Sustainability at the National Museum of African American History and Culture
The Smithsonian’s newest museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), broke ground just a couple months ago and is progressing quickly towards its goal of opening its doors in 2015. The museum plans to become LEED-certified which is a rating system that helps identify and implement measurable green building design. The museum is right on track with its building requirements. Though LEED certification has become more and more common, there still is a distinct missing piece in the true sustainability of a building through the LEED certification system, however. Experts have determined that for a building to be truly sustainable, the rating system needs to consider its surrounding landscape.
In order to address this problem, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden partnered together in 2005 to come up with a solution to this missing component in LEED certification. These organizations collaborated with experts to address site design issues relating to soil, hydrology, vegetation, material selection, and human health and well-being to develop their own sustainable rating system on sites alone. This rating system is known as the Sustainable Sites Initiative or SITES for short.
SITES is a distinct and different rating system from LEED. SITES, like LEED, fosters the conservation of resources by promoting things like using recycled materials or solar energy, but it takes it to another level by going beyond the building’s exterior and rebuilding critical ecological capacity on sites. Sustainable buildings can only be truly ‘sustainable’ with healthy built landscapes. For example, a building using water captured on site or vegetation to reduce heating and cooling requirements can only happen with a built landscape design integrated into the building’s design.
NMAAHC will set out to secure both LEED building and SITES certifications. This is very exciting as currently there are only three SITES-certified projects in the U.S. If NMAAHC makes the cut it will set an example as an important landmark for site design across the nation by following the Sustainable Sites Initiative.
Liz Carroll, Landscape Architecture Intern