| PHOTOGRAPHS BY CRAIG WASHBURN
Muppet icon Kermit the Frog once sang, “It’s not easy being green.” As one Austin, Texas optical dispensary discovered, while the journey to meet “green” business requirements was no simple task, the outcome was a practice that may make other opticals green with envy.
Eye Tech, which opened its doors in June, is located in a shopping center situated near an aquifer recharge zone. (See sidebar for an explanation of terms used in this story.) As a result, all the businesses must comply with green standards in order to reduce environmental impact. Luckily optometrist Sonja Franklin knew a building designer familiar with such standards… quite intimately in fact. She enlisted the talents of her husband Mark Lind who has been part of Austin’s Green Building Program for eight years.
“In this case specifically there were 23 requirements we had to meet and five optional ones,” explains Lind, who runs his own building design firm in Austin called sun & stone. “The requirements ranged from preparing a comprehensive energy budget to making sure a certain percentage of wood products were made from recycled products. We had to be 20 to 30 percent below the national standard of energy use. I had a mechanical engineer friend of mine design the lighting fixtures to meet these standards. We planned the room sizes and the insulation of rooms. We installed low flow faucets and low flush toilets. We had to adhere to different rating systems for items like carpeting, which had to meet lower toxicity levels. We had to use low VOC paints. Even things like MDF [engineered wood] had to be low in formaldehyde content. Also a certain percentage of the items we used had to be made within a 500 mile radius of Austin.”
One of the biggest difficulties Lind faced was finding a contactor who had experience with similar projects or who at least had an open mind about taking on the challenge. “It’s important to have a contractor that you can interact with based on the total cost of materials,” notes the designer. “The hardest part is finding contactors willing to go the extra mile and not charge you an arm and a leg.” Luckily they found one who had already worked on a business in the shopping center. “The main issue is bringing the project in on time and on budget,” adds Lind.
A great end result of having to meet strict energy budgets is a space with a ton of natural lighting. “We don’t use some of our track lighting because it’s so bright in here,” says Dr. Franklin. “We had to do an energy budget and calculation. We ended up with more lighting then we needed, which is a good problem.”
Of course the downside is trying to keep all those windows that let in that light clean. “We joke it’s a really nice office but it’s hard to keep clean with all the glass,” notes the OD.
For Lind, the project was not just an opportunity to design a green business, but also to create a unique optical experience. “It wasn’t just that we did the green building project,” he says. “Most ODs I’ve met over the years hire cabinet companies to design their dispensaries. These companies design and manufacture cabinets; some do lightening and finishes. The cabinet systems that I’ve seen are fairly limited. What we wanted to do was instead start with stainless-steel frame bars. We designed our own displays and cabinetry. We had a local cabinet maker build them. What I try to do when I approach any design project is have an idea of an aesthetic. I did that with Eye Tech and ran this aesthetic through the whole office. Design is a process of making decisions.”
From an optical stand point, Dr. Franklin got a great space to launch her first practice. “I was in a franchise and it wasn’t a good fit for me,” she explains, “so I decided to go into private practice with another OD. We’re both moms so our goal was to be able to have a practice and balance family life, too.”
The OD, who is a contact lens specialist, wanted to incorporate that family-friendly vibe into the design of the practice. “There is an area where kids can watch DVDs or play video games while their parents get eyewear. This way they don’t have to worry about the children.”
Overall, the practice has a nice ebb and flow. “We didn’t want bottle necks in the office,” says Dr. Franklin. “The contact lens fitting area, for example, has space for more than one patient at a time. All the patients flow to the front of the office, this way they don’t wander around and are not sure where they are going. We can monitor the pre-test area and dispensary in the front. I think Mark did a great job with the lay out.”
“I wanted to show that you could have a green building project without it looking like a straw bale,” notes Lind. “We worked hard to make it a clean, contemporary, state-of-the-art space that is also inviting. When people come in they like the look of the office. It has a unique aesthetic that also meets some very stringent green building requirements.”
WHAT IT ALL MEANS
Green design (also called eco-design) is the catch-all term for a growing trend within the fields of architecture, landscape architecture, engineering, industrial design and interior design. The essential aim is to produce places, products and services in a way that reduces use of non-renewable resources, minimizes environmental impact and relates people with the natural environment.
An aquifer is a body of saturated rock that can supply useful quantities of ground water to natural springs and water wells. Aquifers must be both permeable and porous and include such rock types as sandstone, conglomerate, fractured limestone and unconsolidated sand and gravel. Fractured volcanic rocks such as columnar basalts also make good aquifers.
Aquifer recharge is the process by which rainwater seeps down through the soil into an underlying aquifer. There are many natural processes that determine how much rainwater actually reaches and replenishes an aquifer instead of being evaporated, consumed by plants and animals, or simply running off the ground surface into streams, rivers, lakes and oceans.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are organic chemical compounds that have high enough vapor pressures under normal conditions to significantly vaporize and enter the atmosphere. VOCs can contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, which is harmful to human health and vegetation when present at high enough concentrations.