Innovations in Alaska building techniques: efficiency and sustainability coming 'full circle'.

Author:Swann, Kirsten

In Alaska, the lines between the natural and man-made world are beginning to blur, and old materials and ideas are resurfacing in leading-edge projects across the state.

The concept of reuse and sustainability in building can be found everywhere from architectural design to the materials used in construction. One recently completed project was built with reclaimed wood from a nearby fish cannery: a nod to the region's history and cultural values. Other new buildings take cues from the natural world around them, incorporating existing resources like wind, light, and thermal energy. A few projects seek sustainability by combining modern architecture with traditional ideas of family and community, while others continue to push the envelope of environmental renewal.

Alaskan builders are using time-tested values and resources to reach innovative new milestones in environmental and cultural sustainability.

Net-Positive Building

In Anchorage, one architectural firm hopes to take sustainability a step further.

McCool Carlson Green's portfolio already includes the Alaska Airlines Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage, a plethora of Anchorage public schools, various aspects of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, and the Anchorage Federal Building and Nesbett Courthouse, among other projects. Now, the planning and design firm is on track to complete the first building in Alaska certified under the International Living Future Institute's Living Building Challenge (LBC), a comprehensive set of international standards for net-positive building.

Architect Jason Gamache, an associate with McCool Carlson Green, described the challenge as the next step in innovative sustainability: a successor to the now-standard LEED certification.

"LEED was essentially created to transform the market in terms of how we manufacture and purchase materials for construction," says Gamache, calling the rating system a prescriptive-based metric that allows builders to pick and choose among specific criteria. It emphasized indoor air quality and recycled materials and other health and sustainability standards that are "now the minimum of what we do," he says.

The innovations of yesterday are becoming the standards of today: Gamache says his firm is now striving to adhere to a new level of efficiency and beauty in architecture.

McCool Carlson Green is working with the Rural Alaska Community Action Program, or RurAL CAP, to design a new housing facility in Anchorage's Muldoon neighborhood. The project is the first LBC-registered challenge in Alaska, according to Gamache.

"We are really excited that the owner is being very progressive and forward-thinking, but also taking the long view," he says.

The LBC covers nearly every sphere of design and construction: "a much more holistic approach," Gamache says.

Builders are challenged with seven performance categories--place, water, energy, health and happiness, materials, equity, and beauty. Those performance categories are subdivided into a total of twenty imperatives, and Gamache says...

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