By Ben Welty
This past May I had the opportunity to travel to Portland, Oregon, to attend the Living Future 2018 unConference, an annual gathering, now in its 12 year, that is hosted by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI). The ILFI is best known as the administers of the sustainable design certification program, The Living Building Challenge (LBC), which is widely considered the most difficult green building certification to achieve. A Seattle based collaborative, they’ve emerged on the scene in recent years as a challenger to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and it’s more commonly known green building certification program, LEED.
While still somewhat considered grassroots in relative comparison to the scale of the USGBC and LEED, as interest and participation in the LBC has grown, so has the reputation of the ILFI and the conference itself. The quantity and diversity of the seminars was evidence of this, as the content avoided going stale and structured themes afforded attendees the opportunity to define their own paths without fear of getting lost in the shuffle of what can sometimes feel like convention center musical chairs. Taking this approach I chose to hone my focus on the somewhat familiar but complex topic of water conservation and policy, while also exploring the less commonly known field of Biophilic Design.
The water issue is complex. It’s the only necessity of life for which humans are in direct competition with every living organism that surrounds us. Compounding this are the difficulties we seem to face when it is made abundant, as it oftentimes remains unsuitable or insufficient for human consumption. 11% of the world’s population are currently without access to clean water while 25% do not have access to proper sanitation. Yet even in the most arid of places we’ve learned to harness it, treat it, consume it and release it back into the environment in a symbiotic relationship with land not necessarily suitable for human habitation. So why the struggle?
Simply put, we have the tools to solve the issue of water scarcity but our policies and practices do not currently support this. These points were made clear as one after another passionate speakers made their cases for water conservation, policy and equity, each noble in cause and abundant in information. However, there did seem to be a lack of a common thread between the extremes of the spectrum to tie it all together. For instance, I could not help but feel a disconnect between the conversations surrounding the obstacles of building modern, private residences in arid climates and the struggles of the city of Detroit as they deal with a public water crisis in their marginalized communities. This underscored a social chasm that is the widening gap of privilege vs. poverty, an issue that is manifesting itself at local, national and global levels. But this in no way diminishes the importance of the individual conversations themselves, because as world populations continue to grow and climate change tightens its grip, water scarcity is quickly becoming one of the most pressing issues of the 21st century.
One possible design solution to this growing problem could be found in the concepts of biophilic design, whose modern incarnation is still somewhat emerging in the broader field of sustainable design. I found Living Future ‘18 to be a great platform for these concepts, as I imagine this group is far too often passed off as hippies-cum-scientists selling the idea of nautilus shell living as a means to saving the planet. But that would be cliché, as its core tenets that combine nature and design in order replicate natural processes in the built environment have shaped a movement that, for the most part, has avoided its mission coming off too literal (Read more about biophilic design and the ILFI’s initiative HERE). This point was made clear at the beginning of nearly every seminar I attended on the subject, a sign that they’re conscious that the stigma still exists. That said, the content by and large proved otherwise and as building technology advances and sustainable living engrains itself into the social conscious, it’s predictable that these interests would be widely embraced by the design community. The results of this is a broad catalogue of well-designed, contemporary buildings whose numbers continue to grow. No longer is “good design” exempt from incorporating sustainable features. In fact, good design and sustainable design are becoming synonymous, if we’re not there already. So, moving forward, I’m anxious to see whether or not biophilic design assimilates into our contemporary design language as fluidly as sustainable design has over the past two decades.
While the breadth of the Living Future conference pales in comparison to the USGBC’s annual Greenbuild Conference, the quality, knowledge and passion of the speakers did not fail to impress. And though this year’s group of exhibiting product vendors leaves much to be desired, I trust that the list of participants will become more robust in the years to come as more manufacturers survive the strict vetting process that is a perquisite to attending. So, as the ILFI and its unConference enter its formative teenage years, I anticipate (and hope) that the next step in its growth will be largely subsidized by the design and building industries themselves, as it continues to undergo the transition from admirable ideology to established principle.
In December of 2016 Feldman Architecture signed onto the 2030 Challenge and AIA 2030 Commitment, two programs that are promoting a vision that calls for all new buildings, developments, and renovations to be carbon-neutral by 2030. As part of this commitment Feldman Architecture’s Sustainability AOE has crafted this Action Plan to serve as a roadmap to help us achieve our goals, as well as to encourage more sustainable practices within the firm. In it we outline short and long-term goals in areas that go beyond just sustainable design, including community outreach and office culture. To learn more, click on the Action Plan below:
By Sophia Beavis
At the end of April, I had the opportunity to present and attend Getting to Zero National Forum in Pittsburgh. This conference brings together thought leaders from across the country to discuss pathways to carbon neutrality. I always come back from conferences reinvigorated with new ideas for project goals, and the GTZNF was no exception.
I kicked off the 3 day conference with an 8:30am presentation with my co-presenters, Heather Jauregui and Katie Herber from Perkins Eastman. Together we gave our presentation entitled “How Do You Measure Up? New Ways to Evaluate Project Success”. It was a pretty lively 1.5hour session. We first gave a brief presentation covering what high performance means, and the types of metrics used to measure its success in pre and post occupancy studies. We then broke out into 3 groups that rotated every 10 minutes, allowing participants to learn about and use all the tools we’d discussed. Overall our audience was very engaging and had lots of questions about how to start Pre and Post Occupancy Evaluations at their own firms. I think it was a good opportunity for people to get hands-on experience with tools they may have heard about, but not had the chance to use. I’m hoping we inspired people to start their own office toolkits and studies.
Once our presentation was over I was able to enjoy the rest of the conference. One of the conference events was a happy hour at the Phipps Conservatory which has two Living Building Challenge Buildings on its campus. I had seen photos of the buildings, but it was cool to see them in person and peek into their mechanical rooms.
One of the keynote speakers was Andrew McAllister from the California Energy Commission. Being from California, I found his talk particularly interesting as he showed how the CA code is going to step up to become carbon neutral – including in 2 years how new homes will be required to have solar panels. It was interesting hearing from him how CA has these efforts within the state code, but in the end it’s up to the local jurisdictions to enforce it. This was a theme that came up in a number of sessions – how do we ensure that the entire hierarchy from the state level to the local building inspector are pushing the same goals towards carbon neutrality?
Paired with the keynote session, I heard from David Kaneda at Integral Group who talked about the “duck curve” in Net Zero Energy Design. The duck curve is the graph which shows power production over the course of the day and shows the imbalance between energy production and peak demand. At the “belly of the duck” we have an over generation risk that causes the grid to become overloaded and the energy to go to waste. Ideally the curve would look flatter, and more like a duckbilled platypus.
One way to solve the duck curve is by using batteries that can release energy during peak demand, often in the evening when there is no energy being produced. An interesting example of the duck curve causing problems is that for 14 days in March, the state of California paid the state of Arizona to take our extra energy produced during the daytime because our grid couldn’t handle all the production power. California even ordered some solar plants to reduce their production during this time. To me this means wherever we are installing solar panels, we should be installing batteries for on-site storage so that we do not further the grid being overloaded with energy production.
Another great session I attended was by Chelsea Petrenko who lead a study of CA residential homebuyers and owners to evaluate their interest in and understanding of a Net Zero Energy (NZE) home. The study found that less than 50% of homeowners knew what a NZE home was, yet people rated energy efficient design as a very important attribute when searching for a new home. I found it interesting that most people would pay a 2-4% higher price for a NZE home. This is interesting because studies have repeatedly shown that construction cost for a high performance building is less than 5% higher than a typical one. So if people are willing to pay 5% more, why aren’t we spending less than that in construction to build an energy efficient building? I think people often have issues with increased upfront cost, but the gains in profit seem to outweigh the upfront cost in almost every case.
I went to many other interesting sessions, but these were the highlights for me. They almost left me with more questions than answers, and triggered my brain to think about how I as an individual, and those of us in the architecture profession can be doing more to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. In the United States, 39% of energy is consumed by buildings, so as architects we have have a lot of influence over our energy future.
We recently had the pleasure of welcoming Sonoma-USA’s Steffen Kuehr into the office for this month’s Third Thursday presentation. In addition to being married to our very own Leila, Steffen works to repurpose the materials discarded by local businesses and individuals in Sonoma County, fashioning their fabrics into singular new products, such as tote bags and cases for iPads. Sonoma-USA diverts materials from landfills, designs unique products inspired by the resources at hand, and delivers the end results back into the local community. Armed with extensive knowledge about the alarming facts concerning waste production and management in the United States, Steffen encouraged us to ”rethink waste.” He left us both inspired by his use of design as a tool to respect and restore our natural environment and dreaming of new office messenger bags…
You can read more about Sonoma-USA’s mission and process here: http://www.sonoma-usa.com/
In addition to being a good friend of Feldman’s Ahlam Reiley, Christian Rodatus is the Executive Vice President of Enlighted, a company providing the technology to make smart sensors, networked lighting systems, and the Internet of Things viable options for commercial buildings. Forward-thinking and continually developing, Enlighten’s tools provide information about the activity in a building at given time and harness that information to enhance the experience of the building’s users. For example, sensors detect daylight and dim lights to reduce energy, or analyze the current temperature to scale back on heating or cooling. Christian’s presentation made clear the profound implications this technology has for the reduction of energy and resource consumption in large, commercial buildings, and it was exciting to learn how buildings are becoming increasingly responsive to their users.
PC: Getty Images/Ikon Images
Earlier this Spring I had the opportunity to travel to Brazil to take in firsthand the urban transportation infrastructure, social policies, and landscape qualities of Curitiba. While it lies off the beaten path for many tourists, there are a tremendous amount of lessons and insights that can be gleamed from the city and its history of sustainable design practices.
A common thread running through many the programs, infrastructure, and buildings is a keen eye for what already exists in the environment. As an example, the main public transportation system was directly influenced by historical roads that organized the city, one running north/south (from cattle herding) and one running east/west (from the ocean to the mountains). This in turn led to a linear axial organization of zoning and residential density along transportation corridors.
The park system of Curitiba also offers a window into this way of thinking, from both landscape and cultural perspectives. Some parks, such as Parque Barigui, respond to the need for flood control while others, such as Parque do Papa offer scenarios for resident immigrant populations to maintain connections to traditional ways of buildings and living.
In response to material use, several public buildings and much of the park infrastructure is built from salvaged telephone poles. A story told while visiting the Department for the Environment was given of how an individual one day called the Department wondering what could be done with an excess of wood telephone poles as new metal ones were being erected. It happened to be a time when the Department of the Environment was constructing and planning a campus of buildings for itself. Instead burning, incinerating, or discarding the telephone poles the Department used them to construct their buildings and park infrastructure.
In the current climate of sustainability awareness, Curitiba offers a wonderful window into synergies generated through the participation of landscape, material, culture, social, and transportation qualities of the built environment.
– Kevin Barden