Architecture + Energy Awards
That the California College of Arts and Crafts remained committed to remaining in a high-density urban environment on a difficult site earned high marks from the jury. Also lauded were the building's minimal use of air conditioning and its innovation in the face of a small budget.
"This is an example of what you can accomplish with a clear set of goals," raved juror Kevin Hydes of Keen Engineering in Vancouver. "And it was done at a fraction of the cost of a new building."
Another winner was a project in Eugene, Oregon by Integrare Architecture, Inc., for Food for Lane County, a nonprofit that redirects food from individual and restaurant donors to the needy. "It wasn't exotic but simple and direct," said Gail Lindsey, a juror and architect from Wake Forest, North Carolina.
The building was hailed for employing an entire system of sustainable technologies on a small budget. Air conditioning was scrapped in favor of passive cooling through natural ventilation using fans and automatically adjusting louvered windows.
The daylighting system was applauded for its avoidance of what juror and Santa Monica-based architect Steve Ternoey calls "overglazing."
A third project went beyond the goal of "doing no harm" to the environment. By converting a former coal mine and restoring native prairie grass and wetlands, The Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities Office and Training Facility, by the Renaissance Design Group, was one project that "...actually tried to restore," Lindsey noted.
Skillful daylighting and the use of recycled materials — most notably old telephone poles used for support throughout the office — also earned high marks. "It shakes up the perception of what buildings can be," said Cole. "This project really teaches."
The fourth award went to the Bank of Astoria-Manzanita Branch, on the Oregon coast designed by Tom Bender and SERA Architects. "This project was the smallest we saw," said Cole, "but may provide the biggest lessons."
The bank was honored for its sweeping embrace of sustainable principles, not to mention stormwater retention apparatus, solar power, recycled materials, and commitment to local products, particularly its stripped-wood facade.
"It really has a broad spiritual dimension," said Cole. "The building was almost in the background as part of a larger discourse. It symbolized the shift in values necessary to positively affect the environment."
Promoting Sustainability in the Profession
Before handing out the awards, the jury addressed key issues transcending individual examples of sustainable architecture. How can a handful of truly green projects affect more widespread change in the mainstream?
"Nobody wants to stand out from the crowd," said Hydes. "There's clearly a leadership position we designers and developers have to take."
Added Lindsey: "A lot of the projects we saw had great parts, but the whole package wasn't there. Putting great bits and pieces together into a whole lies in an early start with a multidisciplinary team."
The jury was also quick to caution that a comprehensive strategy for a sustainable building need not carry a large price tag. "Some of the best projects we saw spent very little money," said juror Dennis Wilde, of Gerdling Edlen Development in Portland.
Finally Ternoey addressed common misconceptions in daylighting, a subject on which he is a foremost expert. "We're still learning what's good and what's bad," he said. He then emphasized the need for shaded light that minimizes solar heat gain.
"The idea is to get a window in, figure out how to bounce light around the room, and minimize glare. It really doesn't take a lot of glass to light a lot of space. You can do so much with very little."
The jury shared a common optimism that, as the United States continues to build, necessity will sooner or later force us to embrace sustainability in a more widespread fashion.
"Buildings last a long time, and the ones we're creating today will someday exist in a post-fossil fuel era," said Cole. "The issues of how they can be retrofitted and upgraded through their life to this new era will be an important concern."
Cole also cautioned that global warming and other catastrophes will change what future buildings must face: "We must realize that the climatic context in which buildings will exist in the future will be different from that of today."
Cole continued: "Europeans have already realized that the climate is changing profoundly, and they're looking at how to respond to a changed climate. We need to realize that the life cycle of a building is at the heart of any decision we as architects make."
Thus, the jury maintained a sense of relative elation at the array of both entries and winners present. "In projects like the ones we're seeing today, an important first step has been made," remarked Cole. "But ultimately we must aspire to much more seriously performing buildings."
Brian Libby is a Portland-based freelance writer who has also published in Metropolis and Architectural Record.