29
Apr
08

Green, Eco-friendly, and Sustainable Architecture

Caltrans Building Aerial View

What uses the most electricity, more than half of the total electricity generated in the United States? Buildings that are four stories high or taller, says Michael Martinez in the Chicago Tribune. He succinctly explains what is being done about this by the U.S. Green Building Council:

The non-profit council implements a universally accepted method for authenticating a green building, under a rating system called LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)…The project is awarded “points” for the sustainability features until it achieves certification, which has four levels: basic, silver, gold and platinum…California and many other states now require that all new government buildings be certified as “green,” or eco-friendly. Officials also are stepping up efforts to set an example for the private sector.

For example, the California Department of Transportation regional headquarters in downtown Los Angeles, which occupies a whole city block and is 13 stories high, has healthy air inside, and plentiful natural lighting. It opened nearly four years ago. One of the features that helped it gain a LEED silver level certification is the wall of solar panels. In its chapter on heating, ventilating and air conditioning, Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition, has this to say:

For commercial/institutional structures in particular, the use of building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) is becoming rather common. In such cases, PV modules may be sufficiently integrated into the roof or walls of the structure so that they provide the exterior barrier to the elements. Because of this integration of the PV system with the building envelope, it is particularly important that the architect be intimately involved in the design and specification of such a system.

It appears that the General Services Administrations, i.e., the federal government, is the nation’s largest commercial tenant, which puts the government in a position to encourage green building through a number of incentives, like tax breaks, and with disincentives. Over the last six years, 24 states have initiated programs that spell out requirements. So far there are around 1300 certified green buildings in America, although somewhere in the neighborhood of 11,000 applications await the council’s attention.

Every day, some community announces a national “first”. In Elkhart, Indiana, there’s the first theological library to be registered with the USGBC. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has the first LEED-certified carbon neutral building, the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center, which also was named a top-ten green project by the American Institute of Architects. Wisconsin is also working on the state’s first LEED-certified jail. Recently in Washington, the Public Utility Districts Association headquarters became the state’s first new construction project to snag a LEED platinum rating. In New York there is Dinkins Gardens, Harlem’s first green building that is 100 percent for low-income residents. The state of Illinois boasts 18 LEED-certified buildings including five public libraries, a high school, a police headquarters, and the renowned Merchandise Mart.

California is really surging ahead in the race to green. The first LEED-certified parking structure recently opened in Santa Monica. San Francisco has the nation’s first LEED-certified medical spa. In Paso Robles, the River Oaks Center is the first building to be pre-certified gold. In Hemet, the Water + Life Museums complex is the first museum to be certified at the platinum level. It is part of the Western Center for Archeology and Paleontology.

What makes some people nervous is that green-only construction adds about 5% to a building’s cost. But developers and builders are assured that such cost can be made up in energy savings within the first couple of years of the building’s operation. It’s one thing to have a brand-new building certified because all the correct elements are in place. How are green measures working out over time?

SOURCE: ” Push on to Make Buildings Grow Green ” 04/21/08
photo courtesy of Mr. Littlehand , used under this Creative Commons license

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