Decoding Design

Architects promote transparency in choosing green building materials

Posting in Architecture

How do you know if a building material is really carcinogen free? Architecture firm Perkins + Will launch a website to help you find out.

Just launched by architecture firm Perkins + Will, the Transparency website catalogues building materials and substances known (or associated with those known) to be harmful to human and environmental health. The site and its contents are free and open to anyone and everyone.

The collection of information on Transparency started as a client's request for a campus center design that would be completely carcinogen free, with no known carcinogens and nothing made from known carcinogens. The design team's work to uncover the makeup of every component that would go into the building identified certain toxins that appeared over and over again when a material was found to contain carcinogens. That list of toxins was the basis for the firm's Precautionary List released in 2009, which grew into the Transparency site.

Transparency includes the original Precautionary List of 25 items plus three additional sections:
1. Asthma Triggers and Asthmagens,
2. Flame Retardants (featuring original research by the Green Research Policy Institute), and
3. Resources (research, whitepapers, articles, and links)

According to the press release:

This research is based on the Precautionary Principle, the idea that in the absence of scientific consensus, an action merits precautionary treatment if it has a suspected risk of causing harm to humans or to the environment. The intent of the list is to encourage the building product marketplace to become more transparent from extraction to end of life for all points of contact, from manufacturers to de-constructors, so that people are further empowered to make informed decisions about specifying, maintaining and disposing of the products in their buildings.

With the exception of the Flame Retardants section, the information offered has always been publicly available. Transparency provides a single consolidated source for the information in a well organized 'depot' of knowledge. The design and navigation of the site are very simple and help make the large amount of information even more accessible. The firm hopes the website helps anyone interested in building materials make informed decisions.

Via: Dwell, Perkins + Will

Sun Kim

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Sun Joo Kim is an architect and creative consultant based in Boston. Her projects include design and master planning of museums, public institutions, hospitals, and university buildings across the U.S. She holds a degree from Carnegie Mellon University and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure