Architecture firm designs office to create more power than it uses

Daily Memphian
By Tom Bailey

The building will be more than office space.

“A living lab for us to understand better as we design buildings,” is how architect Jacob Davis described the future space.

The award-winning architectural firm is renovating the 62-year-old, one-story office building at 663 S. Cooper to house its staff of 25.

Much of the renovation is designed to make the 7,500 square feet more energy efficient: More and bigger windows to admit more natural light; skylights to illuminate the midsection; better insulation for the roof and walls; energy efficient windows; and controls that automatically dim lights when it’s sunny or when no one’s there.

The firm will cover 80 percent of the roof with solar panels. Archimania will sell all 49 kilowatts of electricity to TVA, making the firm one of about 50 businesses in Shelby County participating in TVA’s Green Power Providers Program.

But a growing number of businesses and homes in Shelby County feature at least some of those green measures.

What sets archimania’s future headquarters apart will be the geothermal heating and air-conditioning installed there, as well as the firm’s goal to produce low carbon emissions and use less energy than the building produces.

“It’s sort of a case study,” principal Todd Walker said Thursday, Feb. 28.

Archimania is spending extra for all the green measures, including $130,000 on the solar panels and $135,000 on the geothermal system.

The big question

How many years of lower bills from Memphis Light Gas and Water Division will it take for archimania to recover the extra costs?

“Lots of people ask this question,” Walker said. “I don’t know how well any architects can answer that question until they have done it.”

The early calculations show that 12 years will pass before the firm recoups its investment. But a lot of variables could change the timetable.

Geothermal system

Black, rubber water hoses are buried in a horizontal loop from three to 29 feet under the soil. The earth naturally heats, or cools, the water to a constant 55 degrees.

That 55-degree water flows through the looping circuit into the building and is filtered through the HVAC system’s metal coils. The air pumped across the coils is cooled in the summer and warmed in the winter.

The geothermal system should help archimania receive several certifications signifying how green the building is.

Archimania is seeking Zero Energy and Zero Carbon certifications from the International Living Futures Institute (ILFI), and a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Operations and Maintenance Certification from the United States Green Build Council.

Walker and co-principal Barry Alan Yoakum also will build five apartments at the building’s rear, and will seek an Energy Advantage Apartment Certification from MLGW’s Eco-Build program.

The firm must inhabit and operate the building for a year to prove to the ILFI that it produces more energy than it uses.

“It means more because it’s not just a certificate,” Yoakum said. “It means you have to perform to receive the certificate.”

Neither of the archimania principals is aware of another commercial building in the region that produces more energy than it uses.

“Barry is always doing very innovative things with archimania,” said Becky Williamson, who is strategic marketing coordinator for MLGW. Even with homes he designs and builds for himself, Yoakum makes them energy-efficient and practices what he preaches, she said.

Davis, the archimania architect overseeing the firm’s headquarters project, said that in discussions with clients the firm often advocates the use of energy-efficient features.

“It’s an opportunity for us to walk the walk as well,” Davis said of the renovation. “We’re kind of doubling down on the mission to use clean power.”

Archimania will be able to demonstrate the features to clients and “explore these technologies in real time and better understand them,” Davis said.

Yoakum and Walker bought 663 S. Cooper as well as the similar but smaller building next door at 673 S. Cooper. Archimania renovated the other building and is leasing it to the creative/marketing firm Loaded for Bear.

The total renovation cost for both buildings is about $2 million.

The Loaded for Bear building has neither the solar panels nor the geothermal heating-and-air-conditioning system.

The difference in buildings provides an opportunity for a controlled experiment.

“What we want to do is compare this over time,” Walker said. “When when we ask in three years, ‘How does it compare to the existing system?’ we have a controlled experiment.”

The firm will love saving money on power bills earning green-building certifications, but those are not the most important reasons for the extra effort, Walker said.

“First and foremost, it’s about being a good Samaritan for the environment,” he said.

Kristi Slipher