By Sophia Beavis
At the end of April, I had the opportunity to present and attend the 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.
Philips Nature Lab Mech
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
I attended a four-day Zero Net Energy course co-sponsored by Solar Action Alliance and PG&E. Topics ranged from Home Energy Audits for existing homes to determining the best types of fuel sources to achieve Net Zero Energy on a new home.
Here are a few facts I learned that you might find useful for saving energy in your current home without having to open up any walls or replacing your mechanical system:
- In the market for a new appliance, LED replacement lamps, car or laptop? Check out TopTen USA for the most up to date information on which brand and model are actually achieving the highest ranks in energy and performance.
- Refrigerators with the freezer on top or bottom, (rather than vertically along the side) are more energy efficient.
- EnergyStar has never regulated clothes dryers. Most electric clothes dryers consume as much energy as a new fridge, washing machine, and dishwasher combined!
- What can you do? Gas powered clothes dryers use much less energy and innovations for electric dryers that use technology such as heat exchangers are in the works.
- Biggest “plug load” found in your home? The TV.
- While TVs have made some of the biggest improvements in energy consumption reduction, they have also gotten bigger and we own more of them per household, (proving that regulation does not need to hinder sales)
- The preset mode you have it set in can help save energy. For example, ‘Preset Cinema’ uses less than 125 watts of energy while ‘Preset Vivid’ and the ‘Default Retail Vivid’ usesover 250 watts.
- Idle electric loads average 36% of your electric bill. Do you often leave home and wonder if you left the lights on or the thermostat turned up?
- You can turn lamps and electronics off remotely, (even from your iPhone) with a simple wireless controller installed at the outlet: ByeBye Standby Wireless Remote Control Energy Saving Kit
- Control your lights remotely with wireless light switches: Belkin WeMo Light Switch
- Control your thermostat online: Nest Learning Thermostat and Honeywell Wi-Fi Programmable Touchscreen Thermostat.
What does it mean to be “green” 20 feet underground? This is the question being addressed by the Lowline, a proposal for 60,000 square feet of subterranean public space in an abandoned trolley terminal in New YorkCity’s Lower East Side. Situated at the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge and beneath the city streets, the environment of the former Williamsburg Trolley Terminal consists of nearly 1.5 acres of crisscrossing railroad tracks, cobblestones, and a forest of steel columns supporting a vaulted concrete and asphalt ceiling. One would be hard-pressed to find anything green within the cavernous interior–not even a blade of grass. It is a forgotten relic of New York’s past, once a critical element in the city’s infrastructure and civic life now unseen and underutilized.
With the Lowline proposal, designer James Ramsey and director Dan Barasch seek to transform the former trolley terminal into an urban green space in the most traditional sense which is to say a park complete with grass, trees, walking paths, and recreation and leisure areas. While this may not be the most logical appropriation for an underground space, renderings from their proposal show children playing beside illuminated pools of water with lush trees receding into the distance. A grid of steel I-beams supports a vaulted ceiling which appears to emanate thin sheets of natural light to the environment below.
In order to provide natural light for the plants and trees underground, the designers have employed the use of remote skylight technology to collect sunlight from above and channel it below. While the concept is not new, the technology is novel in its use of advanced optical systems. Situated above ground are solar collection dishes and helio tubes which reflect and collect sunlight through their parabolic form and fiber optic cables. They are the only visible element of the park from street level. The dish employs a tracking mechanism which allows it to follow the path of the sun throughout the year. The light is then reflected and distributed through a mirrored dome into the space below.
This underground park would be the first of its kind. Its unique setting has dictated the process through which the proposal has been developed which is to say the primary issue with the Lowline is one of public perception from both a biological and cultural perspective. What would it feel like to be in an underground cavern filled with trees in a sunlit but skyless space? Is a park still green if it there is no sky?
Many questions about the proposal remain to be answered, but for now the Lowline team is busy trying to gain political, financial, and community support through a feasibility study and a full-scale mockup of the remote skylight. If the project does move forward, it would undoubtedly set a precedent and transform the definition altogether of what it means to be an urban green space.
Aaron Lim is a designer working at Feldman Architecture and is a frequent contributor to Green Architecture Notes.
This is the second in a series about different efforts to reclaim unused spaces in urban areas.. Contact us at email@example.com if you know of a project that you’d like to nominate for a future article.