Page E2.2 . 02 June 2010                     
ArchitectureWeek - Environment Department
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    What Goes into Green?


    The best LEED-ND projects — such as Vancouver Olympic Village or Station Park Green, for example — do all of this, and they are designed by architects, as are the buildings within them. projects — such as Vancouver Olympic Village or Station Park Green, for example — do all of this, and they are designed by architects, as are the buildings within them.

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    But AIA chooses instead to focus on the buildings themselves (and, to an extent, their lots). That only gets you so far.

    This year's winners include the following:

    I want to stress that I am not arguing that these are bad projects. I like some of them quite a bit, and I'll concede that a concept like the Omega Center has attributes that would be harder to realize in a city neighborhood. But fully six of the ten are institutional buildings; only one is residential (and one is mixed-use including residential); the architectural style consists only of degrees of contemporary, though Kroon Hall to its credit has significant neo-traditional elevations (a brownfield redevelopment, Kroon Hall may also be my favorite).

    While some of the winners do appear likely to be in walkable, transit-served urban environments, that does not seem remotely to have been a criterion in AIA's awards selection. In fact, the words "transit," "transportation," "sidewalk," and "neighborhood" do not appear once in AIA's descriptions of the ten winners in its April 21 press release.

    "Transit" does appear in the general introduction, but it does not appear significant enough to be a descriptor of any of the individual honorees; "community" appears only twice, once in the context of Sacred Heart School's "learning community," and once in a vague allusion to attributes of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. Are not these things part of what determines whether our built environment is truly green?

    I suppose AIA might argue that the jury was only interested in evaluating what the architects influenced, and the surrounding contexts were beyond their control. But architects influence neighborhood-scaled projects as much as institutional ones, and some rise greatly to the challenges of fitting into an urban setting in a way that facilitates public life and community sustainability, not just building sustainability, while respecting the neighborhood.

    Given that these are the projects that perform the best environmentally, they deserve to be highlighted every bit as much as the ones that were selected, and I can make a strong case that they are even more worthy.

    I know that there are leaders in AIA who get it. Vivian Loftness (a past chair of the Committee on the Environment), David Dixon, and Bill Roschen have all held prominent positions in the organization and have all championed the consideration of community context in defining what is "green" about architecture.

    The Institute maintains a Communities by Design staff that does great work assisting these values. (I try not to read too much into the fact that the CxD team's advisory committee, which included yours truly, was abolished, but the fact is there.) I don't know where the smart growth movement would be without architects; they have been our friends and mentors from the beginning.

    So I don't quite get why so few of these award winners are exemplars not only of great building and on-site design but also of urbanity, walkability, location efficiency and community enhancement.

    Editor's Notes —

    Working along lines similar to what Kaid Benfield describes above, ArchitectureWeek has outlined a "Four Leaf Green" benchmark for sustainable building. This framework considers building sustainability in four dimensions: overall green construction (as in LEED), energy efficiency (as in Passivhaus), appropriateness of location, and compact size. For more on this, please see the descriptive sidebar on Four Leaf Green in our 2008 cover story Climate Action Now.

    ArchitectureWeek would like to thank the Center for Neighborhood Technology for their extremely powerful "H+T Affordability Index" online mapping application, which provides a freely available resource rather deeper and more general than its title might tend to suggest. It was very valuable in preparing illustrations for this article.

    And, notwithstanding the practical critique above, we do acknowledge that, according to the awards program web site, the AIA/COTE includes regional and community design and connectivity among the formal criteria for its annual Top Ten Green Projects.   >>>

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    Kaid Benfield is a cofounder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system; cofounder of the Smart Growth America coalition; author of Once There Were Greenfields, Solving Sprawl, Smart Growth In a Changing World, and Green Community; and was voted one of the "top urban thinkers" in a 2009 poll at Planetizen.

    This article is a reprint of "I Wish AIA Didn't Define 'Green' so Narrowly" by Kaid Benfield, copyright © 2010, and is published with permission of the Natural Resources Defense Council.



    ArchWeek Image

    The 22-story Manitoba Hydro Place in downtown Winnipeg, Canada, consolidated company offices that had previously been scattered across several suburban locations.
    Photo: © Paul Hultberg Extra Large Image

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    Satellite photo of site and surroundings of Manitoba Hydro Place, another Top Ten honoree for 2010.
    Image: Courtesy Google Extra Large Image

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    Carbon dioxide emissions and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per household per year follow a consistent radial gradient pattern, from low in the urban core to high at the urban fringe, across a comprehensive range of U.S. cities. Mapped here are Chicago, Illinois (shown in thumbnail), Houston, Texas; Portland, Oregon; and Atlanta, Georgia.
    Image: © 2010 Center for Neighborhood Technology Extra Large Image

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    Nearly 200 people work in the LEED Gold-certified World Headquarters for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in suburban Yarmouthport, Massachusetts, one of the AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Projects for 2009.
    Photo: Peter Vanderwarker Extra Large Image

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    Satellite photo of IFAW World Headquarters site and surroundings.
    Image: Courtesy Google Extra Large Image

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    The Gish Family Apartments, also honored by AIA/COTE in 2009, are located adjacent to a light-rail line in San Jose, California.
    Photo: Bernard André Photography Extra Large Image

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    Satellite photo of Gish Apartments site and surroundings.
    Image: Courtesy Google Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Graph of vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) per household per day by regional location, for Seattle, Washington, and Atlanta, Georgia, showing the gradient of increasing VMT from urban core to exurban areas.
    Image: Courtesy Larry Frank


    Click on thumbnail images
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