Why Design Matters


We were inspired by Sarah Williams Goldhagen's recent book Welcome to Your World: How the Built Environment Shapes Our Lives, for its poetic argument on why design matters. As fellow advocates for the importance and necessity of good design, we were impressed with the author's data-driven links between the neuroscience of architecture and the built environment. Below are a few excerpts that caught our attention and we hope they will catch yours as well. 

book cover_01.jpg

"One recent study of the learning progress of 751 pupils in classrooms in 34 different British schools identified six design parameters - color, choice, complexity, flexibility, light, and connectivity - that significantly affect learning, and demonstrated that on average, built environmental factors impact a student's learning progress by an astonishing 25 percent."

"The difference in learning between a student in the best designed classroom was equal to the progress that a typical student makes over an entire academic year."

"Humans crave and need access to the outdoors and to nature and suffer in its absence, yet few of us appreciate how fundamental that need is. Contact with nature confers on people salutary effects that are nearly immediate. Twenty seconds of exposure to a natural landscape can be enough to settle a person's elevated heart rate. Just three to five minutes will suffice to bring high blood pressure levels down. Nature quite literally, heals us: hospital patients recovering from gallbladder surgery, when placed in rooms with views of deciduous trees instead of rooms facing a brick wall, healed so much more quickly that they were released from the hospital nearly a full day earlier."

"The typical suburban neighborhood, scaled to the view at thirty or forty miles per hour, and to the turning radius of the steering wheel, is designed for driving over biking. One result is that many such developments promote lifestyles so sedentary and auto-dependent that America, and increasingly much of the developed world, is facing an avoidable public health crisis. As public health authority Richard J. Jackson bluntly puts it, "the more time we spend in a car, the more likely we are to be obese - and this is without even taking into account the enervating, resource-and time-draining costs of commuting. An auto-bound, sedentary lifestyle is part of why nearly 40 percent of adult Americans are obese, and fully 70 percent are overweight - compromising people's cardiovascular health and muscular capacity, and greatly increasing their vulnerability to type 2 diabetes."

"The more we learn about how people actually experience the environments in which they live their lives, the more obvious it becomes that a well-designed built environment falls not on a continuum stretching from high art to vernacular building, but on a very different sort of continuum: somewhere between a crucial need to a basic human right."


Introduction to Passive House Presentation at GBA


We are giving a presentation on an Introduction to Passive House at the Green Building Alliance in Pittsburgh on June 13th. Passive House is the strictest international energy standard in the world and the presentation will include a brief history, design guidelines, economics and paths to PHIUS certification. For more information about the event and to register go to the following link: https://www.go-gba.org/events/passive-house-101-lunch-learn/


What Is Energy Master Planning?


The term "master plan" is typically associated with large-scale new construction projects or renovations that consist of multiple buildings in a campus or urban setting. However, in terms of operational costs and sustainability, an energy master plan is a critical component of design and planning that is often overlooked. Energy master plans can be created for large projects consisting of multiple buildings, as well as for an individual building; and can be created for both new construction as well as existing buildings. 

An energy master plan provides a comprehensive approach to planning for a facility’s current and/or future energy needs, instead of a fragmented approach to repairing or replacing broken systems. An effective energy master plan identifies and evaluates a facility’s energy use, consumption and needs. It identifies opportunities for improvement and provides solutions to help building owners achieve greater value based on a feasible and realistic return on investment for identified projects. In order to develop an Energy Master Plan, Studio St.Germain follows a six-step process:

1. Assessment of Conditions and Needs
The first step is accomplished by reviewing and analyzing documents such as building plans, energy audits or energy models, and utility data. Additionally, the project team may perform a visual inspection of the building(s), as well as interview and/or survey facility stakeholders to understand space requirements, day-to-day workflow, and how well the building is currently meeting the needs of its users.

2. Goal Setting
Establishing and confirming an overall vision is essential to launching the master plan. During this phase, we compare the building performance data against energy benchmarks of similar buildings, and use this information to help set energy reduction goals. These goals identify and articulate the core issues to be addressed in the planning process. They act as a scorecard that can be used to comparatively evaluate alternate master plan options developed in the subsequent phases. The goals may address issues such as improved operations, improved indoor air quality and occupant comfort, improved functionality and flexibility of space, reduction of energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions, and achieving sustainable certifications.

3. Options for Improvement
In this phase a comprehensive list of potential optimization measures will be created for consideration. The list may include measures that address site, architecture, building systems and operations. Once all options are identified, each will be tested against the scorecard of goals created in the previous phase. Energy modeling software will aid in making informed choices to meet the project goals for improved energy efficiency, while careful not to undermine functionality of spaces or aesthetics. Financial modeling is used to evaluate how various options may impact factors such as utility costs, a property’s real estate value, occupant productivity, or greenhouse gas emissions. For all possible measures, the advantages and disadvantages are evaluated and discussed in meetings with project stakeholders.

4. Presenting a Comprehensive Plan
The purpose of an energy master plan is to avoid fragmented, haphazard efforts in order to better understand, continually monitor and improve the building performance and energy strategy for a facility. Building on the concepts developed in the previous phases, the focus in this phase shifts to a detailed set of initiatives as part of a single approach to fulfill the master plan goals. The final master plan identifies future projects, including commentary on aesthetic considerations, cost estimates, payback analysis, constructibility, schedule, as well as connections with other initiatives. Additionally, the final master plan and accompanying reports may act as key documents for capital planning, fundraising and advocacy. The master plan also becomes a tool for future building operators, planners and architects.

5. Implementation
The master plan includes an implementation strategy to identify how, when, and by whom the recommendations of the plan are to be implemented. It provides information for both near-term and long-term projects. This is to ensure that short term projects do not compromise longer term opportunities, as well as to allow long-term flexibility. The project team assists the client in preparing requests for proposals (RFPs) for anticipated projects, and establish project delivery methods. In order to assure successful implementation, Studio St.Germain acts as the Architect of Record for recommended projects proposed within the master plan.

6. Measurement and Verification
Measurement and Verification creates a record of the building’s past and a blueprint for the future. Upon completion of each project, Post-Occupancy Evaluations are performed to evaluate how design, construction and operations impacted the original goals. The design team assesses what elements exceeded expectations and should be repeated on future projects, as well as those elements that may have fallen short and require modification in future phases. The energy model and collected data are also used to verify that construction has achieved the goals set for that project. This information continues to be applied in future planning. Monitoring-based Commissioning using building sensors, monitors and an "energy dashboard" ensures that energy efficiency goals are maintained over time.

A successful energy master plan addresses utility consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, renewable and alternate energy sources, spatial requirements, as well as occupant comfort and productivity. Studio St.Germain takes a methodical, step-by-step approach to navigating this complex process to achieve maximum return on investment. 


New Year, New Location


It is with great pleasure that we announce we have moved to a new location. We are proud to be joining Sewickley's commercial business district and look forward to participating in many upcoming community events. Our new address is: 

435 Beaver Street
Second Floor
Sewickley, PA 15143


On the Boards: Bruneaux


We are delighted to have a new restaurant project underway in Sewickley, Pennsylvania. Bruneaux is a fine-dining French-influenced restaurant set to open by late summer or early fall. Below are renderings of the storefront design, the original storefront, as well as the new restaurant interior.


A Smart Approach to Low Energy


When most people hear of energy-efficient building techniques or high-performance buildings, they assume that there must be a cost premium associated with the increased efficiency. However, this is not always the case. Some of the premiums typically associated with energy efficiency can be reduced if planned for with a strategic method. When designing a building, or renovating a building, with energy-efficiency in mind, it is important to consider passive measures as a first priority, followed by active measures, and then last consider renewable options. What do these terms mean, and why this specific order?

Passive measures include things like building orientation and massing, which would optimize the building for daylighting, shading, and natural ventilation. Properly orienting and massing a building is a highly effective way to lower energy use, and may be very simple and inexpensive to accomplish when taken into account in the early phases of design. Other passive measures include insulation, air-tightness, and high-performance windows and doors. If your building has ideal natural light coming through the windows, your need for electrical lighting could be significantly reduced. If your building is well-insulated and airtight, the cooling and heating loads would be significantly reduced. These reductions then impact the size and cost of the "active" electrical and mechanical systems that are required in the building. 

After the passive measures have been implemented, the second priority should be to maximize efficiency of the building's active systems: electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems. These could include many options such as LED lighting, Energy Star equipment, low-consumption plumbing fixtures and energy recovery ventialtion systems. 

And finally, after the passive and active measures have been considered, renewable energy systems may be implemented. Examples of renewable systems include photovoltaic panels, solar thermal collectors, geothermal heat pumps, wind turbines and hydroelectric turbines. In some instances, combining passive and active measures may impact energy consumption enough that renewable measures are not required, or would be considerably reduced. Therefore by first implementing passive and active systems, the investment required to implement a renewable energy system could be eliminated or decreased.


Blowin in the Wind


There have been many innovative technologies developed to harness the power of wind. Moya Power is a new material that captures small amounts of wind to create energy. This new energy-generating system is being developed by Charlotte Slingsby at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London. The semi-transparent sheet material is light, flexible, and low-cost. The sheets are made with thin strands of bendable plastic filaments that move by passing currents of air. The filaments generate energy by the use of the piezoeletric effect, which is the ability for a material to generate a charge in response to pressure. That kinetic energy is transferred to a capacitor and then to a battery where it is stored. 

Another unique element to Moya Power is the variety of potential applications. Architecturally, it could wrap around new or existing building facades, line existing structures that are exposed to large amounts of natural wind likes bridges, or be used in areas that are susceptible to man-made wind such as subway tunnels. 


Passive House in 90 Seconds


 The Passive House Standard can be difficult to understand for those who are not trained experts. This brief and clever video clip explains the concepts behind it. 

Interestingly, these ideas are not limited to residential applications only. The Passive House Standard can be applied to a number of different building types including offices, schools, hospitals, and retail stores. 

If you are interested in Passive House, please contact us to learn more about the world's leading standard in energy efficient design.



The Future of Sewickley: Parking


There are a long list of accolades that come to mind when one thinks of the Village of Sewickley: a vibrant main street, charming historic homes, excellent schools, and many activities for families. However, one common concern among residents, small business owners, and the borough is the town’s parking shortageIt can be argued that it is a good problem to have as it indicates positive growth within the central business district. However, as development continues to grow, the demand for additional parking will continue to increase. Thoughtful town planning and development has a symbiotic relationship to parking - without one you can’t have the other. So this parking problem got us thinking.

photos of 1111 Lincoln Road

The paradigm of parking garage design has started to change. Its identity is transforming from an architectural afterthought to one that celebrates the building type. Thoughtful developers are pushing the boundaries and making them function as more than just places to park a car. 1111 Lincoln Road is a stunning example of just that. Designed by renowned architects Herzog & de Meuron, this sculptural parking facility is more of a civic space than an industrial one. It offers a rooftop restaurant, outdoor seating with landscaped public gardens, 11 retail stores, and a top floor that can be transformed into an event space. Wow. We understand that the feasibility of a project like 1111 Lincoln Road in quaint small towns like Sewickley are unlikely. However, we hope that keeping in mind the possibilities of what a parking garage can be will get people thinking outside the box.

Another way to re-think the parking problem is additional ways to finance them. Parking garages are costly. An above ground parking garage will cost $20,000 per space to construct. For an underground parking garage, the cost will run $35,000 per space on average to construct. However, despite the increased cost, underground parking garages provide opportunity for much higher revenue-generating real estate above ground, such as mixed-use development. Regardless of the parking scheme type, they need to be paid for somehow. Some financing methods we think the Borough of Sewickley could evaluate are the following:

  • Valet Parking: The borough could consider the possibility of leasing the right to operate valet parking in the central business district. The borough could enter into an agreement with private companies to lease valet spaces. This could generate parking revenue during non-metered hours and provide residents and visitors a service that would benefit them along with the local restaurants.
  •  In-Lieu Parking Fees: This option would offer property owners within the central business district the option to pay a fee in-lieu of providing the amount of on-site parking required by the zoning ordinance. This fee could be structured as a one-time payment or an annual lease payment.
  • Public/Private Partnerships: The borough could consider engaging in a partnership with a private developer as a means to providing additional parking. The borough could give developers or property owners special incentives in exchange for providing public parking in excess of the ordinance requirements. In addition, when a local government entity designates a private developer for a project, a business partnership is formed in which controlling costs is in the best interest of both parties and can be the most cost effective finance method.
  • Parking Rates and Enforcement:The borough could consider extending the current parking enforcement times to after 6:00 pm to help generate additional revenue. Additionally, the current metered parking rate of 0.25 cents per half hour could also be increased to a rate more comparable to those found in other local areas. For reference, the City of Pittsburgh rates can be found here.

On the Boards - Explore Sewickley


We are delighted to have a new office project underway for Explore Sewickley. This organization compliments our commitment to fostering positive and meaningful relationships within our community. We support its mission to cultivate the business district of Sewickley into a vital social, commercial, and cultural destination within the greater Pittsburgh area. Below is a sketch of the proposed design (after) and the original building (before). Please visit the work page for more images as the project progresses. 


Pining for Pine


As an architectural material, pine has not been a top choice by designers for some time. However, Vienna-based architect Andreas Mangl might be bringing it back with Zirp. Zirp are three - dimensional wave structured wall panels made from Arrolla pine.

The panels are not only aesthetically pleasing but they offer improved acoustical benefits along with some interesting health ones. Due to how the panels are produced, the scent of the Arolla pine spreads throughout the area where they are installed. This scent contains 0.5% pinosylvin which is an antibacterial and fungicidal substance that is present within the tree. Scientists at the Human Research Institue have found that in situations of physical and mental strain, Arolla pine lowered the heart rate and sped up recovery. For more information on this exciting material please visit the Zirp website.


The Future of Sewickley: Co-Work with Me


There are many great things about living and working in Sewickley: the wonderful schools, the historic homes, a vibrant small village atmosphere, amenities like the YMCA, Public Library, and Sweetwater Center for the Arts to name a few.  However, a recent article by Next Pittsburgh about predictions for the city of Pittsburgh over the next ten years got us thinking about what developments could benefit our town in the future. 

image courtesy of the beauty shoppe

image courtesy of the beauty shoppe

Within Sewickley's central business district - or Village Overlay - opportunities for small office space are limited. This shortage is evidenced by the large number of people conducting their work at Crazy Mocha, Starbucks or the Public Library. A possible solution to this need is the concept of co-working space. Co-working arrangements offer small businesses the ability to have big company benefits such as conference rooms and lounges; services such as internet access, printing, phone answering, and mail-handling. They also offer the option to choose between private office space or open spaces with dedicated desks. Another unique aspect of this concept is the flexibility - it offers users choices of membership types that suit their individual needs and budget with the convenience of paying month-to-month rather than a long-term lease. Additional benefits of the co-working concept are:

  • Increased opportunities for business-to-business resource-sharing
  • Possible integration of a public event space to encourage collaboration with organizations in town such as Art Space 616, The Village Theater Company, and Center for Young Musicians.
  • Showcase Sewickley as a place for innovative business development. 
image courtesy of the beauty shoppe

image courtesy of the beauty shoppe

We are happy to report that there are examples of these spaces popping up right here in Pittsburgh, including Bruno Works and The Beauty Shoppe. Let's make the next stop on the co-working trend Sewickley. All aboard?