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Heifer International building, a vision of green 

WORLD ART: Adorns Heifer building.
  • WORLD ART: Adorns Heifer building.

Heifer Project International headquarters is as futuristic as the organization's bovine name — and the people it helps — are down to earth. It curves. It appears to be built mostly of air, boxes of air framed by steel. It sits softly on the land, as it ought, its mission being not only to wipe out hunger but to do so in a way that leaves natural resources intact.

A small fact gives evidence that the 97,000-square-foot building is as eco-friendly as claimed: Its water bill is $150 a month.

Heifer's global reputation preceded the opening this year of its stunning $17 million world HQ, but the dedication of the building, at which former President Bill Clinton and U.N. advisor and poverty expert Jeffrey Sachs spoke, put the stamp of historical significance on the organization, which has worked in more than 100 countries around the world. No longer are Heifer's Little Rock employees scattered about in offices across town, a system made necessary by the organization's rapid growth.They're now together on a site that will encompass a $7.5 million education center to break ground in six months and the Global Village interpretive site (2010).

Heifer has put its money where its mouth is, both by keeping its headquarters here and making it a showplace for sustainability. Its form follows its function, spokesman Ray White said; “everything you see has a reason” for being.

In September, HPI was awaiting its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating, based on points for efficient use of water and power, use of “green” power and use of recycled (and recyclable) materials, and other systems that support the sustainable use of resources. It's shooting to become the 150th building in the United States to win a gold rating (which the Winrock International building and Camp Aldersgate Commons hold; the Clinton Presidential Library holds a silver rating). If it hits platinum, the highest rating, it would be one of only 15 such buildings.

The project was designed to be environmentally accountable from the ground up: Its site, 33 acres south of the Clinton Presidential Library at the eastern end of Third Street, was a huge brownfield, where a railroad switchyard and a trucking company with underground petroleum tanks competed to contaminate the ground. Heifer dug up the bad soil and disposed of it, ground up the old concrete buildings on site for fill, and recycled bricks from the buildings for a walkway around the new building. For that effort, the organization won the Environmental Protection Agency's regional Phoenix Award for remediation and sustainability.

The three-story building features exterior stairs cooled from the ground up by open grates over the moat. No heat and air costs there. In fact, Heifer forecasts its energy costs, now two-thirds of a conventional building's, will eventually drop to half.

To encourage the use of leg power over fossil fuels, Heifer put the smallest motor it could on its one elevator, making it run very slowly. It's faster to walk.

There's more, illustrated here by photographs of Heifer's smart building on One World Avenue.

—Leslie Newell Peacock

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