By Andrew Nusca
Posting in Architecture
At The Economist's Intelligent Infrastructure conference in New York, top architects weigh in on green building: what it means, why it's important and how it makes business sense.
That's the question experts sought to answer at The Economist's Intelligent Infrastructure conference held at Pace University, where principals of major architecture firms gathered to define green building and how it relates to their own urban designs.
"It's not what makes a green building or how is it green, but it's about the why," said Richard Cook of Cook + Fox Architects.
Cook, a partner at the firm responsible for the new Bank of America tower at One Bryant Park in New York City, said green architecture is a way of thinking about "how to deal with the paradise that we were left" -- that is, nature.
He rattled off several statistics in short order:
- Eighty percent of carbon dioxide in the city of New York is from the built environment.
- Power plants waste two-thirds of their energy as heat through the smokestack.
- Another 7 percent of generated energy is lost during transmission.
- Americans use just 27 percent of the actual energy generated by a power plant.
- Americans are 4.5 percent of the world's population but consume 25 percent of its resources and produce 25 percent of its carbon emissions.
"What happens if the climate scientists are right?" Cook asked the audience provocatively. "We are set on an unsustainable path."
But it's not all about numbers. Using his firm's headquarters in Manhattan as an example, Cook noted that the best feature of a green building could be the view.
"You need to feel connected to the environment," he said. "Ultimately, we need to make things that are beautiful, that make us feel good -- feel connected to nature."
That's what Elizabeth Diller attempted to answer in her presentation on New York's High Line, an abandoned elevated railroad line that her firm "reclaimed," so to speak, for both nature and human enjoyment by turning it into a park.
Founding principal at Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Diller explained that city residents defied an order by then-mayor Rudy Giuliani to demolish it. The reason: stark photos of the elevated platform captivated neighborhood activists.
"The amazing political power of photography worked," she said, adding that New Yorkers fell in love with it "as a ruin."
"We wanted to bring this back in a different way," she said. "The question is, how do you work off the industrial character of the site without sentimentalizing it, and preserve a delicate ecosystem?"
Her solution: what she called "agritecture," or the incorporation of micro-environments with flora and fauna dispersed along the old rails, blending human pathways and planting areas.
"Nature forces its way out of built stuff," she said. "First, culture took over nature, which then fell into ruin, which was then taken over and perverted by nature as a dance of obsolescence."
RESPONDING TO SURROUNDINGS
If humans can build and minimize environmental impact, Tristan d'Estree Sterk has another solution altogether: build to respond to the environment.
Why? Because the U.S. generates 2,969.486 trillion BTUs and produces 368.5 million lbs. of carbon emissions each year -- and according to d'Estree Sterk, responsive systems can save more than 2,969 trillion BTUs annually in residential heating and cooling.
"Our infrastructure and our buildings need to become more responsive to the environment," he said. "An architecture that can respond to local conditions."
In other words: no more construction using "dumb" materials. Encourage density. Consider soft, lightweight buildings that can change color, permeability and shape and encourage density.
"All of this is achievable if we take a different view of what architecture can be," he said. "Systems that rely on control and sensor input and actuators."
Morphosis Architects founder Thom Mayne said architects have three "territories" to develop an idea for a sustainable building -- its shape, its relationship to the ground and its mechanical systems.
"As architects we operate at two scales: the building scale and the urban scale," he said. "Sustainability is not a singular subject. It's highly intricative."
Blazing through a summary of his recent major projects -- everything from the Cooper Union's new building at 41 Cooper Square in New York, the first platinum LEED building in the city, to the San Francisco Federal Building, the first large building in the U.S. built without air conditioning, and even the Phare Tower in Paris, whose shape changes depending on the movement of the sun, via 4,000 sunscreens -- Mayne said the hurdles are not the technology but the will.
"With the systems we have today, we have huge abilities to develop a complex [skin]," he said. "It's not a technical problem. It's a perception problem."
One recent focus: green roofs.
"We're bringing the farm -- the agrarian world -- into the city," he said. "Building and landscape are now singular."
No, said Llewelyn Davies Yeang chairman Ken Yeang.
Yeang insisted that true green building is "a seamless integration of four eco-infrastructures":
- "Gray" -- engineering infrastructure. Energy, smart grid, IT, recycling, waste, transport.
- "Blue" -- water infrastructure: "We need to close the loop as much as possible."
- "Red" -- human infrastructure. "We have to change as people. Our lifestyle has to change."
- "Green" -- green infrastructure. "We cannot see this because it's invisible." Nature's utilities, habitats, biodiversity, ecological corridors.
"If green architecture doesn't have the green infrastructure, it's not to me green architecture," he said.
The biggest problem: the current approach that criss-crosses these systems without actually integrating them.
"When you overlay the green over the gray, they're cut," he said, showing a picture of a highway dividing a forest. "We chop up the land into pieces."
The solution, at least for his example: an "eco bridge" with vegetation growing over it, enabling species and resources to move across the gap made by the highway.
Yeang called it a "composite infrastructure."
"It is much more stable," he said.
More notable points from the discussion:
- Cook on getting traction: "Engage people so they feel excellent about what they do. You've transformed the way people do things. Human nature is to be competitive."
- Yeang on facilities management: "If you want to have a garden, you've got to tend it. You have to look after it."
- Yeang on why green building is worth it: "In some ways you have to tell the client, you can make your money back over five years on your investment. A green building doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg, provided you start with the right way from day one."
- Mayne on LEED: "LEED is a transition program. It doesn't really deal with the main problem: the building's shape."
- Diller on justifying sustainable architecture: "The constant thing we all go through as architects is arguing the operating costs over several years versus the capital expenditure. People don't like to change their lifestyle."
- Cook on the financial benefit of motivating people: "The High Line was a catalyst for human behavioral change -- and then you have real money."
- Mayne on mission: "When you're really doing your job, it has to do with changing behavior. There's a resistance. It goes back to a more simple, primitive idea."
- d'Estree Sterk on smart building: "We have buildings. They are an integral part of our society. They are causing us many problems. When we design, we need to think about the building as a yacht -- if we're sailing it, we need to be constantly aware of what's going on around us and make decisions on how to catch the wind to move forward. We could have the best yacht in the world, but if we don't know how to steer it, we could be sitting flat in the water."
- d'Estree Sterk on non-green buildings: "There are certain natural intelligence to the way we've constructed things. But the nature of how we build currently is quite slow. We don't make huge changes to things. If we rely on just these things, we're patching an existing methodology or paradigm."
- Mayne on sustainability: "In the long term, it's both ethically proper, politically proper and it makes business sense."
- Cook on the bottom line: "The planet's going to be fine. It's a big rock floating around in space. It's our quality of life on it that's an issue."
More from the Intelligent Infrastructure conference:
Feb 17, 2011
I completely agree with Dukhalion. Of course overpopulation is a matter of how you look at it. From one point of view, all 6+ billion people in the world can fit in Texas, at the population density of lower Manhatten (which is so far from a slum) with huge amounts of land left over. So it's not a lack of space. The vast majority of the land surface of the world is essentially deserted by mankind. Thank goodness. But as Dukalion pointed out so well, it's the impact of 6+ billion people. If we cut that population in half the sustainability of the planet goes WAY up and we can do pretty much as we want, as he pointed out. That is not to say we don't need to pursue reasonable conservation methods. But a footprint of half (or fewer) as many people would do more than any and all conservation projects to keep this planet running quite well naturally. So, while continuing to develop and impliment a greener world (the population being cut in half will take a long time while the damage continues) let's also focus extremely seriously on the long term and final answer: greatly reduced population; concentrated primarily in modern design, green metropoliton areas well dispersed around the world. The problem is not so much how we live , rather how so MANY of us live, even if we all live green.
@tadloot. Nice! The more florescent light bulbs, composting toilets and micro homes the green elites force on us, the more there is for Megawatt :D Why is it whenever I hear someone lecturing me on the sins of the consumer and the green mandate of government to tax us and control our lives, they are driving a German sedan, sipping a latte, sitting in 70 degree air conditioning, blogging on the internet with a $3000 laptop, talking on an iPhone, getting ready to cozy up to a 50"LCD TV with wine shipped from France, or boarding a 757 for a ski weekend? I like to ask them if they have spent any of their own money on something like a solar hot water heater, grid-tie solar, heat recovery system, CNG car, solar tinted windows, home energy management system, motion activated lighting, grey water system, new duct work, radiant barriers, sealed crawlspace, or spray foam insulation. Answer is usually huh? or no, but they will always insist the government take my money to fund all that good green technology for them to use one day.
Saving energy and reducing waste is just common sense engineering. But of course the elite would never lower themselves to proving ROI. That would require actual work to make these designs economically feasible and convincing investors and customers of the economic and business value. Far easier to claim the social and moral high ground of "saving the planet", donate to a few politicians who will pass green legislation for you, and then bilk the taxpayers out of their hard earned money to finance your boondoggle. It is a good thing too, because unlike investors, we taxpayers are just too stupid to know what is good for us. Anyone care to question the premise? Engineering 101.
Here are some energy-saving tips for your home: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUNISl0mr5g
@Dukhalion If over population is the root problem, why don't you be the first to volunteer? Be sure to find a nice green way to do it - you know how much Mother Gaia hates those bits of lead flying all about Heck your idea about outlawing religions is brilliant though. The birth rate for Muslims is 5 children for every couple. Just head on over to Yemen, tell 'em what you think about their religion, and they will do their part for overpopulation right on the spot.
Isn't saying "what if the climate scientists are right",or "carbon scientists", like saying "what if the flat earth scientists were right". I like Mr Cooks conclusion the the view may be the best thing about the building. Cities do need more beautiful views.
I think Mr Cook missed the mark with his statistics. How about : 1. New York city could use 150% of the carbon dioxide it produces if could and wanted to have more plants. Those plants would increase the oxygen improving the air of the city at almost no cost. 2. Power plants in the US are inefficient. They waste much of the power they produce. Much of it goes up in smoke and transmission. Most of the money that could be used to make them more efficient is spent meeting standards that don't help create more power or cleaner power. 3. Ba
More solutions looking for the problem. Someday all the expense wasted on green things my get focused on the problem. The world is here for the people not to restrict the people. Anything they want they can do with freedom and the desire. Phony science has created the limits shown in this article. What ever happened to facts. Science is becoming political science, not expanding the horizons but changing things to meet some artificial goal that is not based on fact.
It seems that even the cleverest of people do not see what the real solution is. It's not green technology. It's not dual flush toilets. It's not even electric cars. It's preventing overpopulation. We are already over the earths limit by approx. 4 billion people. If there were only one or two billion people on the earth we could do pretty much what we like without it affecting the environment. The only solution is to make contraceptives free and pay those who have sterilizations. And to outlaw all those religions that prohibit contraception. Reality mustgo before belief.
Simple science is the planet sustains all life. We have to build and live sustainably or we will change the planet's ecosystems that allows us life. If the rest of the world develops as North America has, we are in real trouble globally and mother earth will take us out. Humans already have reproductive problems as a species, what happens when a species can't reproduce anymore? Architects and education need to keep it simple at the end of the day because we are supposed to be blending in as a species. Policy and economy are never supposed to move faster than the science. What do all Architects, engineers, education, energy providers, all construction trades and building inspection have in common? They are all collectively blind to the important temperatures we design for. At the end of the day buildings are signed off as compliant and insured. All of the laws are in place, we just couldn't see it. Building codes stipulate design temperatures so we blend in and use less energy. We did several years of advanced temperature work to find the cause of urban heat islands and how energy is used responding to them. The results contradicted education but education including our own used calculators. Do you know why Europe White Washes buildings? It reflects solar radiation and that is a technical function of any building. Buildings are supposed to be an inticate science, not a hobby or economy and the exterior of every building has an engineered function. If you don't reflect or protect from the sun as we do for our skin, there will be heat generated. Here is a link to see solar exposed sides of buildings being radiated by the sun even in the winter. It was shocking to see how fast building development was radiated. Los Angeles alone spends over 100 million a year on urban heat island effect and 100% is reacting to symptoms without addressing the source. http://www.thermoguy.com/urbanheat.html Architects have to build green or the domino effect impacts our babies, food sources, economy. Designing new energy systems for buildings is reacting to symptoms when they need paint or shade at the builder's expense, not new owners. If buildings generate heat that exceeds design temperature, it would affect operating systems and be illegal. Be careful out there, having someone remove trees or paint the exterior a different color may bring liability.
Initiatives like dual flush toilets, gray water, and rain water usage are hampered by water utilities being allowed to charge for minimum water usage that is significant, typically 2 to 4 thousand gallons per month. A combination of these systems would greatly lower water usage, epsecially the need to overtreat water. Think about it, most people are pouring drinkable water into their toilet. That is wasteful to the max. Municipalities need to end these types of minimums. The gas and electric companies don't need them. If they want to ensure funds are available for infrastructure maintenance, then charge a flat fee, or increase the cost per gallon, but do not impose a minimum usage.
In my opinion they are a start but as the above comment implies maintenance is integral to saving the planet. If the green building or an existing building for that matter does not have the COMPLETE and CORRECT information for the maintenance staff to access quickly and easily over the life of the building, green building or not, the planet will still be harmed! I agree that "Building science does not have to be so complicated". That applies to the documentation associated with that build. There is a technical upgrade for the "traditional close-outs" which allows for the knowledge of the maintenance staff to pass on but we must provide for a technical but easy process and method to do that. It is out here but the designers, engineers and owners must acknowledge the importance of the maintenance staff so that that building--green or not--is performing at its peak and that can only be accomplished with maintenance completed to manufacturers recommendations. That means correct and complete documentation that is technically easy to find and retrieve and then documentation of what has been done! That passing of the information as the building changes for the life of that building is critical for the saving of the planet!
It seems to me that most of these initiatives are expensive with the professional fee Increased billings and the benefit to the user is limited. Building science does not have to be so complicated. We cannot save the world if we just apply increased standards to new buildings. The existing building supply is what needs to be tackled. New construction standards are only as good as the public can afford. It will take 100 years plus to replace the existing building supply. The new building supply cannot compensate for the existing supply. Turnover of maintenance staff over time causes big problems with some of the technological reliances. The knowledge is not passed on.