Designing Green Healthy Workplaces

HOUSTON – Ralph Bivins of Realty News Report: The latest edition of  THE RALPH BIVINS PROJECT podcast features an interview with architect Maria Perez, director of sustainable design for Gensler.

To LISTEN to the Entire Podcast Click Here.

RALPH BIVINS:  With the celebration of Earth Day it’s a good time to talk about sustainability, what is going on in our environment and ways to make it better. We are here today with architect Maria Perez,director of sustainable design for Gensler, a global architecture and design firm with a major presence in Houston. She has studied sustainability a great deal and has interesting ideas to make sustainable places for people to live and work. Welcome, Maria, we appreciate you being here.

MARIA PEREZ: Thanks for the invitation, I appreciate it.

RALPH BIVINS: Gensler recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of being located in Houston. Gensler just moved its offices to 2 Houston Center, the Brookfield Property tower where a major renovation was just completed. Your firm assists thousands of companies with designing their workplaces. Tell us about Gensler moving its own office from Pennzoil Place to 2 Houston Center.

MARIA PEREZ: I think that what we did at our office is a good example of what is happening around different cities, repositioning older buildings for the future. We wanted to use our project as an example of how we can take older buildings, retrofit them and bring them alive. We didn’t want to start from scratch in a new building. We wanted to make a statement, so when we selected a new site, our statement was: What can we do to rebuild our lives in the downtown area?  Our biggest component was to find a place that could be reached by public transportation. We wanted to stay downtown, but in a place where we could make sure that employees would not have to drive. For example, I live in the Woodlands. They have a Park ‘n’ Ride, so I travel by using the bus. It’s kind of far, and I know my carbon footprint may not be all that good, but at least I am using public transportation. Well, it’s not public, it’s private, but it offers options.

RALPH BIVINS: Additional objectives?

MARIA PEREZ: The other thing we wanted to accomplish when we decided to stay downtown was to be close to where everything is – near the amenities, services, restaurants, so when you’re downtown, you don’t have to drive anywhere.

The other thing we wanted was to use the tunnel connections. If you work in one building, you can go to a meeting in another by using the tunnel connections. If it’s too hot, you have no excuse, you can use the tunnels and still be connected.

One of the biggest statements we made was to stay downtown.  We knew that downtown was the way to go, and that’s why we selected this site. Not only do we have offices there, but we were able to reposition the entire building. One of the main goals for us from the start was to create a space allowing employees to take part in physical workouts, to have a gym. We didn’t have a fitness center in our previous building, nor did we have access to fitness facilities. We now offer employees a chance to work out during the workday. And they also can bike to work. We give them the opportunity to do this.I think the big issue for us was to show that we are committed to these environmental concepts. We have basically two certifications. The new office has LEED  (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification. LEED ratings are based on a system that gives points for the level of sustainability. Gold certification is the third of four tiers, and LEED Gold buildings have 60 to 79 points of sustainability.

We also went after Fitwel certification. Fitwel focuses more on the health and well-being of the employees. We wanted to show our commitment to do the right thing, and we wanted to have third-party certification to show that we are actively doing the right thing.  We also have an exterior stairway that goes to the top. It is meant to encourage its use to improve wellness and to make sure we are actively using all our spaces.

The changes we’ve made in the building are fantastic. Employees are very happy. They have access to amenities we didn’t have in the previous building. We have taken an old building, saved it and brought it more life

At the Bank of America Tower, a 30-foot-wide monumental staircase creates a street-level gateway to the tunnel network and restaurants. Photo by Ralph Bivins, Realty News Report, Copyright 2022.

RALPH BIVINS: Your firm is also involved in one of Houston’s newest downtown buildings, the Bank of America Tower, which was developed by Skanska. The building has a huge staircase leading to the basement level. Can you tell me a little about that?

MARIA PEREZ: First of all, we had to deal with the tunnels. You know, the tunnels don’t get much light. With the Bank of America Tower, we wanted to open the tunnels up to the daylight and bring that light in. We wanted to make the use of the tunnels a pleasant experience. I don’t know if you knew this, but this building is also Fitwel certified, and is also LEED Platinum (sustainable) certified. We wanted to activate the stairs and all the spaces, which is part of the Fitwel program.

Another thing was to increase interest in remaining downtown after work hours. If you want to stay after work and have a drink with a friend, you can do it without leaving downtown. On the first level, we have all these stores, so a lot of things are going on after work. People can stay longer and enjoy happy hour. We are creating this active environment, from Level 1 all the way down to the tunnel system.

To LISTEN to the Entire Podcast Click Here.

Maria Perez Biography

In her position with Gensler, Maria Perez serves as one of the firm’s leading sustainability ambassadors and promoters, engaging staff, clients and the public on innovative and sustainable design, construction and operational thinking. She is a leading advocate for performance-based design and a recognized expert in LEED standards and sustainability rating systems. Maria is a licensed architect in Texas. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Architecture from ITESM, Monterrey, Mexico, and a Master of Science in Architecture from the University of Houston.


April 26, 2022 Realty News Report Copyright 2022

(Written Q&A edited for length and clarity.)

File: Designing Green Healthy Workplaces

File: (2) Maria Perez. Gensler Designing Green Healthy Workplaces. Fitwel. LEED, Bank of America. Houston Center. Pennzoil Place.

Podcast: April 2022 Designing Green Healthy Workplaces

 

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