Evelyn Lee

Mayne's Federal Building Too Sophisticated for LEED

by , 02/16/08
filed under: Architecture, San Francisco

Thom Mayne, LEED Platinum, San Francisco Federal Building, Green Building, Sustainable Architecture

It looks as though LEED, the leading measure of green building standards in the US, is already having problems keeping up with the new building technologies related to sustainable design. Original press releases regarding Thom Mayne’s Federal Building had the building slated at a minimum of LEED Silver, with more than 70 percent of the structure cooled through natural ventilation. Even with consultants on hand from the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory laying out detailed computer simulations of the interior environment, the Federal Building does not base qualifications for LEED Certification.


The building has already won multiple awards for its energy efficient design, but the short comings within the LEED program’s point system has no way of currently accounting for the systems that are in place in the Federal Building. Mayne believes that LEED could react better to the changing technologies by giving performance requirements, instead of tacking on green-architecture through a series of points. “A bike rack and air conditioning get you the same point. I’d much rather see BTU and CO2 requirements and let the professional community solve the problem.”

The United States Green Building Council responds by saying that LEED is a work-in-progress, and has confirmed that they will be reevaluating the Federal Building.

Via: Curbed SF

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32 Comments

  1. SAH November 1, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    I do not know the particulars with this project. But, we built a LEED project in California. During this process I had real difficulty accepting the fact that we would achieve more LEED points putting in a highly efficient HVAC system than designing a passively cooled building that would produce zero carbons! Southern California is such an ideal environment for this. We achieved LEED Silver, along with ugly and expensive HVAC units. LEED must take into account and encourage passively cooled buildings in their next version 3.0.

  2. Mag March 6, 2008 at 8:48 pm

    I dunno, I look at the building and see the need for functionality and an appeal to the greener side of architecture, but this building fails to do both.

    Sounds morel like arrogance with the architect than finding a happy medium between the two.

  3. Pat February 22, 2008 at 8:14 pm

    I agree with Randy and many of the other commenters. LEED is a step in the right direction – and they are coming out with new versions as we speak. I’m not sure when the LEED for New Construction version 3.0 is coming out, but it should be relatively soon. I hear its going to be quite a bit different than version 2.2 and it will be interesting to note the differences and get a n even more updated look at the direction they are headed. Any thoughts on this?

    -Pat
    http://www.intheleed.com

  4. Randy February 21, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    I am thoroughly enjoying the different viewpoints being presented in this discussion. A difficultly I am having is that no one in this discussion knows why the building didn’t achieve certification. I would venture to guess that they didn’t meet the energy efficiency prerequisite.

    I think that the next step for LEED is requiring LEED-EB (Existing Building) certification within a couple years of operation or your building falls off the website list (you can keep for LEED-NC(New Construction) plaque). If Mayne’s building is such a marvel of energy efficiency they should commit to pursue LEED-EB silver certification after the building has been running for a year or two. The LEED-EB system is based on actual energy bills. If they achieve LEED-EB they would have a sound argument that LEED-NC has serious problems. Since I haven’t seen any actual energy number or an Energy Star rating posted, I would not be surprise if the energy bills speak a different truth.

    Does the building have bike racks and showers? Generally they would need to sacrifice a portion of their underground garage, landscape, or ground floor for bike parking and put a shower on each floor or changerooms near an entrance. I have dealt with large office towers that do not pursue this credit because of such costs and space issues. I used to live in Brisbane where showers and racks are a code requirement for new buildings. I applaud LEED for pushing such requirements in North America.

  5. Jeremy February 21, 2008 at 1:09 pm

    As an architectural engineer (yes, we hybrids exist) it gets tiring hearing the complaints about LEED, especially when the same things are brought up and the same excuses are given. I linked through six different websites and was unable to find a single description of what this building has that prevented it from achieving a LEED certification. There are auto manufacturing plants, wine cellars, grocery stores and museums that have achieved a LEED certification at some level that have many more reasons to compain about the LEED system not meeting their needs than what essentially amounts to an office building – the core property type that the LEED system was developed for. For example, if a federal building can’t meet ASHRAE 55 thermal comfort standards I would be shocked as the standard itself declares that it is written to address that specific type of environment. Try applying that standard to a refrigerated produce distribution center where the temperature is a function of what is stored in the building and occupant comfort has no part in the equation.

    Are there nuances to LEED? Yes, that is clear and has always been. I do not believe a design team should promise a specific LEED rating. Make achieving LEED a goal and do the right thing. Chasing points is not the way to go. Did the Federal Building do the right thing? Based on Mayne’s comments, no one can decide. Come to the table with suggestions on how to make the system better and specific reasons why it doesn’t work (specific meaning, tell us what caused the Federal Building to miss the certification and why it should have earned it). Otherwise, stop complaining. There are alternatives to LEED – this building could have certified under the UK’s BREEAM program (there is at least 1 building in the US that has done it). It could have certified under the competing Green Globes program or at least have gone after an Energy Star rating. I have a feeling, though, that no matter what program it pursued certification under, the designers would not have been happy with someone else telling them whether or not their building meets an environmental design standard. If it doesn’t get the approval of a third party review…smells like greenwashing to me…

  6. M S February 21, 2008 at 6:52 am

    I think when Thom Mayne says that the building is too sophisticated for LEED, he’s simply making this point:
    A one size fits all system based on points where you get a point for a bike rack and a point for a shower close by do not equal the environmental benefits of removing 70% of the HVAC of the building of this size. That’s like removing a small town from the grid! It’s also not a system that is balanced in a way that building a platinum house or small project scores higher than a bigger building that has larger contstraints. If you look at the overall impact of each, I think one is doing a little more work than the other even though the desires of both are with the best intentions to be good stewards of our environment. He’s not saying that LEED is not useful, or it has bad intentions or it doesn’t work at all; he’s arguing that there will be projects that require the architectural community to reasses the system for assigning value to environmental sustainabilty, which in will through questioning improve the way that we build in general.

    As a whole LEED has atleast started the conversation within the construction industry and has developed it’s own cache so that clients now expect projects to meet certain performance criteria as it is good for their business, PR and the environment (not in that order.)

    Any of you who build know that construction itself is a series of negotiations and compromises that are based on a set of shared values between client and architect and that those values inform the decision making process. In many cases you will find that a very sophisticated client will understand the LEED system, it’s pluses and minuses, and make a strategic decision to certify or not certify the project. In the end the certification is a simple and publicly recognized way to describe the building as striving toward environmental sustainability within the constraints of the particular problem. I don’t think the client would be upset if the project reduces the overall long term cost of energy consumption, provides a naturally daylit and ventilated workspace with 360 degree views of the city and doesn’t reach LEED platinum.

    It’s great there’s a lively discussion among people who feel strongly about environmental construction, we may owe this to LEED too?

  7. Pete February 20, 2008 at 8:03 pm

    Preston’s more thorough response, posted on Jetson Green, provides an excellent analysis of this situation.

    That said, the fact GSA began requiring a minimum LEED certified rating in 2003 does not mean that every building built under GSA since 2003 was required to meet that standard.

    Having worked as a consultant to GSA, I know first hand the glacial pace at which that organization moves. While Mayne may be spinning the facts to his favor in anticipation of litigation, he may also simply be attempting to protect his reputation. His press release did state the building would be certified; in fact, he “assumed” it would be certified Platinum.

    Short of litigation in a public venue, only the RFP for design of the building and the actual contract between GSA and Morphosis can provide the selection criteria for the design team and the contractual requirements for design of the building.

    GSA might not, for example, have required that the design team include a LEED AP.

    Like many others, however, I am most curious to know the number of rating points this building actually received and the point totals for each category.

  8. Walter Daniels February 20, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    I find myself agreeing with both sides. In any design, you have to make trade offs. The GSA (owner) may require certain things that cause it fail in other areas. LEED ratings should not just be a checklist. It should include, as architecture knows, trade offs. Cutting HVAC needs, may require using water/land in ways that fail a checklist.
    Of necessity, there will be disagreements on the value of decisions. The climate of Maine, is not Nevada’s climate. Trying to treat them the same, is not realistic, or right. LV rarely gets close to freezing, for long, while Maine spends months below that temp. Maine rarely gets above the 90′s, while Las Vegas does most of the summer. They each have unique HVAC needs, and solutions. All they have in common is insulation to maintain desired _internal_ temps.

  9. Mudman February 20, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    Our firm just finished an office building that was designed a built with LEED certification as a goal. First a consultant was hired, the design changed numerous times in response to the consultants untimely reviews and costs shot up. Design costs were totally over budget. LEED is a cumbersome, poorly structured program. Why is it that contractors can take a set of plans and specifictions and build a building from them and LEED can’t determine which points are granted from those documents?

  10. Chad February 20, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    It seems that Mr. Mayne is a bit off. If he set out to meet LEED standards, then he knew the requirements ahead of time. There are many points in the LEED system which don’t even relate to energy. If I were the owner, I’d be having a serious talk with the Architect about why he didn’t deliver what was promised(and seemingly contractually obligated…).

  11. Test Test February 20, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    Thom Mayne has ALWAYS enjoyed playing the gadfly. LEED is a work in progress, and Mayne continues to find ways to pump his PR. BTW, simple matters such as “cleaning” and “maintenance” are too far below HIM. There are always other people to clean-up after Thom Mayne.

  12. Randy February 20, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    I recently submitted a building for certification that did not have air conditioning. I optimistically argued for a couple credits relating to the innovative strategies used to avoid the need for mechanical cooling. Unfortunately, I lost those credits but still achieved LEED Gold certification for the building. This does point out a problem with the system, however, without LEED I would not have been able to prioritize many of the energy efficiency and green features in the building.

    LEED allows owners and municipalities to demand measurable, fairly simple green targets for buildings. To me it is as simple as meeting building code. My interpretation is that Mr. Mayne’s team simply missed the ball. For the sake of other projects using LEED, I sincerely hope that San Fransisco does not let this project off the hook easily for their screw up. To claim the LEED system needs to get more sophisticated doesn’t make sense when you can’t even meet their simple requirements.

  13. Emma February 20, 2008 at 6:03 pm

    Rawr- maybe this building looks great form a BUS. Have you ever tried walking along its 30-foot high concrete and metal walls or sitting in the concrete plaza with metal pieces? I fully support the efforts of leed and recognize that it is evolving and one day we’ll get to a better way of measuring the standards. I also hope that in this more evolved LEED standard we’ll not only look at the building as an isolated form in space but recognize that it is just as important for people to experience it from the outside edges.

  14. Adam February 20, 2008 at 5:24 pm

    First off, anyone who has looked into LEED in any detail will know that LEED is a mix of prescriptive and performance requirement. In energy consumption alone, there are up to 10 points available based on the energy performance of the building, regardless of the technologies used to get there. Apparently Mayne was not aware of this: “I’d much rather see BTU and CO2 requirements…” well that’s exactly what LEED already has (see credit EAc1).

    Also, in addition to encouraging innovation and progression, LEED is also about making sure a broad scope of green design features are considered, not just energy.

  15. Preston February 19, 2008 at 10:03 pm

    I tend to agree with @laura and @heather just above.

    I’m reading a lot of admiration for the natural ventilation system, but I’m not hearing why this building is too advanced for LEED. Mayne signed on for a mandatory LEED Certified building by design and didn’t deliver. Now he’s complaining about the system and how the LEED system is broke. Well, that’s a little disingenuous, isn’t it?

    I know there’s a ton of respect for Mayne, but these claims of “too sophisticated” and “too green” should be evaluated. Energy efficiency isn’t the only road to a green building. And I don’t mean to promote my own stuff, but I left a more thorough response to the situation on Jetson Green last night.

  16. Laura February 19, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    As its been mentioned many times, LEED isn’t perfect. But that’s not really the issue here. As a federal building in SF, it was contractually required to achieve some sort of LEED certification (I’m don’t remember what level). Plus, the building has been hyped as LEED silver for the longest time. LEED points and the LEED rating system are very clear– there isn’t a lot of uncertainty about whether or not you’re going to get the points you’re attempting. Having not been involved in the project whatsoever, I can’t speculate as to when in the design process someone decided not to actually study the credit requirements. And if they thought LEED was an outdated, uninspired, disjointed system, why agree to build a government-mandated LEED building and then publicize its “LEEDness” to no end? Again, I agree that the rating system isn’t perfect, but I believe that the USGBC has done a whole lot more than any other agency in bringing attention to sustainable building on such a large scale. From everything I’ve heard, this is a great building from both a design standpoint and an environmental one. Does not achieving LEED certification smear its reputation a bit? Sure. But does it change any of the great features the building does have? Absolutely not.

  17. Heather February 19, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    While I agree that LEED has some work to do to really give naturally ventilated buildings their due (and working on a naturally ventilated building myself that is seeking Certification, I totally agree!), let’s take this article in perspective. The “original press release” said it would be LEED Silver. And yet it has somehow fallen short. Is it because the technology (natural ventilation) is just “too advanced” for all the thinkers at the USGBC? Or is it because the comparison is to A PRESS RELEASE? I’d argue the latter. I know the thinkers at the USGBC and I just don’t believe that this building (which I have toured, by the way) falls short because of it’s natural ventilation scheme. I think there’s other things in play here that are being ignored by the architect and by the article. A LEED building is not based on ventilation systems alone.

    And honestly, just because I put out a press release saying that my building is going to be LEED Platinum or LEED Silver or whatever does that mean it really is? At the end of the day, the building should be graded on what it has DONE not what it has ADVERTISED.

  18. dyk February 19, 2008 at 6:10 am

    It is a shame that something created to help the earth is unable to keep up with it. As an architecture student, I know that designers are continually challenging design and the factors that come with it. As we move into a time where environmental preservation becomes more of an issue it is ignorant to disregard it as a design factor. I believe Tom Mayne is a great architect, not only because he is USC alumni, but he is also forward thinking.

    It is unfortunate that the LEED point system is unable to account for the technologies and systems he has used in the Federal Building to create an energy efficient building. The only good thing that I can say that has come out of it though is that it serves as proof for his ingenuity in sustainable design. Other buildings just follow LEED’s points to create a green building but Tom Mayne has found new ways to help the planet. It is encouraging to see that design doesn’t have to be compromised in the goal of sustainability.

    The existence of the Federal Building make me wonder as to how many more buildings have gone unrecognized for their energy efficient design. Sustainability should be a goal the whole planet should be thinking about and putting into action but until then there should be a more current model and set of standards that architects and designers can follow. Currently LEED is a system that rewards buildings with certifications, but I am sure that in the future LEED will become a set standard for all building when the planet is at the end of its lim

  19. GShorey February 19, 2008 at 2:08 am

    These are serious short-falls in LEED. The number of points you can earn for design-innovation and reduction below the ASHRAE baseline are limited. Plus, you don’t get as much credit for non-air conditioned buildings or partially air-conditioned buildings as you should (considering the quantum of energy saved). In fact, in India, where we have provided energy consultancy for several platinum and gold rated buildings, this is a serious short-fall. Which is the prime reason why we developed our own rating system that took into account such features in buildings and actually encouraged adoption of the local architectural styles, which are inherently capable of providing good thermal comfort without serious HVAC interventions.
    But i will agree that LEED is constantly evolving and it shan’t be long before such buildings are also given due credit under a new LEED framework.

  20. @ Aaron February 18, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    neither…. Mayne, Thom

  21. ERic February 18, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    I find the top pic pretty disturbing. I expect it to sprout legs, start walking around and shooting the other buildings. Or at the very least, start rolling across the landscape, looking for settlements on Tatooine to sell R2 units.

  22. Rawr February 18, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    I’m in love with this building. Everytime my bus passes by it, I just HAVE to look at it. It’s so amazing.

  23. Troy February 18, 2008 at 11:07 am

    Yes, LEED does have it’s problems, but at least it has gotten people thinking in a “green” direction. The danger I see is LEED going the route of carbon credits. What I mean is that it gets so involved in racking up points that it misses the really simple ways to lower carbon footprint: promote restoration and reuse and conservation of materials. Pushing hi-tech solutions instead of passive or using exoctic new materials instead of adapting existing structures is not the way to go. I mean come on, the greenest building is the one you restore instead of tear down and replace. Putting clothes on a line to dry in the sun or using a energy star steam dryer both can work, but the proper selection depends on the circumstances. You cannot grade every buiding using a points system alone. The btu “math” idea is an excellent additon to LEED. Radiant heat loss measurements, ratio of energy use to square footage or occupancy would be good, maybe points for projected materials lifespan or building lifespan (no 10yr roof/tear-down/temporary arch) or preplanned adaptive reuse linked to a community’s master plan would be better point systems.

  24. JS February 18, 2008 at 10:26 am

    LEED does good things, but it also misses a lot, mostly because it is a prescriptive checklist and not performance based challenge.

    Like Maine said, make it about energy, CO2 or habitat targets, not points for isolated measures.

  25. Jimmay February 18, 2008 at 8:50 am

    LEED is a great idea, it has great ideals, and it is something to try and get those good ol’ boy architects out of operating in the stone-age. But in the end it is not the architects job alone but also the contractor, and most importantly the client. As much as i appriciate what LEED is doing and how much buzz it has made in the realm of sustainable developments; its almost as if it is preaching to the choir. I fear that it will turn into the same ‘organic’ movement that has been happening in the marketplace. If you go to the grocery store and walk up and down any of the isles you will see multiple products with catch-phrases like ‘all natural’ written all over the packaging. Though if you research what the product is, there is a very small amount of all natural product contained within them. LEED is a catalyst for this same type of sticker, as long as it says LEED it has to be sustainable; and unfortunately that is far from true.

  26. Aaron Lephart February 18, 2008 at 4:59 am

    Are we talking about Maine USA or Mayne B.C.? Proper spelling would help!

  27. architecture - Mayne&#x... February 18, 2008 at 3:03 am

    [...] es ganz gut macht, gibt es Gold- oder sogar Platinmedaillen. Blöd nur, wenn die Zeit rennt. Zu schnell rennt. [...]

  28. Kim February 17, 2008 at 9:10 pm

    LEED is being reformed, it constantly is adjusting, but without details as to why this building doesn’t meet the basic standards fo LEED sounds like sour grapes to me like Tozmervo said. I’m also tired of hearing complaints about bike racks being a point that doesn’t seem as important as others. If you ride your bike to work and use a shower before starting then a bike rack and showers are quite important. LEED is mroe than an energy scorecard–there’s Energy Star for that. LEED is also about the environment and changing people’s attitudes–”market transformation” and of bike riding and recycle bins are left out–that’s a major missed opportunity–so the points are well-deserved.

  29. treekiller February 17, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    points are not the point. It’s time for the USGBC to reform LEED. Like there are any points available for carbon sequestration by leaving trees standing versus turning them all into certified lumber. Or points available for not building a sprawling suburb…

  30. AM Putra February 16, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    Yes, Mayne is one of architects who are disagreeing LEED (I know he claims some protest in some architecture magazine, CMIIW). Come on, there is something we need to do to adjust LEED, let’s say with aesthetic aspect?

  31. tozmervo February 16, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    LEED allows up to 10 points for energy reduction below ASHRAE standards, and on top of that it offers Innovation in Design credits for systems that might not be otherwise covered. What exactly is this building doing that LEED doesn’t recognize? I’m well aware of shortcomings in the ratings, but without more information this just sounds like sour grapes on Mayne’s part.

  32. joshua doolittle February 16, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    Amazing building, but all that mesh makes me nervous about dust/grime collection. I wonder if there’s a power-wash system installed/integrated for cleaning.

    It’s clear in many modern buildings that the basic maintenance of keeping it clean is often disregarded as irrelevant.

    I feel sorry for the guys that have to wash the Seattle Public Library windows. They must feel like Batman. How many windows has Rem washed in his days?
    Probably none.

    Also, it seems like the LEED certification process is in need of an up-grade and a process to make it more affordable if not free. I keep hearing about how expensive it is to receive certification and that’s on top of the building costs.

    Please visit my website regarding the development of an “organic steel” using banded bamboo strips. Your time and consideration is greatly appreciated.

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