finished in 2000, the Phillip Merrill Environmental Center serves as the headquarters for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. It was the first LEED Platinum Building in the world.

Designed and engineered by SmithGroup, the Merrill Environmental Center is a 32,000 sq ft facility designed for the organization’s 90-person staff. Located on the Chesapeake Bay shoreline, about 15 minutes southeast of Annapolis, MD, the new facility provides space for the entire organization, which was previously spread out over four separate buildings. Before CBF bought the 31 acres of land, the site was slated for significant development. The headquarters sit on 4.5 acres of land and the remaining 26.5 acres were saved from future development after being put in a conservation easement.

The headquarters are composed of two shed-roof structures oriented to the South with a courtyard in between that is protected from the elements but angled to take in views of the bay. A parking garage is located underneath the building, and the rest of the parking at grade is covered in gravel to encourage stormwater infiltration. The surrounding landscape is composed of native and drought-tolerant plants to eliminate the need for irrigation. What little runoff is generated by the gravel parking lots is collected and treated in a bio-retention garden located within the parking lot.

Rainwater is collected from the Merrill Environmental Center’s roofs and is stored in three large exposed cisterns that supply about 84% of the office’s water needs. A 2 kW solar system on the roof supplies solar energy, while a geothermal heat pump provides energy to efficiently heat and cool the office. Solar passive design, natural ventilation, daylighting, tight insulation and low-e windows also play a big role in the energy-efficient design. The CBF headquarters use 59% less energy than other office buildings this size, which was determined during a year long testing and monitoring phase after the building was commissioned in 2001.

Environmentally-friendly materials were used throughout the building, including recycled-content materials like galvanized steel siding and roofing and reclaimed concrete, acoustic ceiling tiles, interior fabrics, and rubber flooring. The timber post and beam construction utilizes engineered scrap and new-growth FSC-certified wood and SIP panels for the roof and wall enclosures. Additionally, interior finishes included bamboo and cork flooring and reclaimed wood paneling from pickle barrels. Many of the materials were sourced locally and there were no VOC finishes or materials used at all.

When the building was finished back in 2000, it was a shining example of what green building could be — and even today the center is still leading the way in green building strategies and performance . Employees are well accustomed to the composting toilets, the automatic ventilation controls, and their creative office layout. One of the reasons the center is so highly esteemed is due to its dedication after construction to building commissioning to ensure all the systems were operating up to their designed specs — in the ensuing year, the organization worked with NREL to monitor the buildings’ performance. The center continues to compare its performance against its operating benchmark to this day.

+ Chesapeake Bay Foundation Phillip Merrill Center

+ SmithGroup


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  1. zachd August 17, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    The building is truly special, beautiful in all aspects. They\’ve also added green roof and use strictly \”enviro-friendly\” stains, paints, and insecticides. The property also hosts osprey nests(one use to have camera feed!) and an apiary.

    Like I said, special.

  2. mike_kohn August 17, 2010 at 11:57 am

    Wow, what a great feature on the Environmental Center! Thanks so much for writing this up, Bridgette. All of us here at SmithGroup put a lot of value on sustainability and this project is one of the best examples of that.

    It’s really incredible in person. If you have a chance to check it out, it’s worth the trip. Personally, one of my favorite features is that its location on the Chesapeake Bay allows some employees to commute by kayak.

    Thanks again!

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