Green for All

Why Paso Verde is the most important green building development in Philadelphia

For Paseo Verde, APM chose to build on an empty lot that Philadelphia Gas Works employees were using for parking right beside SEPTA’s Temple University Regional Rail station. | Photo by Jeffrey Totaro

On a recent afternoon, Latifa Patton prepares three giant aluminum baking pans full of aromatic macaroni and cheese with vegetables. The kitchen of her three-bedroom townhouse in the mixed-income Paseo Verde development in North Philadelphia is lined with succulents. The living room is an oasis of potted palms, orchids and colorful cushions.

Patton says people ask how she can afford to outfit her home this way. She makes $7.50 an hour at a work-study job; and with the help of student loans, she supports her nine-year-old daughter and two-year-old son while earning a degree in social work at Community College of Philadelphia. “I go to thrift stores. I’m creative,” she says. “I love my house. It’s why I have to make it comfortable.”

Before she was accepted as one of Paseo Verde’s first tenants for its subsidized apartments, Patton and her children were homeless and had been living in a shelter for a year. Now, she pays just $302 a month in rent at Paseo Verde.

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Challenge Accepted

The Living Building Challenge demands that teams exceed LEED requirements to create buildings that restore nature   

An artist rendering of Re:Vision Architecture’s concept for the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s multi-building complex. | Courtesy Alice Ferguson Foundation

The Living Building Challenge is the black belt of the green-building scene. The international building certification program, philosophy and advocacy tool was conceived in 2006 as a way to exceed LEED requirements—the standard in green building certification—challenging designers, builders and architects to build advanced sustainable buildings.

To be certified as a Living Building, seven categories must be met. The categories are represented as petals on a flower, and they are: Place, Water, Energy, Health & Happiness, Materials, Equity, and Beauty. Each petal is subdivided into 20 Imperatives. Nearly any building project—new or existing—of any scale in any location is eligible.

It’s so strict that there are only five buildings fully certified in the world—all in the U.S. The impetus to create the Living Building Challenge occurred when Cascadia Green Building Council—the U.S. Green Building Council chapter in the Northeast U.S. and part of Canada—wanted to improve upon LEED standards, which started in 1998. The group has since spun off into a separate 501c3 organization, The International Living Future Institute, with offices in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver.

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Pay Dirt

In the ‘Mushroom Capital of the World,’ Laurel Valley Soils
creates the ground floor of green building

Laurel Valley Soils owes a large degree of its prosperity to the continued growth of the green-building movement. | Photos by Jared GruenwaldIt’s a bright mid-summer day in the rural Chester County borough of Avondale, which sits just a few miles north of the Delaware state border off Route 1. Tucked behind the winding, two-lane road known as Penn Green is a vast manufacturing facility spread out over what seems to be an endless tract of farmland. This is Laurel Valley Soils.

LVS is a producer of compost and the facility itself consists almost entirely of heavy machinery and endless mounds of steaming dirt. Between the bulldozers and the dirt sheds and the neatly arranged windrows of soil that stretch on as far as the eye can see, nothing less than the very ground floor of the ecologically sustainable construction industry is being built on these 125 acres.

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Connecting the Dots: Civil rights protests, Woodstock, a Commodore 64 computer and my inevitable path to Greenbuild

It is the night before greenbuild, the U.S. Green Building Council’s international conference and expo, and tens of thousands are flocking to Philadelphia to celebrate and promote sustainability as a genuine worldwide movement. As an architect and professor of sustainable design, it’s more than an amazing moment in our city’s history; it’s a validation of 18 years of hard work and dedication. Too excited to sleep, instead, I think back on the moments of my life that brought me here.
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The Navy Yard adds another sustainable building to its arsenal

GlaxoSmithKline's new LEED Platinum certified building. | Photo credit: Francis Dzikowski / Esto for Robert A.M. Stern Architects, LLP This weekend, GlaxoSmithKline, an international pharmaceutical company, is officially moving their Philadelphia office into some fresh digs. Even better the newly-constructed, light-filled, four-story building at the Navy Yard is slated for LEED Platinum certification.

The move has allowed GSK to reduce its office space needs by 75 percent through innovative multi-purpose space design that enables employees to surf from workspace to workspace as their activities change throughout the day. Employees are encouraged to work where they’re most comfortable, whether it’s in a space-age looking chair in the atrium, hovering at an adjustable sit-to-stand workstation, or sipping a hot beverage at the café.

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Ambler Boiler House transformed from industrial icon to symbol of sustainable design

The Ambler Boiler House is just steps away from Ambler's SEPTA regional rail station. | Photo from Heckendorn Shiles ArchitectsFor generations, the towering Keasbey & Mattison smokestack on the Ambler Boiler House has been an icon in the town of Ambler. Built in 1897, the smokestack was initially a symbol of the town’s booming industry. By the 1970s, it spoke to a depressed economy. Today, the spire represents a shift to an eco-friendly future: the space is now a 48,000-square-foot, LEED Platinum office building. That’s especially good news for Ambler, considering Keasbey & Mattison was in the business of producing asbestos products.

“Ambler was a bit of a company town, and you still see some other brick structures that have a similar history,” says Mitch Shiles, a principal with Heckendorn Shiles Architects, the firm that transformed the space. Like the asbestos plant founders, the building’s current owners, Summit Realty, were drawn to the location in part because of the easy train access. The building is a short walk to Ambler’s SEPTA regional rail station. Transit-oriented development is a big benefit in the quest for LEED Platinum certification, the highest mark in energy-efficient design.

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Growing Greener: Philly builds first LEED-certified firehouse

Fire officials and Mayor Nutter perform the ceremonial "push" of the fire engine to open the new firehouse. | Photo by the Philadelphia Fire Department/ City of PhiladelphiaThis Tuesday, Philadelphia added to its growing list of green building achievements when it opened the city’s first LEED-certified firehouse. Built in Disston Park to serve Mayfair and Tacony, Engine 38 Firehouse is LEED Silver certified. The 12,200-square-foot firehouse features recycled materials from within 500 miles, solar panels and a green roof. Other unique elements include a community and training room, and exterior artwork that shows the history of the fire department and the Tacony neighborhood. The original firehouse was demolished when a new I-95 access ramp and interchange improvements were made at Cottman Avenue. 

Green Building: A Fine Vintage

Developer Anthony B. Miles grew up in the city’s Francisville neighborhood. “As a little child, I saw how vibrant the commercial corridor was,” he recalls. “There was a farmers’ market and local mom-and-pop businesses, and it was really safe.” Miles hopes to reinvigorate the community with the Vineyards, an ambitious LEED Platinum development featuring 60 residential units.
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