People Who Listen, Design That Speaks
After CSHQA’s Boise, Idaho office was completed in 2013 to meet LEED Platinum standards as set out by the US Green Building Council, it became a ‘living laboratory,’ showcasing what is possible when architects, engineers, and clients collaborate to create energy efficient, sustainable buildings.
“I think this is truly the future of building design,” CSHQA President Martin Hahle told us, referring to the Boise office. “Someday, it won’t be cutting edge anymore for energy efficiency and sustainability, and we understand that. But we also know we have to keep stepping up our game at every opportunity because we want to stay on the leading edge.”
We wanted to know more about this remarkable building, but first, it seems only appropriate to offer congratulations to CSHQA on its 130th anniversary. The oldest, continually operating architecture firm in Idaho was established in 1889 by architect William S. Campbell, who had studied at the University of Edinburgh.
Among the Boise landmarks designed by Campbell are the 1899 Telephone Building, the 1901 French chateau-style Idanha Hotel, the 1901 grand private residence Granite Hall, and the 1903 Central Fire Station. Campbell left the business in 1904, and subsequent owners have continued to make a mark on Idaho’s landscape.
“I think the company survived by providing quality architectural design and services and had a reasonable ownership transition policy,” says Hahle, who joined the company twenty-six years ago.
For many years, the company name changed each time senior partners retired, and new ones came in; however, it has remained CSHQA since 1989, reflecting the initials of four principals: Glen Cline (1949-1985), Neil Smull (1961-1986), Robert Hamill Jr. (1972-1989), and Allen Quintieri (1970-2001), with the A in CSHQA standing for associates.
CSHQA was previously a professional association with twenty stockholders but transformed itself in 2018 to become 100 percent employee owned as an employee stock ownership company.
In addition to the Boise office, CSHQA has regional offices in Sacramento, California and Denver, Colorado and employs eighty-five professionals: architects, mechanical, electrical, civil, and telecommunications engineers, as well as landscape architects and interior designers. The firm is licensed in fifty states and parts of Canada. “This represents growth opportunities for us because we can work with and design for national clients everywhere,” Business Development Director KK Lipsey told us.
“We maintain our repeat clients, pursue new work, and try to remain diverse about the kinds of projects we go after. We know if we focus on one or two clients or markets, and those take a dive, it puts the company at risk. One way we have sustained ourselves is by having diversity in the project types we do: retail, education, government and public works, aviation, multi-family residential, medical, hospitality, and historic restorations,” notes Hahle. Among those restorations are the state capitol buildings in Idaho and Wyoming.
“We focus on listening to clients. There are different kinds of architects, and some focus on big egos. They design the way they want, and maybe the client is paying them because they want a super-star architect. But with our clients, we design the vision they have, and we create something that meets their specific needs. In a lot of our work, we ask our clients to bring in the stakeholders, the people who will be using the space, who can tell us the special requirements they have.”
Not only does CSHQA listen to clients, but it also allows them to experience their space before it is built through Virtual Reality (VR). “We are using REVIT to create 3D models and virtual environments with a high degree of detail in materials and finishes. This is a very useful way to communicate design with our clients. Instead of relying on two-dimensional drawings, which can be difficult to interpret, they can put on VR goggles and experience something that is quite amazing.”
“We’ve had clients who were stunned by the reality of it. It gives them an opportunity to see and virtually experience things they might not have thought about, like how the details are going together, the ceiling heights, and design elements not easy to get from two-dimensional plans, and they give us feedback that we understand,” adds Architect Scott Hopkins.
Hopkins was the lead architect on The Springs, a multi-family, affordable two-story residential project, located one hundred miles north of Boise in McCall. The project features seventy-two units and other amenities, including a playground and picnic area. It was completed in 2010 and earned LEED V2 Platinum certification, in part for highly efficient heating and cooling.
“The goal,” he says, “was to build efficient, affordable apartments, and we had a client who had donated a piece of land that other developers might not want to take on by themselves because of groundwater issues. But they were determined, and they helped us lead the charge to go down the road for a LEED Platinum project. It was really important to have a developer and a contractor on board with the same goal,” he explains.
“Because McCall is in the mountains, it gets considerable amounts of snow, and we wanted to make sure the tenants wouldn’t be paying outrageous energy bills in what was supposed to be affordable family housing. However, we were limited on the type of fuel we could use, because the natural gas that is available elsewhere in Idaho is not available there.”
Part of the LEED design process is to explore multiple options to prove what is the most cost-effective and the most sustainable, “so we did look at an alternative energy source. A lot of our electricity in Idaho comes from hydro at significantly less cost than fossil fuels, but there is still controversy over damming up rivers that can impact habitat. We looked into using groundwater in which a well is drilled deep into the ground, and the heat from the groundwater is run through a heat pump and transferred to the heating systems for each unit. We went down that road a considerable way, trying to figure out an efficient system, but the amount of land needed, along with the cost and the depth of the drilling, outweighed any benefit.”
In the end, the solution was to go with electric power and use super-insulated prefabricated panels as structural components for the walls and roof. Hopkins describes them as being “like a sandwich where you have two pieces of plywood on either side of a thick, continuous piece of foam, which creates a super energy-efficient, very tight, building envelope.”
And now, it is time to return to CSHQA’s Boise office, where our story began, and learn about the building that has created a lot of buzz in architectural and construction circles and wherever people are concerned about sustainability and energy efficiency.
“CSHQA had been a tenant in a mid-rise corporate office building in downtown Boise,” LEED-accredited Architect Ted Isbell, who headed a team of fifteen company professionals on this project, told us. “It really felt corporate. You couldn’t tell the difference between our office and an insurance agency or some other such business, and because we were tenants and not owners, there was no way to demonstrate our creativity,” he says.
“As our lease came up, the previous president, who’d been there for twenty-five years, was getting ready to leave, new leadership was coming up, and there was a groundswell of support to do something different with our work environment and change the culture from the inside out. We created a task force, put everything on the table, and looked at ground-up construction as well as existing buildings we could remodel.”
A twenty-thousand-square-foot, brick warehouse on the periphery of the downtown was identified as a good option. Isbell recalls it as “a raw, bare-bones building that hadn’t been corrupted by substandard remodels or violated or abused, so it was a blank slate and had the footprint capable of housing everyone in the firm along with room for growth.”
He explains, “The question was, what did we want the building’s character to be? What did we want it to say about our firm? How far did we want to go with energy efficiency and sustainability? LEED certification was on our mind, and we saw this as a good opportunity to ‘walk the talk.’ We can’t propose a high degree of energy efficiency and not do it ourselves. We realized it would also enhance our understanding and capabilities. Once we’d targeted to do LEED, the question became, how far can we go? What level of certification can we reach based on our budget and given that we had existing building constraints?” he shares.
“It took us a while, more time than our clients would normally allow. We looked at six different heating and cooling options and cost-effectiveness, and we found the sweet spot with available on-site utilities. There is a geothermal water loop that runs through downtown Boise and was just five feet from our building perimeter. This presented a huge opportunity. To incorporate it, we cast hydronic piping in the concrete floor slab and ran hot fluid through the piping to create a radiant heating system,” explains Isbell.
“Then our mechanical engineers came up with the idea of exploring the same system for radiant cooling, so now, in the summer, we pump cool fluid through the piping, and that absorbs the heat from the air into the floor. That way, we don’t have to have a whole separate air distribution system for cooling, so it saves on ductwork, and not having to chill and blow cool air around saves on energy.”
Further energy savings were realized, he says, by removing the batt insulation from under the roof and adding new rigid insulation and TPO roofing membrane on top of the roof. Salvaged batt insulation from under the roof was then reused in the exterior walls with six-inch deep wood stud furring on the interior side of the existing CMU walls. This technique greatly increased the thermal performance of the exterior envelope.
The project also incorporated a heat recovery system, which captures waste heat from the computer workstations. “We have a system of ducts attached to the back of each of the computers, and in the winter, we extract heat and use it, and in the summer, we just exhaust it outside, so that lowered our cooling load, too. This was an immediate benefit because the cooling tower could be downsized, and we were paying less for electricity to run fans and pumps to blow cool air around the building,” explains Isbell.
“It was a really good collaborative effort across all the different disciplines,” he says, noting that the interior makes good use of natural light, including light from skylights, combined with extensive LED lighting and automated dimming controls. Outside, there are permeable pavers for stormwater mitigation and a native-plant-based landscaping palette that requires less watering.
“We often call this our ‘living laboratory,’” says Lipsey, “as our space was created for clients, visitors, other building professionals and students, to see the infrastructure. The ceiling is left open to the underside of the roof deck and many of the building systems, electrical, mechanical, plumbing, and telecommunications are visible.”
Adds Isbell: “With the LEED Platinum 2009 certification, this is the highest-rated building in the state of Idaho, where there’s some pretty good competition from others like the Idaho National Laboratory, a federal project with a higher per-square-foot construction budget than what we have. If you make it your mission to achieve an energy-efficient, sustainable building, you can achieve a lot. This is the building of the future, and it is also a demonstration that you don’t have to throw away old buildings. You can reuse them and use them well.”