Green Building Does Portland
Another speaker from California, Fetzer Vineyards cofounder Paul Dolan, author of Fermenting a Business Revolution, argued that the best way of promoting good business is to make sure it represents the values of its employees, customers, and community. He observed: "We've done a good job creating leadership from an intellectual side, with the goal of growing a business financially. But in the future we need to shift our perspective. We need to pay attention to the soul of a company."
Advice from Abroad
As Greenbuild's learning sessions progressed over two days, the conference included some of the most compelling practitioners from this still emerging field. Perhaps the most charismatic was environmental engineer Guy Battle, principal of the London-based firm Battle McCarthy. Battle's firm has worked on New York's Freedom Tower design, specifically the wind turbine at its top. They have also consulted on several high-profile projects, including a new stadium proposed for Manhattan's West Side as part of an Olympics bid.
As he spoke on "Sustainability Goes Mainstream — But Where Next?" Battle gave the United States a mock report card for its sustainable efforts in recent years. "When I first started working in the States," he said, "you [Americans] couldn't spell sustainable." But recently, the engineer continued, there has been tremendous progress.
Battle is still dissatisfied, however. "Forget buildings that use less energy and water," he said. "Your buildings need to produce more than they need. You can't separate the energy infrastructure from the architecture itself. That's the way it's got to be."
Another highlight of Greenbuild was a keynote address by Pritzker Prize-winning Australian architect Glenn Murcutt. The presentation of his work included a remarkable series of simple houses that use climate, topography, and simple forms rendered artfully but always with integrity of purpose. But even beyond his acclaimed architecture, Murcutt awed the Greenbuild audience with the passion of his convictions.
The architect spoke eloquently about how his work draws first from the original vernacular of place and culture, which in Australia refers to the Aboriginal culture. Citing simple thatched roof huts as the epitome of architectural beauty, Murcutt practically shouted: "These people knew about place. But look at us. What poverty of spirit our built environment has!"
Greening the East
Arguably the biggest news announced at this year's Greenbuild was from representatives of China's Ministry of Construction that the People's Republic has developed ambitious new targets for green building.
"Rapid economic growth and urbanization in China raise a severe challenge for energy supply and consumption," said vice-minister Qiu Baoxing. "It is estimated that by 2020, urbanization in China will reach up to 57 percent, which means nearly 15 million rural residents will be changed to urban citizens. Increasing energy demand and lack of energy will be a long-term problem that China is facing in economic and social development."
To address this problem, Qui announced that by the end of 2010, all Chinese cities will be expected to reduce their buildings' energy use by 50 percent. In large cities, 25 percent of existing residential and public buildings will be remodeled or reconstructed, with 15 percent targeted in medium-sized cities and 10 percent in small cities. By 2020, the country expects an overall building efficiency standard 65 percent better than that of today — an astonishing objective.
More Success Stories
Throughout the conference, other optimistic news emerged. Arizona architect David Eisenberg spoke of his efforts to transform building codes to better reflect environmental values and promote healthier, better functioning communities.
Philadelphia designer Carol Franklin discussed how sustainable design must go beyond the goal of minimizing site destruction to one of facilitating natural, self-sustaining ecological environments, of which buildings are only a portion.
Successful, green, and affordable housing projects in Seattle and San Jose, California were shown to be so well designed that they make more affluent people jealous. New sustainable schools continue to show that students achieve more academically when they have access to daylight and other green-building amenities.
Indeed, while there was a wide variety of information being passed between architects, builders, academics, and developers, it seemed that predominant at Greenbuild was the passion attendees shared for sustainable design and construction.
As is becoming clearer every day, whatever arguments can still be made against sustainability — increased up-front cost or a potential disregard for good aesthetic design — this is a movement that not only combines altruism and good business sense, but represents a new era for architecture.
In this new era, we will relearn that the only way to design a building sensibly is to carefully consider its role on planet earth and within its microclimate, while also paying heed to how its interior environment affects occupants' psychological and physical well being.
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Brian Libby is a Portland, Oregon-based freelance writer who has also published in Metropolis, The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, and Architectural Record.