architecture design sustainability

Building of the week: David Brower Center

The David Brower Center is an office building in Berkeley, California. It houses a number of environmental and social justice groups, including Slow Money, the Darfur Stoves Project and the Earth Island Institute. The latter was founded by environmental pioneer David Brower, who also founded the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth. If you’re going to name your building after someone like that, it had better be pretty special.

And so it is. The Center is LEED Platinum certified, the highest environmental rating a building in the US can achieve. The orientation of the building makes maximum use of daylight, and its curve is designed to enhance natural ventilation. The roof catches rainwater to flush the toilets, water the plants, and for the hydronics system that runs either warm or cool water through pipes under the floors to regulate the temperature. Rainwater makes its way to the 5,600 gallon cistern in the basement down a rain-chain made of old bronze cannon shells.

The concrete pillars allow solar radiance to warm the building when it’s cool, and all the windows have shades to reduce glare and cool the building when it’s hot. The fourth floor offices are shaded by the solar panels on the roof, which generate around 40% of the building’s electricity needs. (You can check out how much electricity the building is generating at this very moment here.) The outside of the building is clad in zinc, which won’t need re-painting.

What’s particularly interesting to me is the use of natural building techniques in such an urban context. Internal structures use earth building techniques, and many of the fittings are salvaged wood from storm-damaged urban trees. The concrete structure derives its strength from a waste product, being 70% slag from the steel manufacturing process. That reduces the cement content, which in turn reduces the embodied CO2 of the building – the cement industry is one of the world’s largest CO2 emitters.

If you’re in the area, you can drop in and see it for yourself, see the gallery and maybe eat in the organic, locally sourced restaurant. The rest of us will have to settle with a visit to the Brower Center’s building dashboard, which will tell you the current weather, today’s energy use and generation stats, how much water has been used and even which way the wind is blowing.

Thanks to Madison Durkee, who sent in this entry after visiting the Center. If you’ve been somewhere inspiring recently, let me know.


  1. I’ve been inspired by Greenpeace’s London office recently – it’s in a building that used to be a vivisection lab for starters, and it has a tardis-like unremarkable outside and beautiful sense of space inside.

    Even better is CAFOD’s new London office beside St George’s Cathedral, which includes all kinds of green features and a nice mix of private and shared spaces.

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