Vision, Leadership, Results: The Critical Path to High Performance Design

Exemplary results require vision and exemplary leadership. Consider these examples: exemplary athletes visualize their success and have exemplary coaches; exemplary symphonies visualize a performance and have exemplary conductors; exemplary businesses have a strong vision for their future and have exemplary CEOs.

Exemplary performance requires vision and exemplary leaders. Vision is essential; leadership is essential.

This is especially true of high performance buildings. Without visionary leaders, high performance design is difficult to achieve. The Iowa Utilities Board ­/ Office of Consumer Advocate Building (IUB/OCA) is an example of leaders providing a vision to ensure proven high performance metrics. Consider the following:


The State of Iowa established a vision for a high performance facility to house the organizations that regulate utility companies in the State of Iowa and represent the interests of the consumer with regards to utilities. The vision and resultant goals were simple and forward thinking. The facility was to consume no more than 28.0 KBTUs per square foot per year — a 68% reduction from the national average energy consumption for office buildings (90.0 KBTUs per square foot per year). The building was to be constructed within the financial parameters of a state budget and to incorporate methodologies that could be utilized by other public bodies and private sector building owners. The vision was simple, direct, challenging and achievable.


Under the leadership of The Iowa Utilities Board former Chair John Norris, Judi Cooper, Joan Conrad, David Lynch and current Chair Elizabeth Jacobs, and former Consumer Advocate John Perkins, Ron Polle, and current Consumer Advocate, Mark Schuling, the vision was held fast. Every decision made during the programming, design, development, documentation and construction of the project was reviewed for compliance with the vision and goals for the project. Each decision focused on achieving or exceeding the performance goals, meeting the financial requirements of the project and demonstrating practical and affordable methods of achieving a high performance facility. The State’s representatives remained loyal to their vision when decisions were easy and, most importantly, when they were difficult. Not all ideas could be realized, but the ideas that were realized supported the primary vision without significant compromise. The IUB-OCA project simply would not have achieved the documented high performance results without their leadership. Period.


This project demonstrates the results of visionary and committed leaders. The construction cost of the 45,000 gross square foot building was $10,150,000 including photovoltaic panels and the development of a six-acre site. The building is currently consuming 16.7 KBTUs per square foot per year equivalent to an 81.5% reduction over the national average energy use for office buildings.


The result is an annual savings of approximately $50,000 in utility costs. These are real metrics after two years of occupancy. These metrics are the result of replicable methodologies including building orientation, maximizing daylight, a well insulated building envelop constructed of precast concrete, a geothermal system, natural ventilation, appropriately proportioned and configured workstations, occupancy sensors at every workstation and office — and leadership that does not forget the vision.


The Unanswered Question So why is there not a greater demand for similar facilities in the surrounding area? The project, its measured performance metrics and the initial cost of the facility have been well publicized. Even if an individual or organization does not support the concept of climate change, whether induced by humankind or a natural repeating cycle of our climate, why would an individual or organization not see the advantage of a facility that improves human health and productivity, is filled with natural light, reduces the consumption of natural resources, and reduces operating expenses by over $50,000 per year with a construction cost no greater than the cost a traditional facility of comparable quality?

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Leaders with vision are critical. Vision and leadership produce results. Period.


The representatives of the State of Iowa who had the vision and delivered the leadership that allowed this project to be realized are to be commended. They made this project happen. We, as the design team, simply used our knowledge to facilitate the journey. Just think what could happen if every government — state and federal — stepped forward to show this kind of vision and fiscal stewardship?