KAUST Q+A: Colin Rohlfing

ColinR200Early in 2007, architect (and Life at HOK blogger) Colin Rohlfing, sustainable design director in HOK’s Chicago office, accepted a challenge from long-time HOK St. Louis sustainable design principal Bill Odell.

Odell, one of the lead designers on HOK’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) team, asked Rohlfing to organize the sustainable design effort and to manage the LEED coordination and documentation for the 6.5-million-square-foot KAUST campus and town center projects—arguably the most ambitious delivery effort in the firm’s 54-year history (it was designed and built in just three years).

Two-and-a-half years and a lifetime of experiences later, Rohlfing, 28, recently learned that the team’s hard work on KAUST had been rewarded with HOK’s first LEED-NC Platinum project. And he finally had time to talk about the process.

When did you start working on KAUST?
CR: I got involved in March 2007 during schematic design. Ideally I would have started earlier, because many of the decisions that had an effect on the sustainable design story for the project started back in fall 2006 with HOK’s Racing the Sun planning charrette. I was full-time on KAUST for two years, and part-time for the last six months as the project moved toward completion and my sustainable obligations in Chicago grew.

What were your biggest challenges?
The project schedule itself was obviously difficult. Everything was moving so quickly and it wasn’t easy to get approvals on sustainable strategies or actions.

The coordination effort to make sure everyone followed LEED guidelines was massive. We were trying to organize five different groups of architects, four different engineering teams, three interior design groups, two urban design groups, lighting designers, two commissioning groups, a storm water management group, solar design and daylighting consultants. Oger International, the contractor, had people in Paris and on-site at KAUST. We had the design firms and contractors working on the KAUST infrastructure projects. Then we had everyone on the owner side at KAUST and Saudi Aramco. And we were working with people in the KAUST facilities and maintenance groups charged with implementing all the operations strategies.

Everyone had to be educated about our LEED goals—why we were doing it and what they needed to do.

How did you organize your work?
At first I was trying to coordinate the work of hundreds of people in all these firms. That was too much. I ended up making contacts with people within and outside HOK who could lead their teams’ sustainable efforts and who were committed to keeping them on track.

I hate to list names because so many people helped who deserve recognition, but one example is the interiors team. Liz Friedman in Houston and Ryan Favier in St. Louis took on that role for interiors. I met with them early in the process and laid out our sustainable goals and strategies and then they disseminated this information to the interior design teams around the firm. Months later, when the specs came out, I reviewed them and all the sustainable requirements — things like task lights, low-VOC paints and carpet — were right there. That was key, and there were examples like that all over HOK and at Oger.

When I needed a “hammer” to speed things along, Bill Odell would help me get things moving in the right direction.

The general lesson I learned was I couldn’t do everything. I had to delegate what I could into the teams and then review all the specs and reports as they came in.

Were each of the 17 buildings certified LEED Platinum?
Because it is a campus certification, they share all the site credits. But individual building credits for things like daylight views or lighting controls had to be uploaded separately.

What is your favorite sustainable aspect of the project?
The diversity of the systems. It isn’t often that you get to specify so many different systems on one project.

The KAUST campus has an extremely sophisticated building automation system that is tracking details on energy use. It is going to be incredibly helpful for HOK to see in real time how much energy one room or one block of a specific building is using, and to know exactly how our specific energy conservation strategies are working.

What about the project makes you the proudest?
The nature of the project itself is inspiring. I am most proud of the initiative that King Abdullah has taken to decrease dependence on oil and look to the future by doing alternative fuel research. And I was impressed by the willingness and innovative thought of KAUST and Aramco to pursue a high level of LEED certification in a country that had never before had a LEED project.

For the design effort, I’m proud of the ability of hundreds of designers, engineers, consultants and contractors to understand the LEED requirements and then follow through on what they had to do to meet them. The collaboration and support for the effort was amazing.

What lessons did you learn?
One big lesson is that we should be ready for more projects like this. People want buildings faster. More and more design and construction is going to be at this level and pace. If we are going to work like this, we better have our ducks in a row and our best-practice sustainable design strategies ready to go. Now we know what does and doesn’t work in the Saudi Arabian climate.

I am currently compiling all the different sustainable information on KAUST into one location. It’s important for HOK to have this in our database and to be able to tell the entire story.

Did working on KAUST change you?
I may have been too timid in my initial meetings with the KAUST team. I won’t be intimidated by any project in the future.

Watch ArchDaily’s interview of Bill Odell at KAUST’s opening ceremonies.

One Comment
  1. October 10th, 2010 - 9:17 am
    Anka said:

    Did HOK actually review the LEED compliance in reality or it is based on promises and what the construction team have communicated?

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