by T. Caine
Though not currently in the spotlight of the political arena of climate change, buildings hold an undeniable position as one of the largest opportunities to change our society towards a course of sustainability. The government (or at least the parts of it that want to address sustainability on a national level) has fixated themselves on power production, trying to pass regulation to put a price on carbon emissions that would most directly affect electric utility companies. This is certainly a way to go, but focusing on the opposite end of the power supply, the end users, is also a perfectly viable way to reduce our energy load and carbon emissions.
According to the United States Green Building Council, buildings in the U.S. account for 72% of our electricity use and 39% of our energy use over all. The built environment is also directly tied to numerous industries of the economy: construction, shipping, waste management, materials production, consumer appliances, the list is endless; meaning that a change in the way we build our homes and offices could permeate through society quickly and effectively rather than simply laying the burden solely at the feet of the power companies. Some argue that it may be easier to cut our energy usage by 20% rather than trying to make our energy production 20% cleaner.
As an architect, I have come to appreciate that getting more green buildings in our country has to be an effort pursued by both sides of the table: the clients and the designers. Certainly, we can hope to further educate the public so that more people know what the opportunities for more sustainable buildings are, but to expect that consumers become experts in the building industry beyond the basics is unrealistic and perhaps unreasonable. This is why architects who deliver green designs are invaluable. It is the job of the designer to suggest instances for newer, more efficient technologies and make the transition into a more sustainable environment easy. As orchestrators between ideas and products, visions and reality, architects can help any scale of project make the jump from comfortable yet outmoded methods to evolved and streamlined processes. Below are a series of designers that have already set themselves apart as some of those diligently pursuing a sustainable portfolio of work.
One of the keys to interacting with a consumer society is to make sure that a service is a ‘product’ that buyers can understand and become familiar with. William McDonough might have accomplished this better than most architects. In many cases, McDonough is known more for his writings and speaking engagements than his buildings as he spreads the message in his co-authored book, Cradle to Cradle—a mentality that focuses on addressing the entire life cycle costs from mining virgin materials to eventual disposal. The firm has come to be well known as being synonymous with sustainable design with such projects as the Bernheim Visitors Center, Park 20|20 or the European Headquarters for the Nike Corporation.
Morphosis Architects Morphosis is the firm cloak worn by architect Thom Mayne In 2005, Mayne was awards the illustrious Pritzker Prize, considered to be one of the highest honors in the field of architecture. Though Thom Mayne has said on more than one occasion that he does not consider himself a “green architect,” do not be fooled into thinking he is blind to sustainability. On the contrary, he views aspects such as energy efficiency, waste reduction and sustainable materials as nothing noteworthy, merely smart design. Perhaps the best example of this is his San Francisco Federal Building. An intricate wall system of moving panels can open or close to take advantage of the prevailing breeze and virtually remove the need for air conditioning (a large source of energy consumption.)
Polshek Partnership Originally begun by James Polshek, this long-standing New York firm has migrated into sustainable work as it evolves to the times along with the rest of us. The firm designed what I believe to be the most impressive building in Battery Park City and its most recent addition: The Riverhouse. In addition to the tracking-solar array on the roof, the coastal side of the building is an undulating curve that defines a double-skinned wall of windows with sunshades installed between the two layers of glass. This means that when the sunshades take on the heat of the sun, they are heating an air space and not the room beyond. Other notable projects include the Standard Hotel over New York’s Highline and the S.I. Newhouse III building at Syracuse University. continue reading at carbonpig.com