Selected Highlights of the Labs21 2010 Annual Conference

Patterns of Opportunity

Joseph Collins, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, and John Breshears, AIA, P.E., LEED AP, Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects LLP


Sometimes, the best "new" ideas in sustainable design aren't really new at all. Almost 30 years ago, Wendell Berry, the great American poet/farmer, wrote an essay entitled "Solving for Pattern." Although his topic at the time was sustainable agriculture, there is a seam of gold to be mined here by planners and architects in applying the principles Berry espouses to the process of integrated design.

Simply stated, Berry was advocating for problem solving that fully considers the entire context of systems that are a part of any individual design problem. In our work as architectural designers, we choose to think of this perspective as the "pattern of the design opportunity." When searching for design solutions in this way, and using Berry's guideposts, we will recognize a good solution based upon a couple of essential characteristics:

  • A good solution improves the balances, symmetries, or harmonies within a pattern. It is a qualitative solution, rather than enlarging or complicating some part of a pattern at the expense or in neglect of the rest.
  • A good solution solves more than one problem, and it seeks not to create new problems.
Examples of these principles as applied to a high-performance laboratory building in southern California, the University of California (UC) San Diego Health Sciences 2, include:

  • Campus planning—When patterns of land use and place-making on the existing campus are clearly identified and superimposed with the patterns of shading, daylight, and resulting building performance, opportunities are revealed. In this particular case, the selection of an elongated north-south site predicated a large area of vision glazing on the east and west exposures. Consequently, an automated, dynamic exterior shading system was developed in order to match the pattern of building operation with solar position.
  • Water—Within the exigencies of the southern California water shortage, careful analysis of climatic patterns and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system responses revealed a strong correspondence between periods of maximum irrigation demand and maximum supply of water from reclaimed sources. In particular, annual periods of maximum irrigation demand showed correspondence with maximum production of HVAC condensate. Ultimately, the project is predicted to clean 412,000 gallons of stormwater prior to release, avoiding the use of 360,000 gallons of potable water annually.
  • Daylight/Cooling—Given the solution of a dynamic exterior shading system, three different permutations of automated venetian blind systems were evaluated for their ability to optimize the benefit of daylight and offset electrical lighting use against increased cooling loads in the laboratories. The final solution was tuned such that the daily patterns of combined cooling and electric lighting loads were kept within the standard cooling capacity of the system, avoiding the need for increased ventilation and cooling rates. The pattern of the architectural façade design is a direct response to the pattern of solar orientation.
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) Emissions – As a result of the University's voluntary commitment to CO2 reduction and offset trading, performance-enhancing design measures were considered by the client group not only in financial terms but, critically, for CO2 emission reductions over the life of the building. The impacts of these measures on an individual building were considered for their effects on the projected pattern of institution-wide CO2 emissions over the coming decades, and capital resources were allocated to the project accordingly. Consequently, the annual building operation is projected to avoid 5,000 lbs. of CO2 emissions due to savings in potable water and 200,000 lbs. due to combined reductions in required lighting and cooling energy.

The wisdom of Berry's approach is demonstrated in its applicability to high-performance building design. Thoughtful consideration of patterns presented by the problem at hand can reveal patterns of opportunity for more holistic solutions.


Joseph Collins, during 30 years of professional practice, has developed a particular expertise in overseeing multidisciplinary teams working with multiple client user groups in a highly collaborative manner. From ZGF Architect's Portland office, he has directed work on several of the firm's most complex projects across the country. Through his leadership in the programming and design of a number of new interdisciplinary bioscience, bioengineering, and nanotechnology research and teaching facilities over the last decade, Mr. Collins is at the forefront of innovation in sustainable laboratory design. Recently, he has also led teams designing other academic facilities, theaters, science museums, and large-scale, mixed-use urban redevelopment projects. He is a recognized authority on the planning and sustainable design of research and teaching laboratory facilities, including projects at Johns Hopkins University, Stanford University, University of Washington, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, and UC Davis.

John Breshears is licensed both as an architect and as a mechanical engineer. His 20-year career has focused on the expressive combination of technology and form, pursuing research into non-traditional solutions to architectural problems, bio-mimetic design in particular. He was awarded the Peter Rice Prize by the Ove Arup Partners to support two years of exploration into bio-mimetic applications to sustainable design, resulting in the development of a curtain wall system based on the principles of the human lung. He was subsequently awarded a grant by the Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation for research that furthers the balance between the advance of technology and the preservation of the natural environment. Mr. Breshears is currently a principal with ZGF Architects, where he is engaged in design and applications of research to a wide variety of commercial, institutional, and public buildings. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from New Mexico State University and a Masters of Architecture degree from Rice University.