A shift toward ‘holistic’ building design.

The new Access Living headquarters incorporates both green and universal approaches to design.

According to the 2007 Autodesk/AIA Green Index, 90 percent of U.S. architects expect to incorporate some sustainable elements by 2012. This move to green design is being driven by owners, who are calling for reduced operating costs, the study says.

In 2007, one in seven cities surveyed had green building programs, and the number improves to one in five this year with current projections.

Since green design is not necessarily a design style, but a point of reference to a design process, it fits well with the universal design approach, which also serves as an orientation to building construction.

According to Adaptive Environments, an international nonprofit that advances the role of design for people of all ages and abilities, “Universal design and green design are comfortably two sides of the same coin but at different evolutionary stages. Green design focuses on environmental sustainability, universal design on social sustainability.”

The AIA believes it will be easy for its interested architects to go beyond green and incorporate a “holistic” approach to whole building design.

“Universal design results in a dynamic and responsive environment that anyone can use. Whole building design attempts to anticipate how the building might change over its lifetime and to configure it and construct it in ways that allow flexibility of [energy] use and renovation, extending to disassembly and recycling.”

A recent building project by LCM Architects for disability rights organization Access Living’s new headquarters in Chicago embraced this holistic approach and created a working environment that is comfortable and accessible to all. From its snowmelted sidewalks to its green rooftops, the space goes beyond what is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act and now represents what Access Living is all about.

In terms of restrooms, Access Living Public Relations Coordinator Gary Arnold is happy to say green design fits well with the universal design requirements in their new space. “Our restrooms have motion-controlled and sensored toilet flush valves, water faucets and soap dispensers. Even the lights are sensor-operated.” Savings are seen in both energy and water, and there are no levers to push or pull, making the fixtures accessible to everyone.

Gains in commercial construction are expected through 2008 as the housing market finds its bottom. Watch for this new holistic approach to make its way to a city near you.

Find help on the Web. Visit the Whole Building Design Guide (www.wbdg.org) for your first stop in going beyond green.