Resetting the Bar
How we get there is a matter of debate. As the USGBC toughens its own standards, other groups are proposing still tougher ones. The Cascadia chapter of the USGBC, for instance, released its "Living Building Challenge" at the conference.
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Jason F. McLennan, Cascadia's chief executive officer, described his document as an effort to "raise the bar and define a true measure of sustainability in the built environment." He sees this as the new top LEED rating, surpassing the current "platinum."
The Cascadia plan includes such ambitious objectives as: restriction of all new building to previously developed sites, 100 percent of a building's energy needs being supplied by on-site renewable energy, satisfying 100 percent of occupants' water needs with captured precipitation or reused water, and making construction carbon-neutral through material choices and carbon offsets.
To these relatively technical requirements, Cascadia adds: "The project must contain design features intended solely for human delight and the celebration of culture, spirit, and place appropriate to the function of the building."
McLennan recognizes the limitations to achieving the Living Building Challenge in the materials category. He explains: "while there are a huge number of 'green' products on the market, there is a shortage of good data that really backs up manufacturer claims and provides consumers with the ability to make conscious, informed choices."
To help fill this data gap, the Healthy Building Network (HBN) has launched a progressive framework for evaluating sustainable materials. At the GreenBuild conference, Bill Walsh, HBN's national coordinator, introduced the Pharos Project, a community-created materials evaluation site.
Named after the great lighthouse of ancient Alexandria, Pharos is encapsulated in a circular graphic that characterizes materials on 18 measures such as renewable energy use, effect on habitat, air quality impact, and waste generation. Like the Living Building Challenge, Pharos goes beyond technical variables and considers social ones such as occupational safety, community building, and corporate practices.
"The Pharos Project," Walsh explains, "is rooted in the principles of the open source technology movement, and the first phase of our project is built upon the platform of one of the great open source collaborations of our age, Wikipedia." He envisions the Pharos Wiki becoming "a free encyclopedia of green building information built collaboratively by the green building community."
Examples through Actions
One of the strongest proponents of the green movement in recent years has been architect William McDonough. In his keynote address to the conference, he showed several recent projects by his firm William McDonough and Partners. Ecourban is part of an urban renewal initiative in the Poblenou District of Barcelona. The goal was to integrate technological and ecological concerns in a new "high-design" building which serves as a green-roofed, trellis-walled backdrop to a historic pavilion.
Also by McDonough, the Fuller Theological Seminary's new multidenominational chapel, in Pasadena, California, weaves together the threads of individual and communal experience while assuming its place as the campus' symbolic center. With lush gardens and a sunny interior, the design provides a spiritual oasis in Pasadena's urban landscape.
Another environmental leader showcased at the conference was Robert Fox Jr., principal of the architecture firm Cook + Fox. He received an award from the USGBC for leadership in the community category for his longstanding commitment to the green building movement.
Fox serves on numerous nonprofit boards and sustainable advisory councils. He directs the team that created environmental guidelines for the Battery Park City Authority in New York, an effort that has "greened" millions of square feet of construction in lower Manhattan.
To make sure everyone benefits from this push toward greenness, the USGBC has also begun a partnership with Enterprise Community Partners. It is hoped this will accelerate the momentum among affordable housing developers to adopt green building and sustainable development practices.
To acknowledge the crucial role played by sustainable construction materials, BuildingGreen, Inc., publisher of the GreenSpec Directory and Environmental Building News, announced its 2006 picks as "Top-10 Green Building Products."
One of these is Triton Logging, which harvests underwater standing trees from forests that were submerged decades ago under reservoirs created by damming. The company estimates that, worldwide, there may be are 100 billion board feet of salvageable underwater timber. The salvaging operation uses a remote-controlled logging submarine, which cuts the trunk with an electric chainsaw without disturbing sediments on the reservoir floor.
"100 Percent" is a panel product from 3form, Inc. made from 100-percent post-consumer recycled, low-emission, high-density polyethylene (HDPE). Available in a range of colors and patterns, the material is appropriate for workstations, toilet partitions, and interior trim. The company has recently added UV-inhibitors that make the product appropriate for outdoor applications.
SageGlass is an electronically tintable exterior glazing from Sage Electrochromics. It provides glare control on demand while preserving views and is not degraded with exposure to ultraviolet light. The thin-film tungsten-oxide coating is as durable as low-e coatings and can be switched from clear to tinted within minutes. This glazing can provide energy savings, control peak electricity demand, and enhance comfort.
Coolerado Cooler is an indirect evaporative air conditioner from Coolerado, LLC. The unit is far more efficient than refrigeration units, but does not raise the interior humidity as traditional evaporative coolers do.
Other recipients of the Top-Ten designation were a polished concrete system from RetroPlate, PaperStone composite surface material from KlipTech Composites, recycled-content interior molding from Timbron International, a water-efficient showerhead from Delta Faucet, WeatherTRAK smart irrigation controls from HydroPoint Data Systems, and renewable energy credits from Community Energy.
Pulling It All Together
Along with the greater knowledge and resources in this burgeoning field comes an increased complexity for architects, who must juggle new information along with traditional concerns of "firmness, commodity, and delight."
One company stepping up to this challenge is Autodesk, with a commitment to make software to support new architectural challenges. At the GreenBuild Conference, Phil Bernstein, vice president of Building Industry Strategy and Relations at Autodesk, announced a strategic relationship with the USGBC aimed at expanding the use of technology and to facilitate further adoption of sustainable design and green building.
As the first step in their collaboration, Autodesk and the USGBC will develop an educational curriculum for architecture and engineering students. And they will explore opportunities to integrate Autodesk technology, particularly Revit, with the LEED Green Building Rating System.
This touches on just a few highlights of the three-day conference. The Greenbuild 2006 Proceedings is available on CD.
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