Robert Redford helps celebrate ‘green’ building

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A Santa Monica native, Redford says the new NRDC building is “proof of a reality that can create green buildings, new buildings and new jobs.” Building’s architect says it’s “green down to its doorknobs.”

By Carolanne Sudderth/Special to The Malibu Times

The Natural Resources Defense Council celebrated the opening of its new Southern California Headquarters in what the NRDC described as one of the most environmentally friendly buildings in the country on Nov. 13. Actor Robert Redford, a longtime supporter whose name is engraved on a brass plaque on the front of the building, was there to help celebrate and cut the ceremonial ribbon – green, of course.

The NRDC is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers, environmental specialists and public policy experts dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. The new building at 1314 2nd Street in Santa Monica will serve as its Southern California headquarters.

Other locations include New York, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. Redford is probably as well known for his environmental activism as for action on the silver screen.

“Robert Redford is simply one of the greatest environmental champions of our day,” said Allan Horn, NRDC vice president and chief operating officer of Warner Bros. “He’s done so much, with amazing success and with a lot of modesty.”

Redford has been a member of the NRDC board since 1975, five years after its founding. Prominent Malibu residents are also members of the NRDC, including actor Pierce Brosnan. Originally a group of lawyers dedicated to protecting the environment, the organization has expanded to include scientific investigators and others who want to foster change in the environmental protections, said Senior Scientist Rob Watson. “Redford nurtured it along since its beginnings.”

The efforts of the NRDC are particularly necessary given the practices of the current administration, he said.

“Leadership is going to have come from the bottom,” Redford said. “It’s going to have to come from the people themselves, which are the true nature of democracy. My only hope is that the people who don’t pay attention will wake up in time.”

Redford described his return to the Westside of Los Angeles as coming “full circle.” A native son of Santa Monica, born at Saint John’s Hospital, he remembers a bucolic little town.

“My father delivered milk. I had a paper route. Before the freeway, there was no smog. The push came after World War II when development went over the top.”

The building also brings development full circle.

“California is a pretty weird state, but it has enacted some remarkable legislation for environmental protection,” Redford said. “The building is not only a symbol, but [also] proof of a reality that can create green buildings, new buildings and new jobs.”

NRDC seeking highest honors for new HQ

Architect Elizabeth Moule said the building was designed to be low-tech and “green down to its doorknobs,” and is currently being considered for a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Version 2 Platinum green building rating – the highest award issued by the United States Building Council for sustainable design. The Santa Monica building may be the first structure in the United States to achieve it.

The rooftop glistens with the iridescent blues and purples of photovoltaic panels, which will supply approximately 20 percent of the NRDC’s electricity. The three-story edifice is structured around three light wells, each of which not only enhances light and air circulation, but allows for communication between floors.

“The light wells are built to feel like the inside of light houses – so we don’t forget where we are,” Mole said.

According to the NRDC brochure, the building will use 60 percent to 75 percent less energy than a typical office structure. Local electric companies lent their expertise to the design and angling of windows to direct sunlight where it was most needed. These are glazed with Low-E, a transparent material which transmits light, but blocks heat.

Sustainability has been applied to other aspects of the building as well. Rain water trickles down through channels in the roof to a basement cistern from which it is directed into a water recycling system, which filters and disinfects up to 800 gallons per day of both gray and storm water, reducing the need for city water by 60 percent.

The NRDC headquarters has also been designed to avoid deforestation. The polished wood floors are a veneer of fast-growing poplar or bamboo laminates rather than rare hardwoods. The clapboard siding is Hardy board, actually a cementite material laced with fibers. Materials from the structure that formerly stood on the site were reused wherever possible, including the studs; and what was not used was recycled, “packaged in such a way as to be reusable by other contractors,” Moule said.

The most difficult part of the process, she said, was shepherding it through Santa Monica’s Planning Department-despite a city council that constantly claims to favor green buildings.