Design in a Time of Uncertainty
By Rives Taylor, Principal, Global Resilience Research Lead
HARC owes its existence to the vision and initiative of the late Houston oil pioneer, real estate developer, sustainability advocate, and philanthropist George P. Mitchell. Located in The Woodlands, Texas, HARC is a nonprofit research hub providing independent analysis on energy, air, water, and resilience to people seeking scientific answers.
Completed in 2017, HARC’s facility is 18,500 sq. feet of innovation in design. Yet, the elements of sustainable design don’t end as you exit the building. Outside the walls of the steel-clad building, our campus is nestled among towering pines and native wildflowers.
HARC considered how to develop solutions addressing some of today’s most pressing social-ecological and resource management issues. As a result, the campus optimized stormwater management, sustainable site design, and water efficiency. Considering current and future state, regional, and local conditions HARC’s answer to address uncertainty in a dynamic world was to design a resilient, sustainable, and repeatable model.
A core philosophy and the first step of this model was that it could be designed with nature to leverage and preserve onsite resources. From the very beginning, the protection of water resources and preservation of water supplies has been a pivotal driver of planning and design choices. The building design team worked to protect 70% of the site’s mixed pine and hardwood forested property from development through ecological exclusion zones (prioritized by highest biodiversity). Where site clearing was deemed necessary, post construction restorative landscaping imbued the site with native trees, shrubs, and grasses.
Taking this core philosophy of designing with nature one step farther HARC developed the site as an ecological engineered system designed to function cohesively as a series of integrated components. Water usage characteristics including low flow technologies and water utility cost, sustainable stormwater management design features such as bioswales that incorporate native vegetation and rip rap weirs, a curb-less parking lot with center island prairie, water savings derived from energy reducing technology, and an automated real-time metering dashboard are integral parts of the site’s resilience strategy.
The end result is the balanced integration of the natural and built environment which is capable of reducing environmental pressures from development such as nonpoint source runoff, withstand fluxing rainfall events, and remaining resilient in the face of drought and periods of water stress. In addition, a lack of an irrigation system, water efficiency features, and the energy-water nexus connection allow the building to operate using less water than an average three-person household.
We invite you out to tour our LEED Platinum building and campus. The technology, the innovation – at HARC we hope to share this with our surrounding community as a resource and educational tool.