A flurry of criticism flooded the blogosphere after the opening of Rafael Viñoly Architect's Firstsite Arts Center in Colchester last month. Critics complained that the project was late and that it cost $15.8 million more than it should have. Some called the 41,000 square foot mixed-use development a golden banana, other's called it a golden blunder. But hardly anybody took the time to find out what efforts had been made to reduce the project's environmental impact. So we contacted the designers directly to clear up the matter, and this is what we learned.
Although RVA made an effort to achieve a BREEAM rating for the arts center, because the new 2010 requirements are more stringent than the earlier standards they were aiming for, they were not successful. However, they did recycle 24,000 tons of fill taken from a demolition project that occurred simultaneously with the construction of First Site’s foundations, and the Pittsburgh Corning FOAMGLAS insulation is made from recycled glass.
A sophisticated underfloor plenum ventilation system combined with distributed mechanical plants that reduces duct runs (versus a centralized room) facilitates substantial energy servings. And, as we noted previously, the building is so well-lit naturally that it is unnecessary to use artificial lighting during daylight hours. All of the timber used within the building is FSC certified, and the golden envelope metal is also made of recycled materials. The concrete used contains blast furnace slag, which is basically a re-used by-product of iron and steel production, and much of the waste generated during construction, including both metal and plasterboard, was recycled.
Finally, in order to protect the Scheduled Ancient Monument, RVA opted for a single volume that did not require deep foundations. This means that in the future, if the building has to be demolished, it will be easy to remove and recycle the existing materials, further reducing the overall amount of waste generated by this project. So, you be the judge? Is the Firstsite Arts Center a golden blunder or is it a sterling achievement in sustainable design?