Pmeis proud to announce that one winner and two honorable mentions have been chosen to receivepmeExcellence in Design Awards for 2009.

Queens Botanical Garden is this year’s winner. The runners-up are the Western Virginia Regional Jail and a kennel and boarding facility in Ontario, Canada, called Dogs on Vacation.

Projects were judged by our panel of editors and engineers based on the following criteria: innovation in design, green building, ability to meet schedules, cost-efficient strategies and community improvement. The winners were selected from several outstanding candidates.

Rainwater from the Terrace Canopy is received in the Cleansing Biotope (foreground), where it is filtered through the plant root systems, and contaminants are removed and treated by bacterial activity on the root surface. Photography by Jeff Goldberg/Esto.

The Winner: Queens Botanical Garden

Located in Flushing, NY, the Queens Botanical Garden (QBG) serves as an environmental beacon in an urban setting. It is situated on 39 acres of land owned by New York City that serve as a legacy to the 1939 and 1964 World's Fairs held there. Queens Botanical Garden is operated by the Queens Botanical Garden Society, a 501(c)3 charity.

The Garden’s Sustainable Buildings and Landscapes Project consists of three interconnected spaces: a central building (called the Visitor & Administration Building), a forecourt and roof canopy, and an auditorium sheltered by a sloping green roof. Completed in September 2007, the two-story Building encompasses 15,800 square feet and includes a mechnical room, reception area, garden store, gallery space, meeting rooms and administrative offices.

This facility is usually occupied by 30 full-time (40 hours per week) and 12 part-time employees and 5,400 visitors per week (average of two hours per visitor). Public admission is free.

But what really sets this building apart - and what elevated QBG to the winning position - are its “environmental aspects, which celebrate the relationship between diverse cultures and the environment and showcase water management, landscape integration, and energy conservation and generation” (QBG’s Web site, These aspects have earned the Garden a LEED® Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (new construction category; version 2/2.1; 52 points).

P.A. Collins (New York City) was the MEP engineering firm hired for the project. Their work included:

1.Designing all of the plumbing systems inside the Visitor & Administration Building, including using low-flow fixtures for water conservation, greywater distribution, dye injection, composting toilets, etc.

2.Providing pump specifications (interior and exterior) for:
  • the transfer of rainwater to irrigation areas and to a decorative water channel that encircles the Visitor & Administration Building;

  • the transfer of greywater from underground settling tanks to the Constructed Wetland, and from the supply cistern into the building;

  • the circulating pump for the decorative water channel.

Water collected on the Visitor and Administration Building Terrace Canopy is used in QGB’s Fountain of Life-then meanders back to the Cleansing Biotope. Photography by Jeff Goldberg/Esto.

Waterscape architectural firm Atelier Dreiseitl (Überlingen, Germany) designed the bioswales, Constructed Wetland and decorative water channel.

“This is the only project I’ve worked on in an urban setting that had 100% disposal of stormwater onsite,” said Andrew Collins, P.E., LEED-AP, the founder and principal of P.A. Collins. “There’s no stormwater connection to the New York City sewer system.”

Collins discussed the Garden’s several bioswales, which serve as its most important stormwater management tool. A bioswale is a low-lying area planted with gestation that can tolerate wet and dry conditions. Rainwater from surrounding areas and overflow from the Cleansing Biotope (see page 12) runs into these bioswales, where it gets filtered and absorbed into the soil.

QBG’s Web site provides a more detailed explanation of the process: “Water flows into a special soil that maximizes retention. It then evaporates, is absorbed by plants, and allowed to filter back into the water table. Some of the plant species in the Garden’s bioswales include Great Blue Lobelia and Shadow Sedge. They prevent water pollution by keeping stormwater out of New York City’s combined wastewater system, where it often mixes with raw sewage before being released into area waterways.”

However, not all rainwater runs into the bioswales. Rainwater that falls on the Helen M. Marshall Auditorium is absorbed by a planted green roof, and rainwater collected at the Horticulture/Maintenance building is used for washing vehicles and tools.

Separately, greywater (non-fecal matter) from the Visitor & Administration Building’s sinks and shower is piped out of the building to underground settling tanks that allow larger debris to settle out of the water. Next, the greywater goes to a Constructed Wetland, where it is slowly released below ground.

As the water seeps through layers of gravel and sand, contaminants are filtered out. Once it reaches the root zones of the wetland plants, organic nutrients, metals and other contaminants are naturally treated and absorbed by the plants.

“The cleansed greywater from the Wetland is of a good quality but isn’t potable,” said Collins. “This water is then collected in a raised suction tank (with sensors) and piped back to the Visitor & Administration Building, where it is used to flush low-flow toilets on the first floor and in the auditorium.”

According to QBG, reusing greywater for flushing toilets reduces the project's potable (clean) water consumption by 55%. The building’s public bathrooms each contain three water closets and several waterless urinals. Its sinks and shower (2.2-gpm showerhead) also feature low-flow fixtures to conserve clean water.

The restrooms on the building’s second floor include composting toilets, which require very little water and prevent water pollution by keeping waste out of the sewer system. Instead, waste is treated by living organisms like bacteria and worms, which turn it into useful compost.

Though the Wetland covers a relatively small area, it features a variety of wetland plants native to the area, including Bottlebrush Sedge, Great Bulrush, Marsh Fern and Cardinal Flower. These wetland plant communities once existed throughout the region, and now they again provide a dash of color to the landscape.

QBG says the Wetland is also a functional landscape while filling an important role in the Visitor & Administration Building’s water-recycling system. This Wetland can clean and recycle up to 4,000 gallons of water per week, which is more than a typical person drinks in 20 years!

Cleansed rainwater from the Cleansing Biotope flows in a water channel that weaves around the Visitor and Administration Building, through the gardens and back to the Biotope to begin the cycle again. Photography by Jeff Goldberg/Esto.

Other Water-Conservation Features

Cleansing Biotope.The Cleansing Biotope is an area planted with selected native wetland species such as Soft Rush and Lizard’s Tail. During a storm, rainwater runs off the Visitor & Administration Bulding’s Terrace Canopy into the Biotope. Water filters into the soil and through the root zones of the wetland plants, where organic nutrients, metals and other contaminants are naturally treated and absorbed by the plants.

After it is cleansed, the water is piped underground to splash out of the Entry Plaza fountain. Then it flows in a water channel that weaves around the Visitor & Administration Building, through the gardens and back to the Biotope to begin the cycle again.

Green Roof.QBG’s 3,000-sq.-ft. green roof has many different native plant species, such as Little Bluestem Grass and Prairie Dropseed. Visitors can walk up the sloping roof to experience the landscape firsthand and enjoy a new view of the Queens Botanical Gardens. The roof provides a habitat for plants, insects and birds where an empty roof would usually be. It also reduces stormwater runoff, supplies added insulation and roof protection and reduces the surrounding air temperature during the summer.

The green roof is built on top of a regular roof in layers. These include a protective layer that keeps the green roof from leaking or damaging the roof below, a drainage layer that keeps the green roof from becoming waterlogged and a growing layer with extra lightweight soil for plant roots.

Drought-Resistant Plants.These low-maintenance plants are used in Garden landscapes to reduce the need for irrigation. This is another way QBG conserves fresh water and reduces the burden on the city’s water supply system and vulnerability to drought. QBG claims its Visitor & Administration Building uses 80% less fresh water than a traditional building of the same size.

In a brochure calledSustainable Landscapes & Buildings, QBG summarizes its reasons for water conservation: “Collecting, storing, and recycling graywater and rainwater onsite diverts it from the city’s costly, energy-intensive wastewater treatment process. These strategies also prevent the release of polluted water into local waterways during large storms, when the city’s wastewater treatment system is overwhelmed.”

Large windows at ground level in the Helen M. Marshall Auditorium serve to bring the water feature inside the Visitor and Administration Building. Photography by Jeff Goldberg/Esto.

Greener Than Green

Water conservation is an important element of the “green” design of the Queens Botanical Garden, but it is by no means the only element. For example, the Visitor & Administration Building features a geothermal (ground-source heat-pump) system that uses the earth’s constant temperature to provide seasonal heating and cooling.

Also, photovoltaic cells (on the Building rooftop) transform sunlight into electricity to operate high-efficiency ventilation and lighting systems. To lessen energy consumption, the Building’s long, narrow shape (clad in wood and glass) is oriented along an east-west axis so 90% of the interior space can receive daylight. Energy consumption is further reduced through daylight dimming and occupancy sensors. And glass doors and windows open in temperate weather, providing natural ventilation.

The Building is designed to use approximately 40% less energy from nonrenewable sources than a typical building of its size - reducing annual energy costs by $7,000 and eliminating the release of more than 40 tons of the greenhouse gas CO2 into the atmosphere (equivalent to removing nine cars from the road). To further eliminate greenhouse gases, QBG installed showers and changing areas for employees as a way to encourage them to bike or walk to work. Plus, the Garden is accessible by public transportation.

QBG reports that more than 75% of the waste produced during the construction of the Building was recycled and reused. Also, more than 33% of the materials in the building, by cost, were harvested or manufactured within 500 miles of the project site. Fabrics, sealants, caulks, paints and other interior products contain no or very low levels of VOCs.

The project team also used materials with high-durability, low-maintenance requirements, recycled content, low chemical emissions, and Forest Stewardship Council certification, which ensures responsible forestry methods were used in the harvesting of timber products.

Another key conservation facet of QBG is that almost all the plant species installed are native to the New York area. This fact coincides with the Garden’s Master Plan, which calls for maintaining distinct areas for culturally significant plant displays, as well as rebuilding native plant communities throughout the Garden. These include woodland, savannah, wetland, ridge and swale, and prairie ecosystems.

As if all of these features weren’t green enough, the QBG is built on the former site of a parking lot - thereby protecting open space.

  • case study of the Queens Botanical Garden Visitor & Administration Building.

  • Sustainable Landscapes & Buildings brochure and several other resources on

  • Runner Up: Western Virginia Regional Jail

    Opened on March 9, 2009, the new Western Virginia Regional Jail in Salem, VA, is a 264,000-sq.-ft., 605-bed correctional facility that services correctional needs for the City of Salem, as well as Franklin, Montgomery and Roanoke Counties. From its inception, the Jail Authority was determined to provide these communities with a secure, state-of-the-art, environmentally-sensitive facility.

    Green features include the capture and re-use of rooftop rainwater for laundry; electronic water monitoring to minimize the purchase, use, and treatment of water; and a vacuum-assisted plumbing system. The HSMM/AECOM (technical advisor) and AcornVac (manufacturer) design teams worked closely to incorporate vacuum plumbing into the facility to achieve the desired control, security and water savings.

    This system was selected as an alternative to gravity drainage piping, which can often present problems due to heavy, abusive use of the plumbing fixtures by the inmates. The cost in wasted water, manpower and aggrevation is inestimable.

    By means of a normally closed valve, the vacuum plumbing system minimizes waste line blockages and isolates every cell from the waste piping network - eliminating any opportunity to pass contraband from cell to cell through the piping network.

    It also helps to provide more accessible plumbing chases by allowing smaller-diameter waste piping and the ability to route vertically or horizontally in overhead or shallow spaces (combined with a self-venting design).

    John Chaney, HSMM/AECOM project manager, pointed out that the typical inmate flushes his cell toilet 20 times per day. Because the plumbing system reduces water consumption of toilets 68%  by using only 0.5 gpf (rather than the conventional 1.6 gpf), administrators can now regulate flushes to a maximum number per day.

    For this reason, the Jail Authority expects to save more than four million gallons of water every year. This extensive water savings helped the jail become one of the first correctional facilities to achieve the LEED Green Building Rating.

    Chaney said the plumbing system “is a powerful money saver. We cut the Authority’s annual waste cost by $200,000, we saved $400,000 in domestic water connect fees because its smaller piping network simplifies everything, and we drastically reduced how the inmates control the jail by eliminating clogged pipes.” The Jail Authority and HSMM/AECOM estimated that the new facility will pay off its investment in less than one year.

    Runner Up: Dogs on Vacation

    Should Martine and Carr Pepler ever decide to get out of the dog kennel business, they may have a career in radiant heating. The couple accrued a wealth of design knowledge about radiant heat and snowmelt systems since incorporating both into Dogs on Vacation, a kennel and boarding facility they will open in Jan. 2010 on their property in the Township of Oro-Medonte, Ontario, Canada.

    The Peplers chose geothermal technology along with in-slab radiant heat for snow melting and year-round comfort at the kennel, which sits on the 97-acre property where the Pepler’s live, work, and hope to retire. Approximately 12,000 feet of Zurn PEX tubing was installed indoors and outdoors at the kennel. The tubing not only provides radiant heat and snow/ice melting in the winter, it also supplies chilled water to fan coil units that cool the building’s interior during the summer. The tubing can also cool the floors in the summer.

    “We’ll open during the coldest time of the year, and this is where radiant heat shines,” said Carr. “We turned the system on in Jan. 2009, and once it was up to speed it proved to be the correct choice.”

    Carr said that, even on the coldest days there [-20°F to –30°F+], he can open up the facility’s 40 dog doors [20 runs of two doors each] and let the wind whip snow into the building. This is because once the doors are closed, the animals and staff are instantly enveloped by warmth and the floors dry fairly quickly.

    The way that radiant heat works has allowed Carr to keep the winter temperature setting in the building at approximately 65°F. “Any warmer than that and you’re walking around in T-shirts.”

    Since deciding to create the kennel, Carr said they’ve only encountered one major challenge: finding the right thickness of the water/food-grade glycol mix (antifreeze) to prevent freezing while transferring heat efficiently. He is working with the geothermal companywww.earthheat.cato meet this challenge.

    “Initially, we used a water/ethanol mix in the system but replaced it with a water/food-grade glycol mix because the former is poisonous to dogs. There was a leak in the system after we made the change - and if we’d had the ethanol mix and the dogs had lapped it up, it would have killed them.”

    Depending on outdoor precipitation and temperature, the system is capable of circulating warm water to 20, 10 x 15-foot outside-covered portions of the 10 x 25-foot runs. Since Oro-Medonte gets an average of 50+ inches of snowfall a year, the Peplers needed an affordable means for snowmelt in these areas.

    Indoors, radiant heat eliminates the need for a forced air system that contributes to common respiratory ailments among dogs.

    “Radiant heating is an amazing way to heat. Why anyone would want to use anything else is beyond us.”