As an education and advocacy nonprofit, USGBC MA staff are very familiar with teaching roles within the community, and our new Executive Director, Meredith Elbaum, demonstrates this quality. Along with her wealth of experience as past Director of Sustainable Design at Sasaki, she currently teaches a sustainable architecture course at Wentworth Institute of Technology.  This past Wednesday the USGBC MA staff became students themselves and hit the streets of Boston to join Meredith’s class on a tour 888 Boylston Street.

888 Boylston is a high rise office building owned by Boston Properties and located at the Prudential Center in the heart of the Back Bay Neighborhood. The LEED BD+C CS 2009 Platinum Certification project contains 425,000 feet of mixed-use office space, some of which is occupied already by some of the most iconic brands, including Tesla Motor Inc. and Under Armour.

Ben Myers, Boston Properties’ Sustainability Manager and USGBC MA Board Director, was our tour guide. Myers helped us navigate through 888 Boylston’s impressive array of engineering feats, which help the building achieve an energy reduction by roughly half compared to other buildings in its class. Viewable from the street, onlookers can see 888 Boylston’s rooftop renewable energy power plant, which is composed of 14 vertical access wind turbines and a series of solar photovoltaic panels, leading to a 134-kW production capability.

The building’s high-performance envelope is composed of double-paned insulated glazing that provides an impressive 13’-6” clear view of the Back Bay, Charles River and Cambridge to the north. The curtain wall glass was designed to maximize thermal performance and natural daylight. The large window-wall ratio reduces artificial lighting runtime by 60%. At many points on the tour, Myers pointed to the chilled beam HVAC system, which uses 100 percent fresh air instead of re-circulated air, reducing energy costs and improving occupant comfort. When pressed on the importance of fresh air within indoor office spaces, Myers cited studies exploring the importance of air quality for the cognitive function of building occupants.

Stats aside, my impression of the building was largely visceral. I was most impressed by how all of these engineering innovations translated into livable experiences, rather than abstract mathematical concepts, making 888 Boylston an architectural experience that you can feel.

Having to work in an office for most of the day, I am entirely used to the experience of artificial light, a staple that illuminates our workspace but also offers a fairly different experience than sunlight. When touring the 11th floor of 888 Boylston, floor to ceiling windows scattered sunlight across the room and made me feel distinctly more awake and aware in the way that only sunlight can. Foliage sprung up in many locations throughout the building, including a living plant wall in the lobby and rooftop garden. In combination with the building’s chilled beam HVAC system and daylighting, the space felt more open with an almost outdoor quality.

In my mind, the most impressive feat of 888 Boylston is not only its technological feats but the way in which someone potentially without an engineering or architectural background could feel the difference of the entire building experience. Whether the fresh air, ample sunlight, or aesthetically beautiful greenery (aka biophilia), 888 Boylston reminded me that green building can be an experience as well as a practice.

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