Prominent Architect P.K. White Goes "Green"

A Look At The Future Of Sustainable Architecture, Straight From The Source

Prominent Architect P.K. White Goes "Green"

Most business owners know that in order to maintain a successful operation, one should exist in a location that warrants success. Philip K. White Architects in downtown Honolulu had always been ahead of its game. Swank Kaka'ako digs -- before Kaka'ako became the trendy design hub (and recently booming luxury condo locale) -- is where White headquartered his operations for years. So, why, when Mr. White saw a graffiti-strewn, dilapidated low-rise apartment complex that looked like the kind of place you wouldn't even want to rent a room by the hour, did he know he'd found his new office digs" Why, because it's in the mostly residential hub of Nuuanu, of course.

By now you must be wondering if we have our facts straight. Indeed, we do.

Philip K. White Architects have moved to a new HQ in Nuuanu because they opted to retrofit the entire building as a sustainable, green structure -- something the firm focuses on, and has become renowned for throughout the island chain. In fact, before the building was completed, yet word seeped out through the ever-curious (and competitive) design grapevine that White was using natural airflow, water efficient fixtures and solar energy, fellow designer Mary Philpotts announced her outfit would move in with White and friends.

We caught up with P.K. White associate architect and project manager Laura Ayers, AIA, LEED AP, in order to get the skinny on how the project came about, what it means for Hawaii designers and everything in between.

B on Hawaii: Tell us in a few words what type of projects P.K. White tackles on a regular basis?

Laura Ayers: We do high-end residential and small commercial projects -- everything from private homes to offices to hospitality work. We pride ourselves on designing buildings that are environmentally sensitive and culturally respectful. Our firm was among the first to demonstrate that a "green" building can also be stylish and visually appealing. The tentalows at Moloka'i Ranch are a great example of an eco-friendly project -- done well before being green became trendy!

B on Hawaii: When and how was the School Street building proposed?

Laura Ayers: Our office started thinking about moving to a new location about 3 years ago. This was based both on the rising rents in Kaka'ako, and our need for space to grow. While looking for the appropriate property, the opportunity came up to buy a bldg at 40 School Street, and share it with Mary Philpotts and Philpotts and Associates, with whom we collaborate frequently. Pip White and Mary Philpotts saw the potential and purchased the property.

B on Hawaii: Where there any unique design aspects the firm wanted to execute, but for some reason could not?

Laura Ayers: We wanted to put about 3x more photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roof, but we were restricted by zoning. We also looked at wind turbines that could be placed on the roof, but this was not economically feasible. We'd still like to add rainwater catchment -- which makes for more efficient plumbing. Through the permitting process, we learned there were some things we were not allowed to do. But overall we accomplished most of what we set out to.

B on Hawaii: What is the message your firm is trying to convey? Are you encouraging others to follow your lead?

Laura Ayers: We selected the building at 40 School St. based on the proximity to the downtown area and the potential it had. We like that it will be easier for clients and employees to get in and out, as downtown becomes frustratingly traffic laden. But, most of all the potential to revitalize the building and use it as our living laboratory, to try and use the strategies and materials we have been talking about and reading about was too good to pass up. We learned so much by working on the building -- from the design to the construction process -- all the way through the living and working in it. We now have a living, breathing example to show clients. Pip recalls that the neighborhood around the old office in Kaka'ako used to be a little rough around the edges. Now, there are two Starbucks nearby! Our new neighborhood is rough too -- but perhaps in time it too will transform. A few more lunch options would be good (and we wouldn't mind a 'bucks either!).

B on Hawaii: Can you tell us the overall day in, day out health benefits for employees working in a "green" building? What are some of the "green" items?

Laura Ayers: We have a lot of natural light spilling in -- so it is bright and airy. There's an open-air roof deck, so the staff can eat lunch outside. All of the carpets, adhesives and paint used are low VOC (volatile organic compounds). The air quality is stupendous.

We have a PV system which provides power for a good percentage of the lights and the elevator. We have recycling areas in all offices and pick-ups scheduled weekly. There is a full bathroom on the roof, so that people can bike or walk to work and get ready at the office. We are going to offer preferred parking for folks who carpool or drive hybrid vehicles. The faucets in the building are all low flow, automatically controlled and hydro powered (meaning the water flowing creates power that maintains the battery). The toilets are dual flush.

The recycled or renewable materials used include bamboo, sisal, and some eucalyptus wood that was grown in a soon-to-be certified forest on the Big Island. We also have occupancy sensors that turn off lights after 20 minutes.

B on Hawaii: Do you feel healthier working in a "green" office?

Laura Ayers: I am not sure if we can quantify yet if the green office means less sick days...But I think that the green office has made a HUGE difference in our office/team morale. When you are working in an environment like this and using these strategies every day, I think it makes a real impact on how you look at your life and what you're doing at home. If there were more offices that went the green route, I think there would be more people really trying some of these strategies on their own.