Lake|Flato Architects

Every design has an impact. Total carbon management makes it a positive one.

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Image courtesy of Lara Swimmer

Forward-thinking sustainable design

Lake|Flato Architects is a leader in sustainable architecture design in the United States. The firm has received 13 AIA COTE awards—more than any other architect. Most recently, they joined 60 of the largest and most influential international design firms to sign the COP26 Communique on Decarbonizing Buildings, challenging governments to step up their emissions reduction targets for the built environment. Lake|Flato is driven with the goal of total carbon management and making the best decisions possible for the design itself and impact on the climate.

Interior of Austin Central Library, designed by Lake|Flato and 2020 AIA COTE award winner.

Interior of Austin Central Library, designed by Lake|Flato and 2020 AIA COTE award winner. Image courtesy of Lara Swimmer.

Commitment to sustainable design

The firm’s holistic approach to sustainability imbues every project aspect and phase with measurable goals. At the start of each project, an integrated design workshop brings together all stakeholders—owners, designers, structural and mechanical engineers, consultants, and the end user—to discuss sustainability and performance drivers.

A “sustainability champion” is assigned to meet regularly with the project team to share best practices and milestones reached—whether it’s for wind and solar analysis, total carbon management, or goals for renewable energy. Every project also begins with early-stage energy analysis and modeling to address operational carbon.

As embodied carbon analysis tools have become available, Lake|Flato has worked diligently to drive down the embodied carbon of their projects and educate the industry of the importance of addressing embodied carbon—even going as far as delivering a report on the subject.

“Achieving sustainable goals can’t rely only on approach or technology alone—it takes both working in tandem. During the design process, we have to harness the data at hand now. But, even after a structure is completed, it’s important to go back and gather more post-occupancy data. What did you get right? What could perform better? These answer the questions to better inform your next projects.”

Dan Stine, Director of Design Technology, Lake|Flato Architects

Hotel Magdalena – Image courtesy of Casey Dunn

Welcome to the Hotel Magdalena

But what does a design focused on embodied carbon actually look like? Take Lake|Flato’s recent Hotel Magdalena project.

Located in the heart of downtown Austin, it’s the first mass-timber boutique hotel constructed in North America. With an eye for the outdoors, the 5-building complex was designed around the existing Live Oak heritage trees and includes large outdoor wooden porches that encourage occupants to spend time outside.

Something as seemingly simple as a flooring system can make a huge impact for embodied carbon management. With a dowel laminated floor and roof, there aren’t any nails or glue involved.. The reduction in global warming potential is massive—even more so than a normal wood laminate floor system.

“Anyone can easily take the first step toward sustainability with Autodesk tools and the built-in options. At one point, we had this complicated method of exporting Revit files to run scripts for solar PVs. With the solar tool built into Revit to calculate PV potential, we can now do that in less than 15 minutes.”

Dan Stine, Director of Design Technology, Lake|Flato Architects

Hotel Magdalena – Image courtesy of Casey Dunn

Proof is in the numbers

With Hotel Magdalena’s attention to embodied carbon, the numbers present a true testament to its success.

According to Lake|Flato, “Results indicate that when including biogenic carbon, switching to a mass timber structural system can provide a tremendous carbon reduction, ranging from 38% to 58% depending on how much mass timber is replacing concrete or steel. When biogenic is not included, the carbon reduction is significantly less, ranging from a 7 to 17% reduction.”

Use of Autodesk Insight for a Lake|Flato project. Courtesy of Lake|Flato.

Technology and tools for carbon goals

To meet operational and embodied carbon goals, Lake|Flato uses a variety of technology and techniques. To manage operational carbon, Lake|Flato uses Autodesk Insight for high-performance building design. Insight enables Lake|Flato to quickly, easily, and accurately model the impacts of design decisions on the overall energy consumption of each project.

A key tool in Lake|Flato’s arsenal for measuring and managing embodied carbon is Tally—the first life cycle assessment app to calculate the environmental impacts of building material selections directly in a Revit model. Tally recently became a part of Building Transparency, the creator of Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3). EC3 is a free database of construction Environmental Performance Declarations (EPDs) and corresponding building impact calculator for use in design and material procurement. The list of materials and quantities generated in Tally imports directly into the EC3 tool, fostering a more efficient workflow that optimizes both tools’ capabilities.

“The lifespan of the building is important to the true measurement, including the material acquisition, and manufacturing. Tally has the ability to get really specific, including defaults for certain materials—and the ability to measure and gauge if materials are trucked or delivered by rail.”

Dan Stine, Director of Design Technology, Lake|Flato Architects

Hotel Magdalena – Image courtesy of Casey Dunn

Sustainability is a climate and business differentiator

Owners are having an a-ha moment with sustainability. Coupling the measurement of both operational and embodied carbon is best not only for the impact on climate, but also in maximizing business differentiators and operational savings in the long run.

According to Stine, justifying upfront costs is much easier now with the knowledge of the benefits and energy costs saved during operation. A sustainable asset also provides a competitive edge as tenants and corporations’ commitments increasingly demand buildings that take sustainability into account.

“To get started at any level, the program I always point these firms to is the 2030 Commitment. Addressing climate change is about each project, and it is about the whole portfolio. Not every client will ask about sustainability, but if a firm makes it part of its consistent practice, those projects can also have a positive impact on efforts to reduce emissions and energy use.”

Heather Holdridge, Director of Design Performance, Lake|Flato Architects

Learn more about sustainability in AEC

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