Design for Survival: Sustainability for Planet and Structure
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Buildings in Port Aransas encounter drastic environmental challenges: the potential catastrophic storm surge and high winds from a hurricane, and daily conditions hostile to buildings, vehicles, and even most vegetation. Its location a few hundred feet from the Gulf of Mexico and near-tropical latitude expose buildings to continuous high humidity, winds laden with scouring sand and corrosive salt, and extremes of temperature and ultraviolet light. Building construction methods are able to address each of these, but doing so in a sustainable way creates significant challenges. The new research building at the Marine Science Institute has been designed and is being constructed to meet the demand for both survivability and sustainability. It is tracking towards formal certification as a LEED Gold structure while being robust and resistant to the harsh coastal environment. The effects of a hurricane are mitigated by elevating buildings and providing a windproof envelope. Ground-level enclosures are designed to be sacrificial and non-structural so they can wash or blow away without imposing damage on the upper portions of the building, and only non-critical functions and equipment will be supported within them. Design features that integrate survivability with sustainability include: orientation of building axis; integral shading from direct summer sunlight; light wells; photovoltaic arrays; collection of rainwater and air conditioning condensate for use in landscape irrigation; reduced impervious cover; xeriscaping and indigenous plants; recycling of waste heat from air conditioning systems; roofing system that reflects light and heat; long life, low maintenance stainless steel, high-tensile vinyl, hard-anodized aluminum and hot-dipped galvanized mountings throughout; chloride-resistant concrete; reduced visual impact; recycling of construction materials.