By Jean Nayar
Photography by Dave Chance
SmithGroupJJR designs a net-zero structure for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation
that reduces work footprints with the help of Teknion, and breaks new ground in
It’s not every day that a building makes history. But, in many ways, the newly constructed Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach, VA, has done just that. As the hub for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Hampton Road office, the Center supports the Foundation’s education, outreach, advocacy and restoration initiatives to protect the Chesapeake Bay—one of the nation’s most valuable and threatened natural resources. And because the sustainably designed, net-zero structure has broken new ground, not only has it caught the attention of its local community, but it also promises to stand as a model for new
sustainable commercial structures across the country. Of course, that bodes well for the planet overall, too.
In embodying a few calculated risks to push eco-friendly building into some largely uncharted terrain, the 10,520-sq.-ft. Brock Environmental Center has quickly rewarded its stakeholders with an abundance of successes throughout the course of its short life. “Our goal was to create the greenest building possible to reflect the Center’s mission to preserve the Chesapeake watershed and to serve as a teaching tool,” says Greg Mella, vice president of SmithGroupJJR, who was the project designer and principal in charge of the project. Like SmithGroupJJR’s design of the Philip Merrill Environmental Center, the Foundation’s predecessor structure in Annapolis, MD, and the first commercial building in the world to earn LEED platinum status in 2000, the new facility also earned top LEED certification. Lifting it to the next level, however, are integrated aspects that also put the project on track to garner certification by the more recent and more stringent Living Building Challenge (LBC) established by the International Living Future Institute. “When we began the project there were only two other commercial structures in the world that had achieved full Living Building Challenge certification,” adds Cheryl Brown, a principal at SmithGroupJJR.
When it was completed in November 2014, the Brock Environmental Center marked the conclusion of a successful community effort to save Virginia Beach’s 118-acre Pleasure House Point tract from an 1,100-unit development. Echoing qualities of the site and nearby shoreline, the narrow curved structure recalls the sinuous shapes of the live oaks, gull wings
, and oyster shells that permeate its surroundings, while siding made from reclaimed 19th-century cypress sinker wood and zinc shingles reference the fish-scale and woodsy textures and palette of the site. Oriented on an east/west axis, the optimally insulated structure also embraces passive solar principles and includes triple-glazed operable windows that maximize natural ventilation and daylight with minimal heat gain.