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We, at Donald Aitken Associates, have dedicated our lives to helping individuals and companies, communities and cities, states and nations, fulfill their missions and goals through policies and buildings that are in harmony and balance with the Earth's natural systems. We believe that we are, thus, contributing to sustainability in the truest sense, while enhancing the quality of life of our clients and the strength and stability of their cultural and economic support systems.


Services Provided
by Donald Aitken Associates

The benefits of retaining the LEED™ Accredited Professionals of Donald Aitken Associates as consultants will depend, of course, on the nature and goals of your project. It will also rest on your own understanding of, and enthusiasm for, sustainability. The following two sections can help you determine your interest. And, for idea of what we can do by what we have done, read our bios (the buttons are on your left.) Or skip directly to the design services we offer.

What is designing for sustainability?

Sustainability is usually defined as meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the needs of future generations. Donald Aitken Associates recognizes that "needs" remains undefined and could be interpreted as either the barest of life-support essentials or profligate waste by affluent societies. We, therefore, define sustainability on the basis of passing the integrity of essential natural ecosystems on to future generations, since all economies and human societies depend directly upon healthy ecological resources. Included in our aims is the re-vitalization of natural systems for our living environment in a framework in which humans are totally integrated and non-disruptive. Our designs and policies seek to be simultaneously beneficial to natural habitats, to all life support systems, and to human habitats and economies. We draw for our resources and energy systems upon the Earth's ever-replenished (renewable) resources.

What do I need to know about the concepts of "sustainability" in order to include them in my project?

Probably not a lot more than logic tells you. For example, the United States has less than 4% of its original native forestland left. Clear-cutting has scarred hillsides in many forests. Yet many American builders still think they should be able to build poor quality wood frame homes that last 30 years or so and then will be torn down and dumped in landfills, so that new homes can be built on the same sites, wasting precious resources and trees! Profitable for builders, stimulating for the economy, and devastating to the environment. Wood is a wonderful resource. Properly designed wooden buildings can last for centuries, and the wood from demolitions can build new buildings. There is also profit in building for durability and in reusing building materials. If this is all obvious to you, then you understand one of the basic principles of "sustainability" applied to residential construction methods and materials.

The burning of fossil fuels to provide for everything from comfort and light in buildings to driving inefficient vehicles is, according to the overwhelming majority of responsible climate scientists, and to the consternation of the major insurance companies in the world, apparently changing our climate in environmentally and economically destructive ways. Human habitat should require the minimum of external resources for heating and cooling comfort, lighting, and appliances and office machines through energy efficient design and product selection, and the use of locally available indigenous and renewable energy resources. Design for human habitat should include no waste that cannot be assimilated through natural processes, and should not require the use or introduction of unhealthy materials either into the building interior or the environment. If this is obvious to you, then you already understand more of the basic principles of sustainable building design.

A full two-thirds of the nation's electricity is used in buildings, mostly in commercial buildings. Commercial buildings account for one-third of the nation's emissions of climate-changing gases into the environment. And the quality of the interior environment in buildings is usually far less healthy than outdoors. Yet "whole building" design allows us to reduce the environmental impacts by 50% or more while creating much healthier buildings, generally for an extra cost ranging from 2% down to nothing. Daylighting and healthy indoor air enhance the performance of the occupants of those buildings. If this makes sense to you, the design principles of "sustainability" applied to commercial buildings will be easy for you to grasp and stimulating to your creativity.

Methods for reducing fossil fuel use, and hence reducing the contribution of transportation to this global problem, are also readily available through community design. Buildings and communities can reduce the impact of vehicles by providing safe pathways for human feet and bicycles, or simply reducing "fossil fuel miles traveled" by integrating home, work and stores into the same communities and structures. Human habit should build communities that are neighborhoods, integrating building sites and walkway design to promote friendly interaction, keeping cars, garages, driveways and access roads out of the way of people. Valuable additional elements to introduce, where possible, are natural corridors for wildlife, community gardens, and local agriculture for local consumption. If this all sounds attractive to you, then you are clearly being drawn to the human benefits of sustainable community design.

Environmental Planning must seek to answer every question about present and future needs of human habitat and its environment as part of any development and building process. Nothing can be left to chance if the earth's delicate ecosystems are to survive at a level healthy enough to support the needs of future human populations and economies. You already have that understanding on an intuitive level. Donald Aitken Associates will help you to bring that understanding into your project.

What are the actual services that Donald Aitken Associates provides?

All of the factors briefly outlined above, and many more, are taken into account by Donald Aitken Associates, working in close collaboration with clients to balance these objectives with their particular needs, interests and constraints (including economic) and the unique conditions of their building site(s).

To achieve sustainability cost-effectively, all factors involved in designing and constructing a building must be considered during the initial planning stages. The factors that we always consider, and the related services that we provide, are the following:

Site: Existing topography, flora and fauna must be recognized and honored as the footprint of the building is established and the integration of the building into its natural environment is considered. Minimal building footprints are encouraged. So are minimum impacts of the finished building on its site. Many of these principles are still appropriate in urban sites. So we gather all relevant site and surrounding environment information, and work with the landscape designer to identify those important features to be retained. We carefully note any possible environmental restoration opportunities.

Climate: If the building is designed to be "climate responsive", or "climate adapted", it will be a comfortable, energy efficient building with maximal use of climate resources for building reliability and safety and for occupant comfort and support. So the local climate must be understood. We gather all appropriate information, and then interpret this information to the client and all members of the architectural and engineering teams as criteria that should be introduced in the earliest stages of building design and engineering conception.

Environmental Responsibility: Materials from the local area (indigenous resources and locally produced building materials and products) should be used in construction, and energy needs should be met, in so far as possible, by a combination of sensitive environmental design and locally available renewable resources. Buildings should be organic and integrate art, natural materials, sunlight and daylighting, and green plants, into their very structure and fabric, and provide for low noise levels. Their presence should ideally enhance local environmental quality, rather than degrade it. We identify all of these possibilities and present them as criteria at the beginning of the design process.

Facilitating the first steps: Donald Aitken Associates seeks to assure these benefits early in the design stage. Toward this end, as the first step in the entire design process, it is often helpful to conduct a design charette with the client, and all members of the design and engineering teams, to introduce the environmental and sustainable design principles and to begin to develop a consensus on their inclusion in the design itself. Following this we work directly with the architect and engineering firms, and facilitate the design development of these features through to working drawings.

Energy: The building envelope should be designed for maximum energy efficiency, air tightness, moisture "breatheability" and beneficial interaction with the local environment. To the maximum extent possible (and economically feasible), the building design should draw on locally available environmental resources, either to reduce energy consumption or to provide energy. Along with energy-efficient design of the building envelope, energy consumption is reduced by natural ventilation, shading, daylighting, and ground-coupling of HVAC systems. Energy is provided by passive solar heating, solar water heating, and building-integrated solar-electric systems. Donald Aitken Associates is uniquely qualified to provide design conception and system specifications for all energy-conserving and natural energy systems.

Indoor Air Quality: Human life cannot be sustained over time without healthy air to breathe, free of toxic substances. No materials should be used that contain contaminants harmful to human health or to the health of the Earth. Materials for the construction, interior design, painting and furnishing of buildings must all be non-toxic, free of outgassing, and safe for human physiologies. Donald Aitken Associates works with the building material specifier, interior designer and architect to assure these benefits and features to the maximum extent feasible and cost-effective.

Water and wastewater: Careful design and selection of water-efficient appliances can reduce the dependence of the building on local fresh water supplies. Natural rainwater is collected where feasible and used in buildings to displace fresh water from uses not requiring clean water (e.g. toilets) in parallel with greywater systems or on landscaping. Rainwater not used should be collected in percolation ponds and reintroduced into the local aquifer (instead of being washed down storm drains) to make up for the loss of exposure over the building footprint. In outstanding cases, "Living systems" may be incorporated into buildings or their local environments for purifying building wastewater. Donald Aitken Associates works with the architect, engineers and landscape architect to incorporate these water-conserving features into the design and operation of the building, and recommends appropriate designers of living systems to the project owner.

Designing for Evolution: If buildings are to be built to last for 100 years or more, as they are in Europe, we have to consider making their uses evolutionary, or changeable over time. Thus, for example, a house built for a young family with small children will soon be a house full of teenagers, then a house for "empty nesters," then a house with elderly parents who need care. Perhaps at some point there will be one or more businesses operating out of the home. Similarly, a commercial building may have several owners in its lifetime, with different requirements for the use of the space. A building should therefore be adaptable, interior walls should be moveable or transferable for other uses, and mechanical and electrical systems should be flexible. And, in the end, a building should not be designed to be "demolished," but rather "deconstructed," so that its valuable materials may then be incorporated in other new buildings. We work with the designers and structural engineers to design, develop and include these features.

Economics and Lifecycle Costing: at all times we advise clients of both cost implications and potential lifecycle benefits of design suggestions. But the clients need to be aware that we will seek to have the most important intangibles which are not subject to cost-benefit analysis, such as occupant health and productivity, building functional reliability, and minimal environmental impact, be given weight in the design decisions. National experience with sustainable buildings has shown that virtually every feature can be included within an add-on of not more than 10% for first costs. The actual national average extra cost for LEED certified buildings is about 2%. Very often a substantial portion of the desired features can be accomplished through "whole building design" for no extra first cost, as savings in one area (e.g. cooling) are applied to another (e.g. operable windows and better glazings).

Commissioning: We are available for selected commissioning responsibilities upon completion of our buildings to assure performance of the building and its features as designed.

The actual scope of responsibilities by Donald Aitken Associates, and all related fees and costs, are discussed and agreed upon at the inception of the project.

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