The World's "Greenest" Building

By Mike Larson, Editor | September 28, 2010

The Aldo Leopold Legacy Center near Baraboo in Sauk County has set a new record by scoring 61 of 69 possible points on the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating — the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) standard for measures a building's energy efficiency and sustainability.

The 12,000-square-foot Legacy Center not only reached the most-elite category (platinum), but also scored the highest rating of any building ever to apply for LEED certification.

The $4-million building serves as visitor center and headquarters for the Aldo Leopold Foundation, which honors the spirit, work and teachings of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, who lived with his family less than a mile away.

Epitome Of Energy Efficiency

Built to the highest standards of energy efficiency and sustainability, the Legacy Center incorporates some of the most innovative materials and systems ever integrated into commercial construction in the United States.

The Legacy Center is the first "net zero energy" building in Wisconsin and the first carbon-neutral building certified by LEED. Its energy demand is more than balanced by its output of clean, renewable energy.

Certification Presented By USGBC President

The USGBC presented the Aldo Leopold Foundation with its Platinum Certification during a ceremony at the Legacy Center in mid-October. USGBC President, CEO, and founding Chairman Rick Fedrizzi traveled from Washington, D.C., to personally make the presentation to the foundation's representatives, including Leopold's daughter, Nina Leopold Bradley.

Calling the Legacy Center a stunning achievement, Fedrizzi said, "This building does things that people around the world are only dreaming about. They are saying, 'Somewhere, somehow, some day a building will be able to do that.' This building is doing it today.

"You have done something truly remarkable here," he said, "and the rest of the world has its eyes on this."

The Design And Construction Management Team

The building was designed by The Kubala Washatko Architects (TKWA), of Cedarburg, and its construction was managed by The Boldt Co., of Appleton, which also provided LEED consultation. The Leopold Foundation selected both companies for their expertise with LEED building projects.

More than 40 other contractors, 40 suppliers and an energy-modeling expert from the faculty of the UW-Milwaukee's School of Architecture joined TKWA and Boldt in the project.

Designing And Building Considerations

Planning began in 2003, ground was broken in June 2006 and the project was completed in April of this year.

Right from the beginning, the project team set a goal to create a building that produced as much energy as it used.

Said Kubala Washatko's project manager, Joel Krueger, "We wanted to show how well extreme energy efficiency could work in a commercial setting, and also that it is relatively easy to install.

"Some of the key elements," said Krueger, "are making good use of daylight and natural ventilation, using a skin that resists heat transfer, and reducing consumption in every way." Krueger also noted that the design made use of modern technology like roof-mounted photoelectric cells and electronic monitoring of the building's energy needs in order to maximize efficiency.

Krueger said that the design gained energy efficiency by matching the temperature of different areas to the activities occurring there. For example, rooms not used frequently in winter are detached and have their own heating, so they need not be heated continuously.

The project also gained LEED points by using materials found within about two miles of the site, supplemented by others that were not more than 90 miles away.

Wood for structural members, siding and trim came largely from trees that had been planted in the 1930s and 1940s by the Leopold family. Those trees were removed from the surrounding woods in order to thin the maturing forest. The largest and sturdiest were used, still round, for ceiling trusses. Nearly all of the structural framing came from pine trees harvested near the site, as did the white oak and ash used for siding that needs no paint or stain.

Working with the wood at hand presented some challenges — and inspiration. Boldt's project manager, Gregg Tucek, explained, "Going to a pile of logs presents more challenges than ordering a standard-sized piece from the lumber store. Building with the natural materials and trying to maximize energy efficiency and sustainability excited our craft workers. They became interested and rose to the challenges. Even the cabinets, windows and doors all came from the site's own lumber."

Leading-Edge "Green" Components

Everything in the building is designed with energy in mind, and it boasts many leading-edge "green" components.

The building is oriented on the site to take advantage of the sun's position during changing seasons.

A thermal flux zone surrounds the structure much like an enclosed veranda, and operable windows allow fresh breezes in summer and ward off winter's winds with inside shutters.

Solar panels on the south face of the produce six times the electricity used by an average Wisconsin house, and 10-percent more than is needed to operate the building.

Geothermal systems and heat exchangers feed an in-floor radiant heating and cooling system.

The earth-tube system that supplies fresh air is one of the first installed in North America. Buried beneath the building, it draws in outside air, then tempers the air as it travels through the underground conduits before being filtered and sent into the building.

"Instead of bringing 20-degree air into the building in winter, we'll bring in 55-degree air and ultimately reduce heating costs," said Tucek.

More than 500 sensors monitor energy use, temperature and even carbon dioxide levels in the building to track the Legacy Center's performance and indoor comfort. "Some buildings integrate a portion of green elements," said Tucek, "but in this project we're seeing Leopold's vision come to life in every facet of design and construction."