Mid-day light pours through windows lining every wall of the spacious fourth floor in an unfinished East Memphis office building. Twelve young women in hard hats — some with cameras, notebooks, and measuring tape — are contemplating how the room might look once the exposed beams and sheetrock are covered by paint.
The women are University of Memphis interior design students on a tour of Triad Centre III, the city's first gold LEED-certified office building. It is set to open in November, and each student has been charged with designing a green office space for a fictitious public relations firm.
The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) system, administered by the Green Building Certification Institute, recognizes buildings designed to save energy and water, reduce CO2 emissions, and improve indoor environmental quality.
The students — all seniors — are competing for a yet-to-be-announced prize, and even though the winning design likely won't be used, U of M interior design program coordinator Brent DeLatte says Triad Centre's management may implement some of the students' ideas.
"They're looking into the possibility of using this as a marketing tool for future tenants," DeLatte said. "They can say this is what a space with LEED certification could look like."
Triad Centre III, located at Poplar and Shady Grove, boasts seven stories and 150,000 square feet of space. It's the third office building in an East Memphis office park managed by North Carolina-based Highwoods Properties. The other buildings were constructed in the 1980s and do not have LEED certification.
According to Steve Guinn, vice president of Highwoods Properties' Memphis division, the building will feature a white roof to improve solar reflectivity, preferred parking for low-emissions vehicles, low-flow toilets, and an energy-efficient heating and cooling system.
Highwoods is also re-using seven million pounds of concrete and steel salvaged from a parking garage that was torn down to make room for the new building.
"We did a fair amount of research and found that the things you could accomplish by doing a LEED building made economic sense," Guinn said. "You get a payback on a lot of the things that relate to energy and water particularly."
It follows that U of M design students would be charged with designing a green office space for such an environmentally responsible structure.
Green design education is a necessity for today's design students.
"Projects like this make students more marketable when they leave the university," DeLatte said. "Green products and sustainable design are here to stay, and we've changed our program with that in mind."