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Museum hears inspired ideas from its architect

Marc Lefkowitz  |  10/18/12 @ 2:00pm  |  Posted in Green buildings

"We want a building that itself embodies how we can live in the future, in a highly sustainable way," Cleveland Museum of Natural History Director Evalyn Gates explained to 450 attendees the purpose of the museum's Building with Nature symposium, a free and open to the public event at the museum on October 18, 2012.

Green museum<br />A green roof at Raleigh Nature Research Center. Photo by Kathy Hanrahan for WRAL.com

"Our experience with the SmartHome showed us that we want a (new) building that cost less to operate and maintain and will inspire all of us about how we live on this planet."

To inspire the museum to reach for the stars, Dr. Gates, an astrophysicist, and GreenCityBlueLake Institute Director David Beach assembled a high wattage panel—from the designer of literally the world's greenest building to the country's foremost experts on energy who figured out how to green the renovation of the Empire State Building. These are big thinkers but also the 'do-ers' -- practitioners who have faced skepticism and long odds and in the end broke new ground for all of us. That list started with Curtis Fentress whose firm is the architect of record for the Museum's proposed redevelopment and addition.

Fentress talked about the lessons from their recently completed Raleigh Nature Research Center, a 100,000 square foot addition to the NC Museum of Natural Sciences which he calls, "the greenest museum on the planet." He talked about opening up walls between the visitor and exhibits—literally people getting hands on with artifacts. He also talked about inviting natural light through devices like prismatic louvers that bounce light in to what most museum's consider sacrosanct 'black box' environments. it's an inspiring example of a firm who has moved from traditional museum design for the Marines.

For a first attempt at sustainable design practice, the Raleigh museum—which Fentress says is in the running for LEED-Platinum—has a number of admirable green features, from solar panels and a vegetative garden open to the public on its roof, to a 'green wall' that is fed by a rainwater capture system. Socially, the museum earns points by keeping its cafe at the street level open late.

The green roof affects the temperature of the site by 40 percent compared to an asphalt roof, Fentress explained. "The museum is a living, breathing example how to apply these ideas of sustainability."

The green elements are backed up by metrics, Fentress said, charting (and exposed on a display in the museum's exhibit space) electricity use/BTUs saved and water saved by keeping it on site. "They are using 41% less energy that the regular black box museum, and that translates in to a $114,000 annual savings. There's a marker we can all work against, that we can work toward in the future."

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