Market Insight: Guest Articles Triple Green Design by KMD Architects
March 2007

The concept of Triple Green Design is in large part the result of KMD research programs on energy efficiency, productivity, and social well being in office buildings and hospitals. Triple Green Design is an approach to project planning and design, offering solutions that will affect personnel satisfaction and productivity, individual well being, and reduction of bottomline operational costs as well as energy conservation.

Triple Green Design begins with the premise that a sustainable building is an economically viable and socially responsible solution that reduces operational costs and creates a place that employees will be proud to call theirs. Through its research efforts, along with the pioneering work of others in the field of environmental design, KMD has found that experiences of the natural world can enhance productivity within a workforce; speed recovery in hospital patients and contribute to the Community at large.

These findings are significant. As a result, KMD has made Triple Green Design a firm-wide priority.

The Triple Green concept combines the best-known Green element, energy conservation, with two other Green strategies of design that affect both the productivity of their users and, thus, of the building, and also enhance the enjoyment and sense of community of people who view the building from the outside. The three Greens are, thus:

  1. Energy Green—Conservation
  2. Productivity Green—The introduction of nature into interior spaces and, views out, thus, the enhancement of the experiences and productivity of the building users
  3. Community Green—Making nature a part of the experience of the building for the community at large

The Green of energy conservation is now a well-established value. As energy costs continue to escalate and we become increasingly aware of how energy usage negatively affects the environment, clients and the general public are increasingly enthusiastic about the concept of the sustainable building. The groundswell of support for LEED certification continues to increase as the world recognizes its benefits.

The other Greens—created by the integration of nature into design—have existed in architecture for some time, but not often, nor particularly systematically.

Experience Green in buildings such as office structures not only increases user productivity but benefits sustainability, since the same number of workers can create more product. In hospitals, it enhances the experience and performance of staff and lowers the anxiety and stress experienced by patients. It has also been demonstrated to reduce the length of patient stays, thus reducing energy usage.

Community Green, concentrated on external public spaces, creates experiential benefits for passersby, visitors and the community at large, as well as for building users who enjoy it as they enter and leave. In general, it can improve the function of all aspects of community spirit and thus overall productivity.

The presence and symbolism of nature can be a part of public experience that goes well beyond the immediately visible ground floor plazas and lobbies. Nature can be a feature in spaces within a building on upper floors that are visible, such as facades and rooftops.

For many years, architects have tended to design buildings whose aesthetic separates us from the natural world. The modern office building, for example, is most often boxy, sterile and, frequently, nondescript. These buildings send the message that humans are somehow separate from the natural world and that we do not need to be connected to our environment to be productive or to participate in feelings of community and discovery. A building might be energy efficient yet remain austere. Although such a building could be considered “Green” by conventional standards, it can still remain socially isolating and uncomfortable and, therefore, not foster maximum productivity, interaction or discovery.

The idea of creating spaces for people to gather, mingle and interact is not a new one. But the concept of Triple Green Design can lead to new concepts of gathering and sharing. The outcome is places that stimulates and enliven life.

We are a culture that values change, variety and experiences of discovery. Nature exemplifies this type of experience. Certainly, it can do so in a threatening and isolating way. We still have earthquakes, floods and other frightening experiences. However, the forms of nature that can become a part of buildings can have universally positive messages. Nature can be a bridge that links interest to action; it is a humanizing force that is infinitely flexible in its application.

“Studies have shown that natural day-lighting can increase a worker’s production. Our new concept of Triple Green Design employs nature to assist us in creating environments that will also increase a spirit of discovery and community,” adds Juan Diego Perez-Vargas, International Group Director at KMD.

And, of course, related to the “Triple Green,” there is often a fourth “Green,” that of profit. If a building design not only reduces energy consumption but also increases productivity, it is more desirable financially.

What follows are thoughts and specific examples of how Triple Green can impact various building types.


There are many benefits of incorporating all of the Green designs into healthcare projects.

Research has shown that patients who can look directly out of their rooms at the natural world spend less time in the hospital. The introduction of nature into the healthcare workplace helps staff morale and retention--a big element in hospital efficiency. At Little Company of Mary Hospital in Torrance, California, a children’s hospital and birthing center, the design creates an energizing experience for patients, visitors, and hospital staff. Beginning with the idea that time spent at a hospital can be thought of as a ‘journey,’ KMD designed a series of courtyards and gardens along the hospital’s public and gathering spaces, guiding the visitor or staff member from one restful place to another along day-lit corridors. Patients of the Emergency Department, Critical Care, Labor/Delivery, and Medical/Surgical Units in the “South Tower Addition” have been assisted in their healing by warm natural environments.

Green elements can play a major role in healing, but must be incorporated in accordance with regulations. Hospital infection control departments have a role in reviewing internal planting, ensuring that mold and ventilation problems will not create an unsafe interior environment. Placing trees and other natural elements in atria within view of waiting areas and patient rooms is one solution KMD has used to address this concern.

KMD has incorporated Dr. Robert Ulrich’s study demonstrating patient recovery linked to views of nature in all of its hospital design. Natural light, views of tree-filled atriums and the outdoors and warm interior tones promote recovery for patients who are able to move through the hospital and also improve the experience of visiting family and friends.

Welcomed to the hospital community by courtyards and guided through peaceful and clearly demarcated hallways, along an atrium, or comforted by a restful and natural waiting room, hospital visitors will come to their experience with a better sense of well-being and calm.

Natural elements not only create a stimulating experience and individuality for the variety of hospital “journeys,” but also can help to mitigate the anxiety of both patients and family members. KMD’s plan for El Camino Hospital, in San Mateo California, the “Hospital Community of the Future,” replaces the existing hospital with a new 480,000-squarefoot state-of-the-art General Acute Care Hospital that brings the stimulus and pleasure of the exterior campus environment into the interior healing community. At the main entrance, a Green courtyard blends the outside world with the life of the hospital, celebrating El Camino and its relationship to the community. Along the ground floor, a dynamic “main street” along a courtyard dramatically marries the hospital with nature. Natural elements are used as landmarks for wayfinding along corridors and in elevator lobbies. The experience in the units is equally laced with Green, with rooms opening on the courtyard or to the campus.

The basic plan of the building integrates it with the surrounding earthscape, as does the detailing of walls and corridors. Triple Green Design’s community-building aspect ensures that patients and staff will have experiences that are as relaxing and personal as possible.

Triple Green Design can also noticeably improve the recruitment and retention of staff by improving their feelings towards their place of work, and increasing their productivity while at work because of the healthfulness and psychological benefits of natural light and views of greenery-filled natural areas for breaks.

While Energy Green Design improves bottom-line operational costs in hospital facilities over the long run, the benefits of Nature Green Design can dramatically increase a hospital’s efficacy through immediate improvements in workforce productivity, recruitment and retention, patient recovery, and overall visitor experience.

Hospitals can benefit their communities and also increase staff morale and a sense of contribution by making nature a part of the experience of the community in general, whether they be casual passersby or people who have, at one time or another, been users of the building.

Government Offices

The new administration building for the City and County of San Francisco, designed by KMD, is Located in San Francisco’s historic civic center. This project is a pilot Energy Green building for the City. The current goal is for a LEEDTM silver rating.

The energy Green tactics behind this design are three-fold: rotate the majority of the building mass to achieve a genuine alignment with true north; minimize the lease depths of the tower to a maximum of 40'-0" for occupied areas to achieve daylight penetration; and implement renewable energy strategies throughout the building envelope.

The building entrance is located at the corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Polk Street to address the neighboring civic buildings. The north and east facades, which receive the least direct sunlight, in general, and especially during the work day, are composed of transparent glazing. The south facade receives the majority of direct sunlight during the typical workday and is designed to reduce its impact. In order to maximize the positive benefits of daylight, light shelves have been introduced and incorporated into the window wall.

With respect to Interior Green, the elevator core is located so that it incorporates a great view of the outdoors, with an interior view which focuses on a planted public lobby area, enhancing the experience of interior travel and conference/meeting rooms for staff and the public. the workspaces will have considerable interior planting, particularly useful, since the view out from the upper floors are very urban with the exception of some hillsides, which are 3+ miles away.

To provide a variety of experiences of nature for the community-at-large, multi-floor entry lobbies connect to each other on the main pedestrian corner, providing a rich variety of spatial experiences. The ground floor is set back from the main pedestrian street and filled with planting. The conference room tower facing the most active street includes highly visible planting, as does the top floor, where it also serves to provide shade.


A veritable mountain of evidence demonstrates that “daylighting” has a substantial, measurable impact on human performance in interior environments. In a 2003 study by the California Energy Commission, exposure to daylight was consistently linked with a higher level of concentration and better short-term memory recall.

A 1999 commission study found that students in daylighted classrooms performed 7 percent to 18 percent higher on standardized tests. In San Juan Capistrano, students with the most daylight in their classrooms were found to progress 20 percent faster on math tests and 26 percent faster on reading tests over the course of a year than those in classrooms with the least light.

Perhaps no setting is more important to consider for incorporating daylight than in courts, where decisions made now could reverse the conventional wisdom that created closed, artificially lighted court facilities in recent years.

Until the late 1940s and early ‘50s, many courthouses had courtrooms and jury rooms with adequate daylight. In many cases, daylight was provided by windows on side walls. Positioning the lighting source in this manner minimized the glare and ensured that views of the participants in the well would not be obscured by strong backlighting.

With the advent of air conditioning, buildings were constructed with huge floor plates in which no one was close to a window. Windows were unnecessary to provide lighting and ventilation. At roughly the same time, concerns about security in the courthouse increased dramatically. With the greater emphasis on security, windows were increasingly perceived as a threat and as opportunities for unguarded access to a courtroom, either visually or, potentially, as an avenue for rock-throwing or other physical violence.

Many judges also were concerned about their ability to control the environment. Daylighting can be perceived as an element outside their control and, therefore, undesirable. Blinds and other shading devices, rather than assisting with the regulation of the environment, were considered nuisances to be eliminated.

How do we reintroduce the benefits of daylighting into courts?

When planning, it is important to consider the angle and source of sunlight in relation to the participants. Daylighting sources should never be located so low and/or behind key participants, as to obscure their view. Windows behind a judge or directly behind a jury can be detrimental to key sight lines. Ideally, windows should be placed high on lateral walls in order to provide the best daylight.

Among the solutions for the Klamath Falls county courthouse were inclusion of criminal and civil courtrooms with specific uses for prisoner circulation, alternative uses for jury rooms and introduction of windows and significant sunlight into the courtrooms. A large entry atrium with two stories of exterior glass floods the public space with light and enables daylight to spill into certain court facilities as well. Also, large windows along the side of the courtroom itself bring abundant natural light into the proceedings.

Commercial Office Buildings

The Triple Green Design concept employed in the Jie Fang Building in Shanghai promises to create one of the leafiest office buildings in the world.

The design uses natural elements such as trees, fountains, natural lighting, natural ventilation, and other elements that encourage both worker/users and visitors for meetings and conferences to explore and interact with spontaneity and openness and to stimulate the creative workforce to generate ideas and innovate and, perhaps more importantly, to build community and trust—all of which are vital to increasing productivity and communication in the modern office.

An 18-story atrium filled with bamboo, indigenous trees and ivy curves up the southeast corner of the building. Gardens are set at every third floor so that every worker is close to a sizable patch of greenery. There is also a sky garden at the building’s penthouse. Fountains and landscaped areas, both on the inside of the public atrium and in the public outdoor spaces, create substantial departure from the relatively rigid streetscape of downtown Shanghai. The Jie Fang Building’s several public plazas will invite and delight the senses of neighborhood residents, passerby and workers with a lively landscape of cascading waterfalls, quiet gardens, and fountains playing a rhythm with sprightly bursts of water.

Community Green is a dominant feature at the plaza level, where fountains and a range of greenery are combined with textured stone surfaces in a series of varied forms, both in plan and in elevation. Stairs and ramps connect a variety of levels, each with an individual experiential focus. This is a very substantial departure from the relatively rigid and naturefree formalities that characterize almost all of downtown Shanghai.

The experience of Green can be shared by the building’s occupants, by passersby at the street level and also by those in the many surrounding buildings. The atrium which arcs upward at the south end of the building will be clearly visible from the surrounding streets and the Green garden, which covers the uppermost floor, will be there for the enjoyment of the entire community.

The Results

The Triple Green Design of the Jie Fang Daily News Headquarters, has been awarded the prestigious MIPIM / Architectural Review Award for “Best of Class,” in the highly competitive category of “Office of the Future.”

A jury of international experts, chaired by Peter Davey, Editor of The Architectural Review, bestowed this honor on the building because of the design’s meticulous attention to Jie Fang’s environmental surroundings in terms of urban design and human qualities. In addition, judges took into consideration the building’s effort to make an impact on environmental quality through Energy Green Design with the added benefits of Productivity and Community Green Design.

About the Author

Since 1963, KMD (Kaplan McLaughlin Diaz) has combined innovation and creativity to provide exceptional healthcare, academic, commercial and corporate architectural services. With offices in Mexico City, Shanghai, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and projects throughout the world. KMD Believes that experimentation and investigation of interpersonal interaction with the built environment are central to their work as architects, planners and researchers.

KMD designs have been completed in over 30 US states, and 15 countries around the world including France, China Japan, Korea, Spain, Germany, England and Mexico and have won over 200 design awards, including over forty from AIA (American Institute of Architects). Notable KMD designs include Two Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills; Nadya Park in Nagoya, Japan; Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts; Shenergy Headquarters in Shanghai, China; Ford Field in Detroit; and Jie Fang Headquarters in Shanghai, China.

Recently completed KMD projects include: The new corporate headquarters building for General Motors in Warren, Michigan; Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York; the W Hotel in Mexico City; and the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, Houston.

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