What is Living Building Challenge?

by on November 20, 2015 - Leave A Comment

In June 2015, Cincinnati became one of the first cities to offer tax incentives to encourage Living Building Challenge projects. One of the newest sustainable measures in building design, Living Building Challenge is an international certification developed in 2006 by the non-profit, International Living Future Institute. ‘The Challenge,’ as it is often referred to, is described by the Institute as a philosophy, advocacy tool and certification program that promotes the most advanced measurement of sustainability in the built environment.

There are three types of certification available to projects: Living Building Certification, Petal Certification or Net Zero Energy Building Certification. All three types utilize the seven performance categories, or petals, shown below.Living Building Challenge

Similar to the LEED process, a team will provide poignant project details at the time of registration, such as typology (renovation, infrastructure & landscape, building, or community) and transect (rural agricultural zone, village or campus zone, general urban zone, urban center zone, or urban core zone). Project team members will also join the Living Building Challenge Community and have access to online support and documentation resources.

Following registration, the project team can begin the documentation process. Documentation is continued through the project’s construction phase and its operational phase (12 consecutive months of operation), during which project performance data is recorded. Following completion of the operational phase the team may submit data for an audit, the size of which will vary on the project size and scope.

Once the auditor report is reviewed by the Institute, the project is certified and awarded accordingly. The Challenge offers several awards and certifications, including the Living Building Challenge Award and the Net Zero Energy Building Award.

Living Building ChallengeThe Living Building Challenge Award is presented to projects that achieve full certification or petal recognition. It signifies that the building was not only constructed using sustainable practices but also demonstrates a progressive movement towards a more sustainable future. In Cincinnati, there’s not only prestige, but also monetary incentives to achieve certification. The new city ordinance identifies that both new construction and renovation projects pursuing the full or petal certification can receive 100% tax abatement.

One of the most unique features of the Living Building Challenge award is its function and placement. Unlike other plaques or wall-mounted certificates, this award functions as a door handle and serving as a tactile reminder experienced by each person entering the building. However, projects obtaining this award will also receive the Living Building Challenge Certificate, a more traditional form of recognition.


The second type of award available is the Net Zero Energy Building Award, which is presented to projects achieving the Net Zero Energy Building Certification under the Living Building Challenge program. Net Zero (also known as Zero-Energy) is a concept that refers to a building with no net energy consumption, meaning the total amount of energy used on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on site. Net Zero EnergyA prime (and local) example of a Net Zero project is the City of Columbus Indian Village Lodge. While designing this project occupant behaviors, as well as various heating/cooling options, are being thoroughly investigated to help achieve Net Zero status. Construction is expected to begin August 2016.

The award for these projects features a metal plate etched with a branch-like pattern and includes the project information etched on a pane of glass.

The main difference between the Living Building Challenge and its predecessor, LEED, is its commitment to a more holistic approach of sustainable building and design.  It will be interesting to see what else the future of green building has in store for architecture and design!

Posted in: Community, Design, Expertise, Lighting Design, Projects, Sustainability Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

How to Foresee ADA Violations in Your Building

by on November 13, 2015 - Leave A Comment

When asked about accessibility on a project the two things that consistently come to everyone’s minds are wheelchairs and the term ADA.  While these are both extremely important aspects on any project, they are a very small piece of accessibility that needs to be perfectly crafted for a successful project.

While Accessibility Rules and Regulations widely focus on the design of facilities for use by people in wheelchairs, they are also shaped to provide for accessibility for all disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines this as “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”  This includes, but is not limited to, those with mobility, visual and audible impairments. But ADA isn’t the only governing body, projects may also include: ANSI A117.1, FHA, and UFAS requirements for complete accessibility.

Accessibility is something that those without disabilities, often take for granted or simply overlook. Sinks and appliances are always in reach, even if inconvenient. If an elevator isn’t working, you take the stairs. And you are accustomed to seeing color coded signage guide you through a space. However, imagine that you are suddenly in a wheelchair, on crutches or partially blind—how differently would you experience these things? Or should I say challenges?

Because of the growing spectrum of disabilities, designing for accessibility is a much broader issue when it comes to the layout and details of a facility.

While the accessibility rules apply broadly to people with varying disabilities, the rules are very detailed and require a great deal of analysis and understanding to apply and integrate them correctly. Throughout our work with additions and renovations of existing facilities, regardless of the building type, we’ve found a commonality of certain accessibility errors and omissions. Below are some of the most common violations we’ve seen and their importance to the overall accessibility of the facility:


1. Door Clear Floor Areas – These are the areas required on both sides of a door to allow for a person with disabilities to operate the door.  Always look at whether your door needs or has a closer and a latch, as that increases the clear floor area needed. Door clear floor areas are a critical portion of a fully accessible facility.


2. Mounting Heights + Reach Ranges – Mounting heights and reach ranges are one of the most complex parts of the accessibility codes. This is due to the fact that many different objects have different necessary heights. For example, a mirror is required to be mounted a minimum of 40 inches to the bottom of the reflective surface, while a paper towel dispenser is required to be 48 inches maximum to the operating and dispensing mechanisms. However, in all cases nothing should be mounted above 48 inches that is intended or required to be accessible.

Typical features we assess to ensure accessibility.

Typical features we assess for accessibility compliance

3. Clear Floor Space – Most everyone who has experience with accessibility on a project knows about the 5 foot turning circle. This requirement allows space for someone in a wheelchair to turn around within a room. All rooms are required to have this turning space available or provide a similarly sized ‘T’-turn. Care should be taken to make sure that a conservative approach to these dimensions are taken, since often times construction tolerances may reduce the size of a room. Through experience, our team recommends adding 2 inches to any required dimension.

4. Protruding Objects into the Accessible Route – An accessible route is required to connect accessible parking spots to the accessible building and through the facility. However, one thing often missed is objects protruding into the minimum accessible route width of 36 inches. Any protruding object that is below 80 inches or above 27 inches may not project into the accessible route more than 4 inches. This includes things like signage and light sconces.

While the above items touch on a few of the hot issues we see in the field, it’s important to first confirm what specific accessibility rules apply to your project. By being diligent in the application of the accessibility knowledge and codes, you can make sure your facility will be ready to accommodate and welcome all visitors with varying disabilities. Accessibility should never be ignored or integrated into a new facility as an afterthought. After all, it’s Civil Rights.


A subtle ramp makes the alter at St. Johhn Neumann’s Catholic Church accessible

Posted in: ADA, Code Compliance, Expertise Tagged with: , , , , ,

The Future of Architecture

by on October 21, 2015 - Leave A Comment


The greatest thing about life is that there is a future out there waiting to be discovered and explored.

I have to say I have found this career to be challenging. There are such a wide variety of skill sets needed to practice and excel in architecture and design – technical, creative, political, financial – and they are always changing, always regenerating, always evolving into something new. But that is also the beauty in it, and what keeps me interested – I am very curious to see what the future of architecture might hold!

Futuristic Architecture

Futuristic community by Planning Korea

About 18 years ago, I traveled to the Netherlands for an interview to work at UNStudio in Amsterdam, with Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos. I had a young son at the time, and ultimately moving overseas proved too difficult, but the conversations I had with Ben and Caroline and their team have stuck with me. We talked about how architecture was practiced in Europe – essentially, the A/E team being responsible for drawings & specs through what we here in the States think of as Design Development. The “Construction Document” phase was the domain of the builders – you know, those folks who are specialists in the actual construction part of the project! This made all kinds of sense to me, and is today, and into the future, how I see our practice changing and evolving.

Our highest value as architects and designers comes from being great at imagining design solutions that can address our clients’ functional, aesthetic, organizational and financial needs related to their buildings and spaces, understanding codes and other jurisdictional considerations and constraints, and generally helping to create a vision of the future that is responsible to individuals, communities, and the planet. The construction industry’s highest value comes from knowledgeably building those ideas. With the increasing involvement of Construction Managers early in the design process, it is my hope and belief that they will take increasing ownership of the deliverable of the built thing, freeing up design teams over time to focus more on innovation and design, and less on technical construction details.

As a result, I would anticipate the overall quality of our designed environments to continuously improve, hospitable spaces that honor the human spirit through qualities such as those outlined in the WELL building standards to become more plentiful, and thoughtful, sustainable design practices and innovations to be increasingly extended which will truly craft a fully sustainable future that can support the nearly 10 billion people expected to inhabit the planet by mid-century… hopefully, leaving room for the wild places and creatures that bring us joy.

Sky Urban Vertical Farming System by Sky Greens

Sky Urban Vertical Farming System by Sky Greens

Human beings have been remarkably innovative as a species. The A/E industry —in my opinion— has suffered somewhat over the past several decades from a loss of focus on innovation, but I see that tide turning. As a field, we are exceptionally well positioned to positively envision an innovative new future, through our design of individual buildings, whole cities and even environments. My expectation is that we will increasingly enjoy that opportunity, and responsibility, going forward.

What an exciting future—carpe diem!

Posted in: Design, Design Trends, Expertise, M+A News Tagged with: , ,

M+A Vision Week 2015

by on October 9, 2015 - 2 Comments

M+A Vision Week 2015For the staff at M+A, today is the culmination of another highly fun and successful Vision Week —but what does that really mean to anyone looking in?

Started in 2007, Vision Week brings M+A together for personal and professional growth, self reflection, and an immense amount of fun! Every year there’s a distinct theme, with different events, educational seminars and competitions. This year’s Vision Week was focused on health, wellness, and teamwork. All M+Aers were broken up into teams and/or studios that competed against each other for a grand prize and M+A street cred. We were challenged to showcase the M+A orange, create the tastiest, healthy snack, dress the part, work together and be active!

With health and wellness being an underlying theme, employees were challenged (and rewarded) to be active—on- and off-the-clock. In addition to wearing pedometers and reporting our steps, we got out from behind our desks and were active in a variety of ways—documented through selfies, of course. We spent the week walking longer routes, playing with our little ones, strolling with our dogs, playing sports, and being outside. #ActivitySelfies

We also got to know each other on a deeper level through a fun questionnaire, DISC assessments, and a firm roundtable where employees gave feedback on firm culture, efficiency, leadership, and innovation. Many of these activities allowed us to work on communication skills – both in the office and with partners and clients.

M+A Vision Week 2015

And all of this lead up to a grand finale event: the M+Azing Race. You may have seen us bopping around town today: planking in Goodale Park, playing Jenga in Bicentennial Park, solving a crazy math problem at OSU’s Numbers Garden, or frantically playing Frisbee in Arch Park. That is the M+Azing Race. The ultimate scavenger hunt and team building experience with two goals in mind: bragging rights and winning an extra PTO day.

Although the activities change every year, there are a few things about Vision Week that stay the same. It’s a week of getting to better know our colleagues, looking inward at the firm and our values, growing personally and professionally, and reflecting on how we can do better – all of which help shape M+A for years to come.

As a first timer to this thing called Vision Week, I have to say that I’m loving whatever M+A puts in the Kool-Aid—or maybe the coffee. It was so refreshing to join my coworkers in actively embracing this week’s activities – props to all of you who went all-out! I wasn’t expecting such a dynamic response. Everyone participated—even the senior level staff. We got creative, maybe even a little silly, and had a blast. I feel more connected and supported, but mainly just happy to be part of such a great team!

M+A Vision Week 2015

M+A Vision Week 2015



Posted in: Uncategorized

Igniting a Passion for Civic Architecture

by on October 7, 2015 - Leave A Comment

2015 Vision Week Logo - CenteredIt’s Vision Week again, here at M+A, and we’re in full swing of participating in team building events, professional development sessions and reflecting on our mission and values as a company. All of this is done because we realize that we are of better service to our clients if we trust our coworkers, are happy in our work environment, understand our company values and never stop learning.

In the spirit of sharing a tidbit of firm history for Vision Week, I share my experience of how I got to be passionate about civic architecture – fire stations, township administrative buildings, city halls, etc. As M+A’s resident historian, (I’ve worked here for 34 of M+A’s 35 years as a company) it’s not only my first public project but M+A’s as well.

Village of Sunbury Municipal Building

Village of Sunbury Municipal Building

The project was a new municipal building for the Village of Sunbury, Ohio, constructed in 1982. This was prior to the rapid growth of Delaware County, but some of the village administrators were anticipating that Sunbury and the surrounding area would soon take off in growth and population. They were correct! The village population has grown from 1,500 to present day 4,720.

The existing municipal facility was too small and antiquated and no longer met the needs of village officials. It was important that a new facility house a council meeting room, village administrative offices, and the village police department with room to grow. The budget for this project was rather tight, even for 1982 with only $200,000 available. It was also the town’s desire that this building (on the corner of Granville Street and Columbus Street, across from the Village Green) would serve as a catalyst for improvements around the square. This too has been accomplished over the past 33 years.

Now for some fun facts. I know I am going to sound like your grandparents who recall bread costing $0.19 a loaf and milk $0.39  a gallon, but here goes:

– This 6,150 SF building was constructed for $188,383 with prevailing rates at the time. This works out to $30.63/SF! Today, you can’t build a carport at that cost!

– Our architectural fees were based around 8% of construction cost at that time. This would equate to fees of about $15,000, which would include our structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and civil engineering consultants! Today, that fee would only pay for a small study or demolition project.

– Bob Apel, one of our founders, constructed an architectural model of the building which I used to help me prepare the construction documents for the project. No one had ever heard of Building Information Modeling or Revit back then.

Architectural Model of Village of Sunbury Municipal Building

Architectural Model of Village of Sunbury Municipal Building

When I attended the dedication ceremony for the building and saw how proud the community was of their new public facility, this hooked me for life on civic work! They spoke of how the building truly met their needs, how it really fit the look and feel of their village and how it would serve the community for years to come. Ever since, I have been passionate about helping community governments serve their citizens with great spaces and facilities. Since then, I’ve worked with more than 25 different cities, villages, townships and counties on more than 100 projects for their communities.

Happy 9th Vision Week M+A Architects!

Posted in: Commentary, Community, Projects Tagged with: , , , , , ,