Selldorf and Zwirner Go for the Gold

On April 13, 2012, as part of his popular Design Talks series, Bill Moggridge, Director of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, spoke with architect Annabelle Selldorf about some of her notable projects.

One of many exciting projects for Selldorf Architects, the new David Zwirner, particularly caught my attention. Selldorf described that she and Zwirner are from the same town in Germany, and they have collaborated on all of his gallery projects over the years. Their new project, begun in 2010, is designing a new gallery from the ground up that seeks to qualify for LEED Gold certification. As a museum professional, I was curious to know how this was possible, so I asked Annabelle and her partner, Lisa Green, about their design process.

Q: The perception is that LEED certification is difficult to achieve in museum or gallery projects, given the climate and lighting requirements for the display of artifacts. What are some of the strategies you hope to employ on this project to win a LEED Gold rating? Can you describe how aspects of the design in particular are being impacted by these strategies?

A: There are specific requirements in some LEED credits about the percentage of natural light a building needs to have and providing occupants with views, and we were able to achieve both of these points at the new Zwirner gallery. Often this is hard to achieve for museums and other art spaces because too much natural light can be harmful to artworks. In this case, though, since the primary exhibition space will show art on a rotating basis, typically only for 4-6 weeks at a time, it is a little less of an issue. But we orientated the large skylights in the main gallery towards the north so the light is diffused and rarely is exposed directly onto a hanging wall. The area of the building where the staff spaces are located is not very deep, so we were able to make sure that all of the work spaces had access to daylight and views.

On the climate-control side, the gallery, like museums in general, requires very strict climate controls, which typically increase their energy consumption compared to other buildings. However, with good design it is actually not difficult to achieve LEED points for energy savings. It does require diligence to make sure that you are operating your systems as efficiently as possible.

Also, at least 50% of the building’s roof will be a green roof, which combats the heat-island effect and also helps to manage storm water.
In our experience, LEED certification is not difficult to achieve from a design perspective, but it does require great commitment on everyone’s part – particularly the client’s – to make it happen. There can be an added expense in terms of administrative overhead for the contractor, paperwork, and even a premium for mechanical equipment, but in the end, those costs more than pay for themselves with a more energy-efficient and sustainable building.

The new David Zwirner on 20th Street opens late fall 2012.

For more information on the project and to hear the complete webcast: