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    Cashing in on Energy-Sensitive Design

    by B.J. Novitski

    Imagine a future in which architects do well by doing good. When they devote time to carefully integrating all the energy-related systems in a building; when the resulting efficiency dramatically decreases our dependence on imported oil; and when the triumphant architects are gratefully rewarded with significantly higher design fees.

    That future may not be far off, says physicist and energy activist Amory Lovins. However, he cautions, it will require fundamental changes to the ways the buildings are planned, financed, and operated.

    For several decades, architects have been learning how to make buildings less wasteful, and most are probably sincere in wanting to help ease the world's severe energy-related problems. Why, then, do many buildings still barely meet minimum energy standards? Conventional practice, Lovins argues, rewards inefficiency in many ways.

    For example, developers seek to minimize first costs and leave it to others to pay future utility bills. Lenders favor known technologies, like mechanical equipment, over innovative, efficient ones, like passive solar design. Architects have no incentive to spend the extra time needed to minimize life-cycle costs if their design fees are based on construction cost. Engineers commonly oversize equipment, even though that may increase the energy required to run the building over its lifetime. We need to remove the disincentives, Lovins has concluded, and establish a system of substantial rewards for energy-smart buildings.

    Researchers at Lovins's Rocky Mountain Institute, an independent, nonprofit research foundation, have been developing model contracts to test this idea. They secured funding from the San Francisco-based Energy Foundation, which supports sustainability projects, and sought out four buildings as test cases in four different climate zones. These are: a school in Portland, Oregon; Four Times Square, a high-rise office building in New York; the R. E. Johnson building in Austin, Texas; and the Oakland Administration Building in California.

     

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    ArchWeek Photo

    The Oakland Administration Building was designed for an energy performance target about 30 percent higher than minimum code requirements.
    Photo: Nick Merrick/ Hedrich-Blessing

    ArchWeek Photo

    Lobby of the Oakland Administration Building by the Denver, Colorado firm of Fentress Bradburn Architects.
    Photo: Nick Merrick/ Hedrich-Blessing

     

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