This Issue
 
In a city steeped in revolutionary spirit, Boston Properties pushes the boundaries of sustainable design.
WRITTEN BY Lorne Bell

Cover: The goal at 888 Boylston Street was to build Boston’s most sustainable Class A office building. Above: 888 Boylston has a renewable energy power plant on its roof, a 134-kw, energy-efficient system that includes 14 vertical axis wind turbines and an array of solar photovoltaic panels.

What does it take to be a revolutionary in Boston, the city that launched the American Revolution? Just ask the innovators at Boston Properties, Inc. (BXP), one of the largest owners and developers of office properties in the nation. As a leading real estate company, BXP has been a pioneer in sustainable design and construction.

 

From rooftop gardens with beehives and rainwater harvesting to wind turbines and solar power, BXP’s latest landmark buildings stand at the cutting edge of sustainable building. In 2011, the firm completed Atlantic Wharf, Boston’s first green skyscraper. Atlantic Wharf integrates historical structures and a sustainably designed high-rise mixed-use development with commercial, retail, and residential space between the vibrant Rose Kennedy Greenway and Boston Harbor, just steps from the site of the Boston Tea Party. And this past December, BXP opened 888 Boylston Street, Boston’s most sustainable office building, located at the Prudential Center in the heart of the Back Bay neighborhood. Both projects achieved Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum, the highest mark for sustainable design and construction.

 

“Innovation is about questioning the status quo,” says Ben Myers, Boston Properties’ sustainability manager. “It’s about going beyond code requirements and industry standards to develop something truly special.”

 

For BXP, LEED Platinum projects are a mark of pride, but they’re also a centerpiece in the firm’s contribution to Boston’s Climate Action Plan. Launched in 2014, the citywide initiative calls for reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050, a goal that will require more than electric cars and bike lanes. According to Myers, developers, architects, engineers, and builders have an important responsibility as urban environmental leaders and stewards of the built environment.

 

“Green building is an essential strategy to achieve the city’s and the region’s goals,” he says.

 

Atlantic Wharf’s LEED Platinum building set the early benchmark for sustainability in Boston’s construction market.

Atlantic Wharf’s LEED Platinum building set the early benchmark for sustainability in Boston’s construction market.

For almost 50 years, Boston Properties has owned, managed, and developed Class A office space and mixed-use buildings concentrated in Boston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. In the Boston region, BXP owns and manages more than 13 million square feet in 48 properties, including the Prudential Center and 200 Clarendon Street in Boston’s Back Bay, and Kendall Center, in the heart of Kendall Square. “The firm’s leadership in sustainable development as a publicly traded real estate investment trust (REIT) has been supported by efforts to attract creditworthy tenants. These tenants often have their own sustainability goals and a long-term hold strategy that encourages investment in technology that maximizes profitability over the full life-cycle of the asset.”

 

Those forces have made LEED certification central to the firm’s portfolio of more than 160 office, retail, and residential buildings totaling 48.4 million square feet. In 2016 alone, Boston Properties achieved LEED certification and recertification for 3.3 million square feet of real estate, growing its portfolio of sustainably designed space to 17.1 million square feet—and by the end of 2017, BXP expects to have more than 20 million square feet certified, over 95 percent of which will be Gold or Platinum.

 

Atlantic Wharf’s opening set the early benchmark for sustainability in Boston’s construction market, and the LEED Platinum building quickly became one of the city’s most sought-after mixed-use developments. Now, Boston Properties has set a new standard in sustainable design with the LEED Platinum 888 Boylston Street.

 

Jim Bushong is FXFOWLE’s senior project designer for 888 Boylston Street. Above: Ilana Judah is FXFOWLE’s director of sustainability.

Top: Ilana Judah is FXFOWLE’s director of sustainability. Bottom: Jim Bushong is FXFOWLE’s senior project designer for 888 Boylston Street.

The 425,000 square feet of mixed-use space includes three ground floors of retail, is already occupied by Tesla Motors, Inc., Under Armour, and the Italian marketplace Eataly. A 14-story commercial tower is anchored by Natixis Global Asset Management, which has leased 128,000 square feet across five floors. The building integrates visually compelling green features and groundbreaking sustainable designs that make a bold statement across the Boston skyline, and a meaningful impact on the city’s environment and its residents.

 

Sipping Energy

From the beginning, the goal at 888 Boylston Street was clear: build Boston’s most sustainable Class A office building. To do that, Boston Properties assembled a team of industry leaders, fellow visionaries who were well versed in sustainable design and construction and unafraid to step into new paradigms and technologies.

 

The project’s architect, New York City–based FXFOWLE Architects, is world-renowned for green building design. In 1992, the firm designed Shanghai’s first green high-rise, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. And in 1999, FXFOWLE designed New York’s first green skyscraper, the Condé Nast building at 4 Times Square. Today, the company has more than 9 million square feet of LEED-certified space to its credit, and 70 percent of its 2016 projects are LEED-certified or seeking certification.

 

Leading the construction effort was Turner Construction Company, a construction manager committed to sustainability that has been recognized as the largest green builder in the United States by Engineering News-Record magazine, and a Platinum-level member of USGBC. Turner’s projects can be found across North America and in 16 different countries, and it has been a major player in Boston since its 1909 renovation of Harvard University’s sports stadium. Since 2000, the firm has delivered 500 LEED-certified projects worth an estimated $20 billion.

 

Despite their impressive depth of experience, the 888 Boylston team was not looking to replicate sustainable designs. To create something truly unique, FXFOWLE’s architects of the past dug deep into the commercial and retail markets to find examples of buildings at the forefront of sustainability. They then set their sights on exceeding those standards.

 

The building integrates visually compelling green features and groundbreaking sustainable designs  that make a bold statement across the Boston skyline.

The building integrates visually compelling green features and groundbreaking sustainable designs that make a bold statement across the Boston skyline.

“This not only needed to be the best performing building in Boston and New England, but we benchmarked it against some of the best projects across the country, in New York and out west,” says Jim Bushong, FXFOWLE’s senior project designer for 888 Boylston Street. “We started to pull in technologies that were on the cutting edge for speculative office buildings and that aren’t widely used [in that market].”

 

What kinds of technologies? For starters, the building has a renewable energy power plant on its roof, a 134-kw, energy-efficient system that includes 14 vertical axis wind turbines and an array of solar photovoltaic panels. Together, the technologies produce enough energy to power 15 Massachusetts homes. They also achieve every available LEED Energy & Atmosphere credit for onsite renewable energy and green power.

 

An active chilled beam HVAC with dedicated outdoor air system (DOAS) uses 100 percent fresh air—instead of recirculated air—to condition occupants’ spaces. While the technology is not uncommon in Europe, it is still relatively new to the U.S. market and an unusual feature in speculative office design. The system significantly reduces the overall energy used to cool the building, and its design increases thermal and acoustic comfort.

 

Also mitigating the building’s energy use are high-efficiency chillers that eliminate ozone-depleting refrigerants, earning LEED credits for enhanced refrigerant management. Heat recovery wheels transfer waste heat energy to the supply, keeping the building comfortable in winter while reducing energy use and heating costs.

 

The Atlantic Wharf is designed to use 33 percent less energy than comparable downtown office towers and  42 percent less energy than a typical existing office in New England.

The Atlantic Wharf is designed to use 33 percent less energy than comparable downtown office towers and 42 percent less energy than a typical existing office in New England.

At its shell, 888 Boylston Street has a high-performance thermal envelope, including double-paned glass with insulated glazing. The unitized curtain wall has an extremely low solar heat gain coefficient that reduces the rate of heat transfer at the building’s skin and saves on cooling costs. Some 70 percent of the building’s overall façade is comprised of glass, reducing artificial lighting runtime by 60 percent. And LED lighting in all common areas further reduces the building’s electrical load.

 

All of these features are forecast to reduce 888 Boylston’s energy consumption by 34.6 percent compared to a code-compliant baseline building. That translates into utility cost savings of $650,000 annually. To monitor energy consumption and adjust the building’s systems for optimal efficiency, it has 46 individual meters in operation (which also achieve LEED credits for energy measurement and verification). The first year of data is still coming in—along with post-occupancy evaluations—but all indications point to impressive savings. “It’s been sipping energy in the hottest months,” says Bushong.

 

But energy savings are just part of 888 Boylston Street’s sustainability profile. A state-of-the-art rainwater harvest system irrigates the building’s green roof, which is populated by native plants and beehive colonies. The vegetation reduces the building’s heat island effect, earning LEED Sustainable Sites credits. It also absorbs carbon dioxide and diverts runoff that would otherwise enter the storm sewers.

 

Beyond irrigating the rooftop garden, rainwater is funneled through drainage points and sent to an underground storage tank, where environmental pollutants are removed. The water is then used in the building’s cooling tower, further reducing the amount of water used in the building’s thermal systems. All together, rainwater provides 20 percent of the building’s total water use, and low-flow fixtures reduce potable water consumption by 44 percent. The water technologies help 888 Boylston earn LEED credits for Water-Efficient Landscaping, Water Use Reduction, and Stormwater Design—Quantity Control.

 

Of course, many of the building’s sustainable designs are not as apparent and not easily measured with meters.
From sustainable materials to access to alternative transportation, 888 Boylston Street takes a holistic approach to sustainability that addresses its carbon footprint and the well-being of people in and around the built environment.

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There are two common-area living walls—13-foot displays of plants that grow beneath a flood of incoming natural light. The interior design choices result in a more pleasant indoor environment for workers. Photo: Anton Grassl/Esto

“The Lives Inside”

BXP’s emphasis on going beyond energy and water efficiency to improve the lives of tenants—what the firm fondly refers to as “the lives inside”—aligns with LEED’s progressive benchmarks for sustainable design.

 

In 888 Boylston Street, the developer achieved nearly every available LEED Indoor Environmental Quality credit, including Increased Ventilation; Outdoor Air Delivery Monitoring; Low-Emitting Adhesives, Sealants, Paints, and Flooring; Thermal Comfort—Design; and Access to Daylight and Views.

 

With 100 percent fresh air circulating throughout tenant spaces, 888 Boylston is well ahead of the curve; the typical building’s HVAC system uses around 75 percent stale (recirculated) air. By comparison, the typical building’s HVAC system uses around 75 percent stale (recirculated) air.

 

FXFOWLE also designed biophilic elements—features that improve occupants’ visual and physical access to nature and the outdoors. In addition to a rooftop amenity space, there are two common-area living walls: 13-foot displays of plants that grow beneath a flood of incoming natural light. To increase the amount of daylight in the building—and increase views of the Charles River and the outdoors generally—888 Boylston’s designers sought more than just a high window-to-floor-area ratio. Floor-to-ceiling glass creates a “vision zone” of more than 13 feet—145 percent larger than the typical building’s window views. On the north side, where direct sun is less abundant, upward curving glass offsets the deficiency and allows more light to penetrate to the building’s interior.

 

The architects also eliminated interior columns that could impede occupants’ views of the outdoors, meaning 120-foot clear spans and a direct line of sight to the outdoor environment in 90 percent of regularly occupied areas. And every tenant’s space includes a unique floorplate that can be converted to an optional “skygarden,” says Ilana Judah, FXFOWLE’s director of sustainability.

 

“If the tenant decides they want a common lounge space, they can essentially have a balcony within the thermal envelope of the building,” says Judah. “The curtain wall would have an operable element to create a semi-outdoor space when the weather is nice.”

 

The immediate result of these design choices is a more pleasant indoor environment for workers and retail customers alike, which could have a significant and measurable impact on each tenant’s bottom line. That’s according to a 2015 study by Harvard University titled, “The Impact of Green Buildings on Cognitive Function.” Researchers at Harvard’s Center for Health and the Global Environment found that workers in indoor environments with low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and high levels of circulating outdoor air performed 101 percent better on cognitive function tests than workers in conventional workplaces. That boost in cognition can mean as much as a $6,500 increase in productivity per worker per year.

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“Because this study was designed to reflect indoor environments encountered by large numbers of people every day, these findings have far-ranging implications for worker productivity, student learning, and safety,” the study concluded.

 

And the benefits of 888 Boylston Street’s sustainable features don’t stop at the building’s envelope. The site itself is “the last piece of the Prudential complex puzzle,” says Judah, so FXFOWLE focused on redesigning a central plaza that had been disengaged from the sidewalk below. The new pedestrian-friendly plaza features ample green space for tenants and visitors, landscaped bioswales, lighting elements, and several new retail entryways at street level. A redesigned and expanded entryway to the Prudential Center provides additional pedestrian access.

 

Getting to and from 888 Boylston is also made easy thanks to transit-oriented design. The site is located near three subway stations, and tenants have access to onsite bicycle racks and shower facilities, meaning workers can ditch their cars for more sustainable forms of transit. All together, these outdoor sustainable design features help 888 Boylston Street achieve LEED Sustainable Sites credits for community connectivity and alternative transportation, and significantly reduce the development’s impact on its urban landscape.

 

“A Living Laboratory”

Achieving LEED Platinum requires both holistic vision and holistic processes. To ensure that green designs yield green outcomes and savings, Boston Properties considers every link in the chain, from design to construction to operation and maintenance.

 

For 888 Boylston Street, that meant early and ongoing meetings between the developer and the project’s architects, engineers, and construction crews. As a speculative office building, tenants are also links in that chain. So, Boston Properties includes information in its tenant guidelines to help companies realize peak energy efficiencies and utility savings.

 

But while Boston’s most sustainably designed building is officially complete and has achieved LEED Platinum, Boston Properties sees 888 Boylston as an ongoing opportunity to foster greater sustainability in its home city. The firm uses the building as a living laboratory, hosting educational tours for architectural students and universities’ sustainability departments. The development team is also continually measuring and studying the building’s data feeds, looking for new ways to innovate and advance sustainable design in Boston and beyond. Not every developer is taking that same route, but it’s not the first time Bostonians have led the charge.

 

“Sustainability means long-term prosperity—which is the only direction for Boston,” says Myers.