• Benjamin Fisher

New Sign Embodies Company Values; not Energy

We finally found some time to install a sign in front of our studio! Not only will this sign serve as an obvious means of wayfinding, directing people to the location of our studio, it serves as a sign of our company’s overall values and its mission.

While vastly different than what we initially planned on, this design is significantly more aligned with our company’s core values and is inherently more representative of its mission. It’s construction, comprised entirely of recycled and/or leftover materials is a true testament to our company’s commitment to sustainable building practices, specifically with regard to the embodied energy of building materials.

Embodied Energy

Embodied energy is, unfortunately, a little known, or fully understood principle that is systemically unstandardized. It is however, truly one of the best measures of a construction project’s overall and ongoing environmental impact. Its importance in selecting building materials for any project should be of paramount concern although it is often not even mentioned, much less considered; even on major projects costing tens of millions of dollars! This juxtaposition between importance and concern is in my opinion one of the greatest shortcomings of the LEED certification program and quite frankly, the industry as a whole.

The construction industry alone consumes 40% of the planet’s renewable and non-renewable natural resources consumed each year globally; 16% of its water. Those are staggering numbers! Moreover, 60% of global waste is produced from this sector.

As most everyone knows the planet contains only a set amount of finite resources including raw materials, fresh water, fossil fuels, etc. While these resources are not renewable, they are replenishable; however the natural processes that need to occur to replenish these resources are on an almost unimaginable time scale, hundreds of millions of years for resources such as petroleum. Nevertheless, our planet does have a means by which to manage resource depletion. In fact our ecosystem has an inherent capacity, called the biopacity, to manage resource depletion. Here’s the bad news, we’ve already surpassed the rate of replenishment coming into the new millennium. We literally consumed more resources, in less than 150 years really, than what the earth spent 4.5 billion years creating, managing, and preserving.

It’s not all doom and gloom.

The construction industry has in the past twenty five years made great strides in reducing a building’s life cycle energy. However, that has been done almost entirely by focusing on only one side of the coin. A building’s life cycle energy consists of two parts, it’s operational energy, or the energy it consumes to operate throughout its life, and its embodied energy (oh wait, that’s that word!). As our operation energy needs are successfully diminishing we can (and already have) build structures that are entirely net-zero energy buildings. Simply put, that means the buildings themselves produce as much, or more, of the energy on-site that they need to operate. It is for this reason that embodied energy is so important. It follows that as operational energy diminishes towards an eventual 0%, the embodied energy in a building would thus increase to 100% of a building’s life cycle energy.

Here’s the problem.

We can’t even agree on a definition for embodied energy; let alone a standardized means by which to measure it. Loosely comprehended, a building’s embodied energy is that of its materials embodied energy. Specifically any and all energy, regardless of its form or process, that is required to first, locate, extract, refine, manufacture, transport and install any given material from its state as a raw material in the earth to it’s finished state as an installed fabrication on a building site, to secondly, the energy consumed in its use throughout its life including maintenance, repair, etc, and finally to third, its eventual demolition and reuse or disposal.

And you thought algebra was tough.

It makes your head spin when you consider the infinite number of variables that come into play when calculating such a figure!! This is clearly evident in a paper recently published that cited 12 different publications’ measured quantities of the embodied energy (measured in Megajoules of energy/kilogram of material) of common building materials. Even in just selecting 14 of the most common building materials there still existed an average discrepancy ranging between 30-40%!

Back to that sign

While we here at ARK Building Solutions may not personally be able to solve such a daunting issue we can, as good stewards of the planet use our common sense to infer which materials to use, avoid, or in this case, ensure its maximum use of. The two primary materials comprising the sign are PVC used in the post sleeves and cap and an engineered wood product by LP. Both materials, PVC especially, have an exceptionally high embodied energy so it is through our repurposing of this material that we can extend its life cycle and create an even more positive impact than would have been had we just have recycled it in the first place. Below are just a few common materials and their relative embodied energy properties.

In addition to our commitment to sustainable building practices, which I may have elaborated on a bit more than necessary (I’ll get off my soapbox now) the sign we choose also portrays one of the three core principles we built this company on: accessible, affordable custom design.

Originally the design called for two sheets of steel to be plasma-cut in a layout similar to its current iteration with reliefs of our logo and “Design studio”. The pieces of steel, one to face north and the other south were then to be backed on both faces with purple-colored acrylic sheets. This would allow light through at night and provide a solid purple relief during the day. The steel was then to be boxed out in stained cedar and anchored to a single post mounted at its side. However, with Covid-19 wreaking havoc on manufacturing across the globe we were getting prices on the steel signs that were astronomical. According to the several vendors we contacted they were so far behind in filling existing orders of stock items that any custom-designed pieces were either outright unavailable or were only made so at two or three times their normal price. This ranged anywhere from $650.00 - $800.00 just for the steel! That’s an average cost of almost $125.00 per square foot! In the end, ultimately we decided that the original design, given current circumstances, simply didn’t align with our company’s values. For many, a company’s sign is the first impression they have of it and this was not the impression we wanted to leave.

High Design - Low Budget

Another of our core values with which this company was founded is also a goal with which we hope to continually strive for. We believe that custom, well-executed design should be accessible to everyone; affordable to people of all socioeconomic backgrounds. We wanted our sign to embody that principle to create an approachable, no-frills atmosphere that would be more inviting to a greater number of people. Perhaps it’s just me but when I go somewhere that exudes a level of luxury beyond what I am use to, or rather what is needed given a space’s program I first think to whether I can afford the services offered in such a place or rather, how much of what I’m spending is going towards that giant fish tank on the wall, the marble walls in the restroom? While many Builder’s might in theory hold the same belief, who might even attempt to prove as much with the donation of their services to entities such as habitat for the humanity, few actually apply this theory to their everyday practice. High Design can be accomplished on a Low Budget. Through careful, thoughtful planning and the implementation of a vast knowledge of material properties and application we can truly create that magazine-cover quality at a fraction of the cost you might have otherwise thought possible.

In order to provide accessible, affordable custom design it was imperative that we also adopt our second, and duly represented hallmARK, Transparency. While not intentional the sign in a way also represents our company's commitment to the one value which sets us apart from any of our competition, Transparency. The all-white border enclosing all sides of the ARK logo imbues a sense of openness and transparency we welcome as part of the building process. Our innovative software platform even allows those customer who choose to enter into a time and material contract to track and review all of the job costs that they are being billed for, literally as they incur. The gray panel’s cut relief to the purple ARK is in many ways analogous to the transparency we offer at ARK Building Solutions, letting our customers “see what’s inside”. We have nothing to hide.

And of course, T-tested and T-approved!