By Alexander Soule, Middletown Press, September 20, 2022

New headquarters of “luxury” vinyl tile supplier HMTX, one of the “greenest” buildings in Connecticut. August 20, 2022, Norwalk, Conn (Photo: H John Voorhees III/Hearst Connecticut Media)

Four years after unveiling plans for a new headquarters, a Norwalk company is taking up quarters in Connecticut’s newest “green” building — and possibly the greenest period with a design by one of the sector’s most prominent advocates.

Under CEO Harlan Stone, HMTX sells decorative flooring for use by builders, dubbed “luxury vinyl tile” in the industry. Sales have boomed since HMTX won a supply contract with Home Depot several years ago, with the company listing annual revenue currently at $900 million.

The new building will function as a design center, with rapid-prototype machines able to crank out flooring planks with specific patterns and textures in roughly an hour. Architect Jason McLennan incorporated any number of sustainability elements into the design of the HMTX building itself.

They include solar panels that provide more than enough power for the building; rainwater storage systems for plumbing; and stilts that lift the building above the ground, allowing for wildlife wander across the property unimpeded. Two waterfalls have been created on the property — one sheeting down a stone wall to dampen vehicle noise from Route 7 on the opposite side of a copse of trees left intact, the other tumbling down a cascade of rocks to evoke a natural setting.

“We hope to have customers, employees, designers, architects, scientists, associations and community charities all being able to utilize the space in the building,” Stone said. “We want to make a big effort to become part of the community more deeply.”

It is the first project in Connecticut to apply for certification under the Living Building Challenge spearheaded by McLennan, with Yale University next up with a campus residential development it is is calling the Living Village at Yale Divinity School.

HMTX was among the earliest Connecticut companies to be impacted by the COVID-19 virus, with multiple plants and offices in China. The company is nearing completion of a new factory outside Scranton, Pa., which Stone said was prompted by interruptions to transpacific shipping during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those issues pushed back the completion of the Norwalk building as well, with crews continuing their work during a Tuesday ceremony attended by Gov. Ned Lamont and Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling.

McLennan said it was a challenging project not just because of the pandemic’s impact on the availability and cost of construction supplies, but also due to the narrow parcel.

“We built right up to the trees,” McLennan said Tuesday.  “We wanted this building to feel like it was part of the landscape — and that’s challenging.”

Unlike the better-known Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program by the U.S. Green Buildings Council, the Living Building Challenge awards its certification only after measuring building performance over 12 months for the environmental impact.

Illinois led the nation for LEED buildings in 2021, as ranked on a per capita basis. Property owners there won LEED certification on just over 40 million square feet of space — the equivalent of every major office building in Fairfield County going green — to knock Massachusetts from the top perch the prior year.

Massachusetts and New York have made the top 10 for LEED construction for 11 consecutive years, with Connecticut having missed the cut over that stretch.

As of this week, 834 Connecticut buildings carried LEED certification, with Yale University’s renovated Humanities Quadrangle building at 320 York Street in New Haven becoming the latest to win the label in late August after an extensive renovation. The gothic-architecture HQ was built in 1932.

Bridgeport’s Windward Apartments got LEED certification in June, one of eight Connecticut projects to do so this year including new buildings or remakes by the University of Connecticut at Storrs; Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford; Perkins Eastman at the architect’s Stamford office; and TD Bank in Greenwich.

The Mark Twain House & Museum in West Hartford has the oldest LEED certification on file in Connecticut, awarded in 2004.

If the new HMTX building hits its marks for environmental performance in the coming year, it will take its own place in Connecticut architectural history as the first certified under the Living Building Challenge.

“This is leading by example — that’s what this building is really all about,” Lamont said Tuesday. “It’s … practicing what you preach — making sure you’re not just talking green, but being green.”