Monday, June 10 2013

A Green Talk with KFA’s Christine Cho

Christine 1

KFA’s  sustainability guru, Christine Cho, has been an architect at the firm for 14 years, 10 of them as a LEED AP. She has been our champion of creative and integrated sustainability, making it a dominant force in our project designs and office culture.

In 2007, KFA’s first LEED project was Fire Station 84 for the City of Los Angeles Proposition F program, which mandated LEED certification for its projects. As our first LEED project, FS84 was a learning experience for the whole team, says Christine. There were few products that had the supporting data required by LEED, such as recycled content, renewability, and locally sourced materials. The research for LEED compliant products was new and exciting, but our choices were limited. It was tough. There was also a change in how we designed a building for improved energy performance. Title 24 energy calculations used to be run simply to meet code, “now we create energy models to evaluate building performance as a whole and choose the best options for HVAC and the building envelope while still keeping the construction costs in mind.”

Christine recalls, the early projects were usually LEED certified to meet funding or municipal requirements, as opposed to fulfilling a desire to better the environment or save on utilities. Today, I think everyone is a lot more aware of the long-term cost and health benefits. Clients and architects are becoming more sophisticated when it comes to incorporating green design, learning what can actually benefit their project’s bottom line or can bring an added community benefit. For example, solar hot water provides real cost savings for affordable housing owners; community gardens double as social gathering points and allow tenants to connect with their homes more deeply; and a high LEED certification can enhance marketing efforts with awards and publicity.

KFA’s LEED knowledge base helped us greatly when working on projects that use other sustainable certification systems, such as Green Communities and the recently adopted CALGreen code. Seeing how completed projects perform in the real world, and analyzing which decisions we made that had a real sustainable effect has helped us evolve and create a big picture approach to sustainable design.

Sustainable projects provide the opportunity to edify tenants, raising awareness of environmental issues and a sense of ownership and pride in projects. Christine adds, “As a mother of a 3 year old, we find ways to teach our daughter about the sustainability in everyday routines like recycling and water use. Jemma is a huge fan of the garden that we have in the backyard. In a similar way, more sustainable buildings can be an educating force to entire tenant populations. This can only help the green cause grow and become a permanent part of our culture.”