Energy Concerns Mainstream
Berkebile told the audience that we need to work toward zero-energy (or better) solutions that will transform the built environment. As an example of a step in that direction, he presented his firm's School of Nursing and Student Community Center at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. The building has a uniquely designed elevation on each major orientation, rooftop solar panels, and a large atrium court that maximizes interior daylighting.
For an example on a larger scale, Berkebile presented the North Charleston Sustainable Community Redevelopment in South Carolina by a team led by his firm and Burt Hill. This plan covers 3,000 acres (1200 hectares) and includes an old decommissioned Navy complex adjoining a 200-acre (80-hectare) park surrounding Noisette Creek. The plan calls for up to 10,000 new and rehabilitated housing units, 6 to 8 million square feet (560,000 to 740,000 square meters) of commercial space, and revitalization of the city's Old Village.
The master plan includes sustainable development guidelines for parks, zoning, density, movement systems circulation (vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian), parking, energy-efficient utilities, ecological restoration, landscaping, and watershed management. It is the type of comprehensive planning that incorporates lifestyle and energy-responsible design at all levels and includes community members and future residents as part of the design process.
Where the Wind Blows
While the western United States is home to many large wind farms, wind power — one of the most promising renewable energy sources — is encountering significant resistance at some sites in the denser northeast. Wind farms in the west may contain hundreds of stately white turbine windmills. In contrast, a project in the Town of Orleans on Cape Cod started out as a six-turbine project but, after bending to local opposition, now hopes to get approval for just two.
At Building Energy '06, wind power was prominent on the agenda. Workshop leaders Kristen Burke and Jean Clements of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative created a "Jeopardy"-style game that had workshop participants learning both the facts and myths about wind energy. They hope the facts will counter some opposing attitudes.
For instance: every megawatt of wind power produced creates nearly five person-years of employment; a single one-megawatt turbine windmill can supply 250-300 houses with electricity; and it takes a million years of earth development to make the coal which the United States burns in a single year.
The game also dispelled myths about windmills. For instance, dangers to birds from large state-of-the-art wind turbines are less than often feared because the blades of giant turbines turn relatively slowly. Opponents who think windmills are unsightly are to be reminded that once even the Eiffel Tower was dismissed by many as "hideous and monstrous."
Wind energy typically has about a ten-year payback cycle, which promises to shorten dramatically this decade because it has no ongoing fuel costs. But given the strength of local opposition, projects must face long lead times of up to a year or more until possible approval, where the cost of delay — for lawyers, consultants, and additional impact studies — matches or exceeds the entire construction cost.
Enlightenment Comes to Design
One particularly revealing session of the conference gave attendees a direct lesson in design for daylighting. Lighting designer, Jeffrey Berg, AIA and architect Richard Keleher AIA, CSI, LEED AP gave participants hands-on training by sending them around the conference center with light meters in hand.
They learned that current lighting standards may be excessive. They concluded that 80 footcandles (860 lux) on an office desktop seemed overly bright and that hallways with as little as five footcandles (54 lux) seemed quite comfortable. The participants reviewed some of the basics of window, clerestory, and skylight design through examples such as Harvard University's Sever Hall by H.H. Richardson.
In an example from an interior classroom at Sever, Berg showed a common-sense principle: one good way of controlling window light is to divide the window — thus allowing independent shading for top and bottom, or for sidelights, to control glare at work levels but still allow plenty of ambient light into the room.
Keleher reviewed the importance of physical models in assessing light performance in buildings, using devices such as a heliodon to properly orient the model. He said that rendering software was getting better and would soon be the preferred study medium. But for now, in his opinion, computer rendering still suffers the same difficulties of any photographic medium in that it exaggerates contrast and does not render color as the eye perceives it in reality.
An excellent case study for the importance of daylighting is the New York Times Headquarters Building, designed by Renzo Piano, currently under construction. Stephen Selkowitz of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory was hired by the owner to disprove the notion pushed by engineering consultants that it would be too costly and unreliable to manage glare and cooling solely via dynamic shading of the facade and dimmable lighting controls.
Selkowitz and his team did extensive field testing that included building full-size mockups of a typical corner of the 52-story, 1.6 million-square-foot (150,000-square-meter) building. They were able to produce a specification that brought those controls in on budget while demonstrating a savings of 15 to 20 percent on energy costs.
In the United States today, buildings use two-thirds of all electricity consumed. Selkowitz says that we have the opportunity to save as much as $10 billion a year by designing intelligently for daylight.
In her workshop on transforming a design practice to become "green in ten easy steps," Barbara Batshalom of the Green Roundtable said that her seminar title was just a way to get designers in the door, because there are no ten easy, well-defined steps.
"Going green" requires a shift in attitude, she said, getting one's entire firm beginning to "think green." Batshalom advised attendees not to take a common ineffective approach of just adding a "green group" with the rest of the firm doing business as usual.
Over the coming years, it is much more likely that this message will sink in: an add-on solution is becoming understood as not good enough. These energy concerns are not a fad but a serious concern that must increasingly be met head on by our building designs, our communities, and our lifestyle and culture as a whole.
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Evan H. Shu, FAIA is an architect with Shu Associates Inc. in Melrose, Massachusetts. He is a contributor to The Architect's Handbook of Professional Practice and is publisher and editor of Cheap Tricks, a monthly newsletter for DataCAD users and computer-using architects.