By Johnny Lemoine
Greg Fitzsimmons, who’s up there as being one of my favorite comedians, has a hilarious bit about water. It goes a little something like this…
“In America we have so much water it’s a joke. We have fun – we play! We have water parks. We squirt it down tubes and roll around in it… and shoot it. We have fountains. What IS a fountain?! It’s just us blasting water in the air, like (insert profanities here) look at all this water!!! We don’t even need it! And what do we do at the fountain? We take money we don’t need, and throoowww it in!”
He then goes on to play out a scenario where a child from another country, a much more deprived country, would come over to the United States and see what we’re doing with our water, like “what is this beautiful porcelain bowl filled with “cooool, cleaaan water?” He continues to go on and on about how we flush our waste with incredibly clean, potable water, and how ridiculous of a concept this happens to be.
When it’s put into joke-form, it becomes very, very clear that we have a huge issue here in the United States and in most other countries in the world. Although as funny as his bit is, it’s the absolute, disgusting truth. In the United States, on average we currently flush 4,757 gallons of drinking water down the toilet, per person, in one year. With our population growing at a rapid pace, our aging and costly water infrastructures and the price of water increasing 5% yearly, extreme droughts, all-too-frequent natural disasters, we really need to rethink how we use, and reuse, our water.
Here’s Greg’s scene if you’re interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJ9s8feSLOY.
Just a seven minute bicycle ride from our office, I recently found myself in an old renovated warehouse with about sixty others at a day-long summit listening to some passionate folks from the Bay Area discuss something I take for granted every day, water. The Water Reuse Summit was hosted by the William J. Worthen Foundation, and was quite fascinating in terms of policy.
It began with Senator Scott Weiner, who gave a small, yet somewhat inspiring speech about how our overall sense of urgency has just simply not been there when it comes down to reusing our water in the progressive state of California. He continued to discuss what policies he had been working on to put into place to help make California more progressive in terms of water reuse, and what we had to do to survive our continued droughts (and recessions, since water is becoming quite pricey). One of these policies is Senate Bill 966, or “SB 966.”
Without state policies, there is no guidance on what the appropriate water quality standards are for reusing water in buildings. Jurisdictions have been very reluctant to permit these systems in the past when proposed at the local level because they have no idea what is appropriate or safe. SB 966 directs the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to develop regulations creating risk-based water quality standards for the on-site treatment and reuse of non-potable water in commercial, mixed-use, and multi-family residential buildings. This will assist local governments in developing oversight and management programs for onsite non-potable water systems, and to make it easier for all of us to start reusing water on-site and to get through the permitting process successfully, with a bit more confidence.
This is great news, yet this is also somewhat upsetting that in the year 2018 we’re finally making some strides in California to allow this process to happen safely, especially since the technology and precedents have been in place here since the late ‘20s. Los Angeles County’s sanitation districts started providing treated wastewater for landscape irrigation in parks and golf courses in 1929. It’s pretty ironic that I learned about this Senate Bill being put into place, and how revolutionary everyone made it out to be, at a conference in the city of San Francisco not far from Golden Gate Park, which is the same city that is home to the first reclaimed water facility in California. Actually, located in Golden Gate Park in 1932, the city reused its wastewater on-site for irrigation throughout the park’s landscape, but it shut down over forty years later as a result of some new regulatory changes. Now there is a new wastewater treatment plant, scheduled to be completed by 2021, to be in Golden Gate Park, again, that will reuse its water throughout most of its land. Hopefully this time around it lasts, and future regulation changes can work with older technologies, and we can stop playing this expensive game. The new wastewater recycling system costs $214 million.
I’m not sure why the United States is so behind in regards to recycling its precious water, and I’ll never be able to answer that question, or why people in Flint, Michigan don’t have treated potable water in 2018. What I do know is that we need to up our game and start thinking about this in a much more dire and creative way. This water reuse summit certainly hammered that notion home. I think that regulations like SB 966 will keep being put into place across the country if we take advantage of what they have to offer more often. We need to be more diligent about reusing our water locally, especially for architects with implementing water reuse into our projects on-site. Look, Israel has already recycled 90% of its wastewater successfully since the ‘90s, and Namibia, the most arid country in southern Africa, has been safely drinking their recycled water since 1969. Meanwhile, Australia mines for sewage to treat their wastewater.
Every drop of water we drink, use for showering, what we use to flush toilets with that “cooool, cleaaan water,” and what we use to grow our food, every drop, has been recycled many, many times before. Most of the water we’re currently drinking is already recycled from upstream, and is coming from other people’s waste to begin with. Actually, our water is said to be older than our sun, which is 4.6 billion years old. It’s not new. In fact, it’s ancient. It’s already reused. Therefore, we really need to get over the “yuck” factor of reusing water and to do a greater, more efficient job of educating our clients, and really everybody around us (that includes ourselves), that this is the right thing to start doing at a very early phase in the project and that it’s not all that disgusting. This is especially true for non-potable uses like irrigation and cooling, and most definitely true for flushing down our poop in our porcelain thrones. I’m not sure if it’s financially feasible for everybody to start doing this, but I do know that we at least need to start having this conversation a lot more often, educating ourselves and others, and to start thinking about this from the very beginning of our projects. No more “yuck” factor. More education. We shouldn’t be taking water for granted any longer.
Please check out this very informational water reuse practice guide from the William J Worthen Foundation:
And here’s a guidebook from SFPUC’s website that’s pretty informative:
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