Arch | Nexus SAC
Sacramento, Calif.         
Region ENR California
Green Project

Project Team
Owner/Design Firm
Architectural Nexus
General Contractor Market One Builders
Civil Engineer Warren Consulting Engineers Inc.
Structural Engineer Miyamoto International Inc.
MEP Engineers Glumac; 2020 Engineering
Subcontractors ACCO Engineered Systems; Royal Electric

In aspiring to create the first structure in California to meet the Living Building Challenge—and become one of only a handful of such projects around the globe—the team behind the Sacramento offices for Architectural Nexus confronted a steep learning curve. Yet among all the project participants, only net-positive water systems designer 2020 Engineering had worked on a living building before.

To rapidly get up to speed, the team came together at a “level of integrated and collaborative design that was far higher on this project than any other that we’ve ever done,” says Brian Cassil, principal with Architectural Nexus. “The contractor, engineers and architects were there from the very beginning, from the time the land was purchased, and we met on site before pencil went to paper. All stakeholders were there to vet ideas, brainstorm and look out at the far horizon for challenges that we may incur.”

If certified by the International Living Future Institute (currently pending), Arch Nexus will also become the world’s first reuse of an existing building to achieve the living building challenge.

Identifying red-list compliant materials—those manufactured without environmentally harmful materials—proved to be the biggest challenge for the team, says James Fitzgerald, director of project development with Market One Builders. “We had to be the police force on the site to make sure all the materials coming on to the site were approved. We were able to work with some manufacturers to actually change their manufacturing process so it could be deemed as red-list compliant. Some were willing, some weren’t.”

In one such instance, paint on exterior metal panels included banned chemicals. At the team’s request, the manufacturer engineered a new paint that was red-list compliant, and the company now has a more environ-mentally sustainable product to introduce into the market, says the team.

The building’s photovoltaic array generates more power than is consumed through daylighting, operable windows and efficient workstations that use one-fifth of the power of a typical setup. The biggest impact came through engagement with building occupants, helping to reduce energy consumption by 20% to 30% below predicted models (see chart below). The team bolstered tenant education efforts and encouraged everyone’s participation in the building operations. “We set out on a quest to try and address the people factor with buildings from a holistic approach,” Cassil says. “That has led us on a path of rediscovery for our firm and the way we approach architecture.” Early involvement by the local electrical utility also proved valuable in educating the team on incentive programs, net metering and energy financial models.

Mindful of ongoing drought in California, designers included a host of water-saving strategies, including composting toilets with zero sewer waste, a rainwater irrigation system and a green wall irrigated by gray water. The team also installed a system to convert rainwater to potable water but cannot operate it until California changes its water permitting laws.

At 8,200 sq ft, the project was dwarfed by some of the other contenders in the Green Project category. But its lack of size didn’t deter judges from pointing out how much the project moves the needle forward on sustainable construction. One Best of the Best judge said that “we have a lot more to learn for the future from Arch Nexus than any of the other green projects. It sends a message, regardless of its scale, that this can be done in a way that is affordable, achievable and safe.”

ENR's Best of the Best Projects 2017