Archive for the 'Sustainable Design' Category

03
Jul
08

The Green Wave of the Future is on Top

Greg Callaghan is as enthusiastic as all-get-out about green skins, and it’s easy to see why. “Living” buildings accomplish the feat of being greener than green. The many benefits include better air in the immediate area, plus an overall reduction of harmful gases released into the atmosphere in general; insulation against cold, heat and noise; and a way to utilize water which would otherwise pour down the drain or possibly even cause flooding. Callaghan says,

Green is the right word to describe the flora-embracing features now being incorporated into new and old buildings across the US, Europe and parts of Asia. We’re talking garden rooftops, multi-levelled terraced gardens, lush foliage draping exterior walls and vast, internal, Babylonian hanging gardens.

Of course every instance is different, depending on location, budget, whether the building is new or already existing, whether the installation is hydroponics-based or soil-based, and many other factors. But in general, the green roof consists of a multi-level sandwich, starting with the structural support. Then come the vapor control layer, thermal insulation layer, support panel, waterproof layer, drainage layer, filter membrane growing medium, and the glorious crown of vegetation. And that’s not even getting into the subject of green walls. When the surface treatment is right, masonry is provided extra protection by the plants it hosts.

The green roof concept started out cautiously, with small, short-rooted plants and grasses. Currently, over a hundred species of plants have been found viable for the purpose, and improvements in filtering, coating and barrier technology have made possible the use of shrubs and even trees. When dirt is the growing medium, many favor deciduous plants, because the yearly shedding of their leaves exposes the dark soil which can then absorb the sun’s heat for the building’s use. A properly designed green roof, garnished with some solar cells, can take care of itself by collecting and pumping its own water supply.

In the average city, at least forty percent of the energy consumed goes into the maintenance of its buildings — and a lot of that is spent either heating or cooling the interior so human habitation is possible. Green skins save energy for both those purposes — one report says air conditioning costs can drop 25% and overall electricity demand by 50%, and that’s just considering the inside. Outside, studies indicate that a sufficient number of green roofs can cool down the whole urban area by two or three degrees. When there’s a sweltering heat wave, even a seemingly small increment counts, and it’s been estimated that in Manhattan, for instance, greening just one-fifth of the roofs could accomplish that difference. In fact, if we slide on over to GreenRoofs.org, there’s a page of potential benefits that might astonish even the most ardent environmentalist.

The hard-headed, no-nonsense city of Chicago, which used to be known chiefly as the hog butchery capital, now wears the uncontested laurel wreath for its amazing number of buildings with vegetated roofs. In the last year alone, Chicago planted over 500,000 square feet of greenery over its residents’ heads. The City Hall set the pace, and there’s a lovely page about it here.

Australia was leery of innovation, but in the five years since Michael and Robyn Thomas produced their comprehensive and still very relevant paper for the government’s Standing Committee on Environment and Heritage, an ongoing drought has made believers out of quite a few skeptics. One of the showpieces planned for the green-skin revolution in Oz is the two billion dollar renewal of an entire precinct of Sydney, including two towers designed by Jean Nouvel and Norman Foster.

Callaghan’s article emphazises the ARCOS building in Japan’s Fukuoka City (pictured) which takes the green roof idea a step forward with not one many green roofs, 15 stories of them, like the icing on a tiered wedding cake. More great photos of this startlingly radical office building are here.

The only thing better than a green roof is an accessible green roof. When it’s created not just for energy-efficiency, but for people, it can provide the desired refreshment and even the company of birds and little animals. Sometimes you don’t need to consume the fuel and the time for a day-trip to the country. Half an hour under a tree can renew the spirit wonderfully. Remember the old Carole King/Gerry Goffin song, “Up on the Roof”?

On the roof, it’s peaceful as can be
And there the world below can’t bother me.

SOURCE: “Green skins ” 06/21/08
photo courtesy of tanaka_juuyoh, used under this Creative Commons license

01
Jul
08

The Gilman Ordway Campus at Woods Hole

“Building for the Future” is a thorough case study of a high performance building, the Gilman Ordway Campus at Woods Hole Research Center. It lays out the basic principles the design team started with: a tight building envelope, efficient mechanical, lighting and office systems, and the optimization of natural light and ventilation. The Performance Overview section starts by noting that the energy monitoring system provides the numbers for evaluating the performance, a subject that definitely needs research.

The relative dearth of performance data for high performance buildings, combined with the ongoing need to educate the public and design communities about advancements in building technologies and performance, led us to include a whole building energy monitoring and data-logging system in our building design and construction plans.

A network of 75 sensors reports on what goes on throughout the building. The numbers are crunched, and charts are produced which display the current state of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, and of the sources and loads of the energy flow, and even of the weather conditions. The comprehensive monitoring system keeps track of the solar thermal system and thermal exchange heat pump and energy recovery units.

Woods Hole is a venerable institution where science, education, and policy all support the prevention of environmental degradation, and especially the stewardship of the earth’s forests. The Gilman Ordway Campus was designed with an ambitious environmental agenda in mind, to produce more energy than it uses, and to do that without using fossil fuels or causing any harm to the surrounding environment or the world at large.

All the design consultants and the people from the Center itself collaborated from the start as a design team. It was especially important, because of the nature of the institution, that forestry concerns be addressed in the best possible way, using sustainably harvested, certified wood. The soils science department of Woods Hole Research Center keeps working to refine the rainwater collection system and the wastewater system, the latter with a denitrifying septic system. One of the intentions was to be sure the project was reproducible, so most of the building systems came from readily available “state-of-the-shelf” technology.

Finished in February and occupied in March of 2003, the Gilman Ordway Campus is the work of William McDonough + Partners with Mark Rylander, who is a partner in the firm, as the project manager. He also teaches at the University of Virginia School of Architecture and has been chairman of COTE (Committee on the Environment) and in 2005 was one of the Solar Decathlon judges. This is an annual competition among teams of college students to design and build houses that are both energy-efficient and attractive.

Rylander wrote the Sustainable Design chapter of Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition and here, from that chapter’s Introduction, are some of the topics it covers:

…site ecology, alternative urban infrastructures, mobility, socially-responsible design, water conservation and treatment, heat island mitigation, energy efficiency, renewable energy integration, design for disassembly, adaptive reuse, recycled, recyclable and reclaimed materials, healthy material redesign, efficient construction protocols, daylighting, indoor air quality, commissioning, post-occupancy feedback…

There is truly more to sustainability than meets the eye.

Pictured: the pier at Woods Hole

SOURCE: ” Building for the Future” No Date Given
photo courtesy of andjam79, used under this Creative Commons license

27
Jun
08

BIM Revolution Not Quite Here Yet

An interesting article in The Economist suggests that the revolution in BIM (Building Information Modeling) is, at least for the present, mainly wishful thinking. By and large,

… fancy graphics tend to be used only for conceptual purposes and play no role in the detailed design and construction of the finished structure. For the most part, this is still carried out with old-fashioned two-dimensional elevation and plan drawings, created by hand or using computer-aided design (CAD) software. “It’s still a 2-D profession,” says Shane Burger, an associate architect at Grimshaw…

With CAD, you draw your picture, and the software makes it malleable, so it can be changed, added to, combined with another. With BIM, you put in the facts of the case and tell the software what you need, and it draws the picture. It seems that many practitioners are still in a CAD headspace, unable to make the leap of imagination that would really put BIM to work for them.

When the client says, “How will it look from over there?”, the elegant and stunning pictorial answer can be shown, and that’s cool. But there’s so much more to BIM than dazzling graphics. The amazing virtual walk-through is negligible compared to the real power and beauty of BIM. The thing to keep in mind is that a building information model is a digital representation of both the physicals and functional characteristics.

Traditionally, one of the embarrassing possibilities, once construction starts, is discovering that a basic law of physics is being violated, as two things, such as an air duct and a beam, try to occupy the same space at the same time. In building information modeling, the word “information” is there for a reason – because the best part of BIM is the huge database of everything you could possibly want to know about every part of the building at all times. Like the weather or any other system, a building is subject to the so-called “butterfly effect.” Tweak something over here, and something over there is affected. With BIM,

the model is based on objects, which are solid shapes or voids with their own properties. The model also includes information about the relationships between these objects, so that when one object is changed… any related objects are automatically updated.

In a large project, the number of stakeholders can grow to monstrous proportions, and BIM keeps them all on the same page. Time is an added dimension, so processes can be followed through the life cycle of the building. All the stages of design, construction, and facility management are taken into account and automatically updated. Energy use, lighting, heat flow, acoustics, and many other factors can all be kept track of. The most important thing is the sharing of resources and information across platforms and environments.

The author points out that the early adapters are the more flamboyant, high-name-recognition architects. Because their creations are so complicated and unusual, there’s really no other choice. What’s needed is BIM across the board; it needs to be a plow horse as well as a show pony. Apparently this is happening, as the General Services Administration now requires BIM technology for all the projects it funds.

Of course, accurate cost estimation is a huge incentive, now more than ever. When the digital prototype is the main reference, it’s possible to calculate very finely the quantities of materials needed. Perhaps even more important, every detail necessary for compliance with regulations is spelled out. MIT professor William Mitchell estimates that inconsistencies and clashes can eat up from 2 to 5% of a budget. This is interesting, because that’s about the same percentage range as it costs to make a really good green building. So, thanks to BIM, it seems that a building could be made greener (costing 3% more) and smarter (saving 3%) and still end up with about the same price tag, when all’s said and done. With the cost of energy and materials going up, and the cost of information going down, it looks like the BIM revolution will go forward.

Pictured: the Eden Project, in England. The geodesic domes were BIM-designed.

SOURCE: ” From blueprint to database ” 06/05/08
photo courtesy of just_laze , used under this Creative Commons license

26
Jun
08

U.S. Green Building Council Makes Revolutionary Change

the Solaire in New York

John Tepper Marlin likes the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Standards, and he enumerates the reasons in a Green Building News article, which also delineates what he sees as a very big problem, and predicts how the problem might be solved. The reason why we listen to Dr. Marlin is clear: he is an expert who has published fifteen books about the complicated economic realities of large cities, chiefly New York. He served in the office of the New York City Comptroller for over thirteen years, as both Chief Economist and Senior Policy Adviser. He knows all about the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and also about the not-so-good aspects of LEED certification, one of which he describes as follows:

If the estimate is accurate that half the cost of LEED certification is USGBC’s fee, this is very high compared with other certification programs, where the bulk of the cost is for meeting higher standards. One can hope that the certification cost will drop by the end of 2009 as more certifiers are accredited.

Before getting into that, however, let’s look at what Marlin likes about LEED: just about everything. The LEED point system is broad-based, transparent, and easy to follow, and the most basic level of approval is not too difficult to attain. There’s flexibility built in, and scalabilty and expandability. Independent third-party certifications are recognized. Builders have gotten on the bandwagon, and are anxious to achieve LEED’s blessing, which is a major selling point. Using green products has become fashionable. Leaders in the construction industry have adopted a LEED-friendly attitude, and willingly aim for the best recognition they can win under the system. It gives them a well-deserved reputation for civic responsibility, which is always a plus.

The downside of LEED is, the process is slow as molasses in January. Marlin cites the numbers for New York City as an example: Four years into the LEED program, only 15 certifications had been issued, out of 294 registered hopefuls. This, obviously, will not do.

So, here is the new procedure, which Marlin feels is not getting the attention due to such a major shift in policy. Starting in 2009, USGBC will continue to set the standards, but will outsource the certification process to the bodies accredited by the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), who will then do the certifying. In other words, GBCI will become an Accreditation Agency that will give third-party certification bodies their licenses to issue certificates to individuals, companies, facilities and products.

This is good for two reasons: first, it will bring the U.S. in line with the best practices already adopted by other countries that have been doing things differently and more effectively. This has to do with the “Who’s watching the watchers?” question that always haunts such bureaucracies. Separation is needed between the organization that sets standards, and the organization that decides whether these standards are being met. The offices and officials who are doing the accrediting must maintain the highest degree of credibility themselves. Otherwise, the potential for mischief is enormous and unacceptable.

Second, the new method should clear up the equally unacceptable backlog of buildings awaiting judgment. There could potentially be hundreds of third-party certification bodies, each one holding itself to the most stringent requirements, because it wants to retain its accreditation when it comes up for renewal by the top-level overseers, the GBCI.

In summary, Dr. Marlin says:

USGBC’s move to open up its certification process to outside certification bodies, and to focus on accreditation, is a very good sign that the green-buildings program is going to catch up on its backlog and to be credible, so that the public will know whether or not the claimed standards are actually met.

He will be tracking the success of this far-reaching and much-needed change on his own City Economist website.

Pictured: the Solaire at 20 River Terrace, New York City’s first LEED-certified building (2004).

SOURCE: ” Green Building News – USGBC to Accredit LEED Certifiers” 06/06/08
photo courtesy of Payton Chung , used under this Creative Commons license

24
Jun
08

The Glavinich Guide to Green Building Requirements

Green Roof in Canada

Among other accomplishments, Thomas E. Glavinich is past president of the Architecture Engineering Institute, associate professor at the University of Kansas (more specifically in the schools of Engineering and of Architecture and Urban Design), and author of a new book from Wiley. In its current issue, ArchitectureWeek excerpts a chapter of this book, Contractor’s Guide to Green Building Construction. Glavinich draws the distinction between green project requirements and green building project requirements, and recommends careful attention to every detail of both, saying:

Green building product requirements are expressed explicitly when the required green product characteristics are included in the product’s respective specification section with other standard product requirements. Implicit green building requirements are usually included in the contract documents by reference.

Explicit requirements should not be hard to find in the building’s specification and drawings, and of course it’s always better to have these things spelled out in a way that guarantees a reduction of the contractor’s risk by expediting the bid process and the accuracy with which bids may be arrived at. Clarity upfront leads to a project where change orders are few or none, and disputes don’t even have a chance to happen.

A responsible contractor will diligently comb every available paragraph of text in order to glean the fullest information on which he is expected to act. As in so many other areas of life, making assumptions is not recommended, since they can lead to a large ration of grief, down the road.

Green building product requirements might be spread around in a lot of different parts of the documentation, and general requirements might be loosely stated as a requirement that the building be certifiable at a certain level of a certain third party system, such as LEED-New Construction 2.2 (from the US Green Building Council), SBTool 07 (from International Initiative for a Sustainable Built Environment), and Green Globes for New Construction (from Green Building Initiative.)

Implicit requirements always include the particular demands of state an local governments, as well as federal agencies and whatever third-party rating system is invoked.

When the green building product requirements have been identified, they need to be broken down into the categories of general, specific, and mixed. A specific product requirement can be told by its descriptive, prescriptive, or performance specifications. The specific product requirements translate into how many tons of what kinds of materials need to be procured.

Of course, all these things must be figured out before the contractor decides which parts of the project he will self-perform and which parts will be let out to subcontractors, and the sooner that is known, the better. Both the contractor and the specialty subcontractors need the most accurate information possible before suppliers are asked for RFQs (requests for quotations.) Getting things right from the earliest possible moment always gives a project the strongest possible foundation on which to build.

Glavinich’s book, Contractor’s Guide to Green Building Construction, covers the broad areas of management, project delivery, documentation and risk reduction; and judging from the sample of his meticulous work presented in this excerpt, he lays out a path through the green building jungle that can be followed easily, and with great benefit to all the concerned parties.

SOURCE: ” Getting Green Products Right ” 06/18/08
photo courtesy of pnwra , used under this Creative Commons license

19
Jun
08

Venturi, Scott Brown, and the Future of Architecture

Sendai Mediatheque

At Archinect, Steven Song examines the ideas of Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi, as set forth in their book Architecture as Signs and Systems: for a Mannerist Time. Here it is in a nutshell, Song’s summation of what these two enormously influential writers are saying.

The book revisits the architectural duality of ‘signage’ and ‘shelter’, introduces the concept of superimposed activity patterns as a design tool for deriving physical form from social conditions, advocates a reassessment of our ideas of context in architecture, and discusses the relationship between form and functional flexibility, ultimately advocating rule-bending mannerist architecture for today’s post-industrial Information Age.

That’s a tall order. But first, what is mannerist architecture, and what rules does it want to bend? The answer is, any rules that don’t address the needs of the particular instance at hand, which are likely to be many and varied. “Function”, for a building, needs to mean a lot of different things, and some of them are mutually exclusive. Increasingly, the needs for inclusive and sustainable design are part of the whole. Sometimes it’s impossible to follow all the rules of every system involved, because of the overlapping, superimposed way they are. And the mannerist approach is to figure out which are the best rules to break, for the good of the whole.

Song discusses the two major roles of architecture, as defined by Scott Brown and Venturi: architecture as shelter, and architecture as signage. Signage doesn’t only mean advertising, but has to do with communication, decoration, information, and symbolism. Put them all together, and you have a “decorated shed,” a phrase which they coined.

Contemporary society has a lot of blurred boundaries, many of them obliterated by modern communication devices that erase the distinction between public and private space. People can act like they’re in public (for instance, go shopping) when actually occupying a very private space (a bedroom with a computer in it). Our cities are replete with people walking around talking to themselves because they are schizophrenics, and with people walking around talking to themselves, but not really, because they’re attached to some kind of electronic gadget with a human, or at least a machine, at the other end. The first group would be locked up if there were anyplace to put them – because it’s considered insane to talk, for instance, to a deity that, being all-powerful, presumably doesn’t even need gadgets. The second group is considered normal.

What does this mean? What does it mean for cities, and for architects? Since we can now do so much from so far away, why do urban centers survive? Because people like one-on-one transactions with those they must trust, and enjoy seeing interesting strangers, and welcome the possibility of chance meetings with friends. Urban centers will continue to not only survive, but grow. Real estate prices will keep going up as land becomes more scare and sought-after. As a result, architecture needs to be more flexible. Adaptive reuse needs to mean something more than changing a building from one type of structure into another. It needs to mean that a space can serve several purposes within one week, being adaptable at short notice and able to change back again. “Wiggle room” is the answer, and the authors give the industrial loft and the Italian palazzo as examples of flexible space. Others that come to mind are the church parish hall and the hotel ballroom. There follows some discussion of flexibility, derived from the ideas of Kevin Lynch.

Another example they offer is the hotel whose lobby seating area serves the welcome desk during the day, and the bar at night — it’s multi-use, but nothing needs to be physically moved. The tradeoff between flexibility, and the drudgery of moving partitions around, is one of the arguments against flexible space. Also there’s a philosophical argument: If it can be anything, then it’s nothing.

Pictured above is the Sendai Mediatheque, designed by Toyo Ito, whose reductive analysis of architecture finds only three elements: plate, tube, and skin. Another school of thought sees four elements : floor, column, wall, and window. Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi are looking for more.

SOURCE: “Shifting Paradigms Part 1 | Renovating the Decorated Shed” 05/15/08
photo courtesy of yusunkwon , used under this Creative Commons license

13
Jun
08

City of the Future: Poundbury

Poundbury, U.K.

Sometimes it’s good to step back from the daily demands of work and contemplate the larger questions, like, “What’s it all about?” Philosopher and professor Roger Scruton does this in “Cities for Living,” where he examines the thoughts and creations of anti-modernist architect Léon Krier, as manifested in the model city called Poundbury.

American cities are pretty much a mess, with the rest of the world not far behind. Nowhere has the principle of unintended consequences shown up more clearly than in wrong-headed urban renewal projects. Back in 1998, Krier published Architecture: Choice or Fate, which, though badly received in some circles, seems to have started a movement, with converts on both sides of the Atlantic. Every day there are more New Urbanists, and Scruton lays out one of their tenets:

The confluence of strangers in a single place and under a single law, there to live peacefully side by side, joined by social networks, economic cooperation, and friendly competition through sports and festivals, is among the most remarkable achievements of our species, responsible for most of the great cultural, political, and religious innovations of our civilization.

Krier believes that the rest of the world could learn a lot from the oldest and largest Continental capitals. He is a polycentrist, advocating the supremacy of 5 cities of 10,000 inhabitants each, over one city with 50,000. He is very much against the airport as we have come to know it, and he’s against the hermetically sealed building, which adversely impacts the health of everyone in it. He regrets that most planners want to create glitzy, exceptional buildings, rather than “normal, regular and inevitable” ones.

When it comes to height, he thinks five stories are enough. A good building has some kind of relationship to the buildings around it, rather than sticking out like a sore thumb. It occupies, as should all buildings, a street that can be lived in by humans, where everything they need is no farther away than a ten-minute walk. A good building’s maintenance is economically feasible. Should the need arise for adaptive reuse, a building is, ideally, transformable.

Krier vigorously opposes the “curtain-wall idiom,” which he sees as the worst aspect of modernism. Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition defines a curtain wall as

…virtually any enclosure system supported by the building frame, as opposed to masonry or other bearing walls. A modern curtain wall is most typically thought of as a metal frame, usually aluminum, with large areas of glass.

In its chapter on Exterior Enclosures, AGS describes the various kinds of testing to which a proposed curtain wall must or can be subjected. These include structural capacity, air infiltration, water leakage, thermal performance, acoustic isolation, blast resistance, and forced-entry resistance. Here is Krier on the subject:

Buildings constructed in this way are both expensive to maintain and of uncertain durability; they use materials that no one fully understands, which have a coefficient of expansion so large that all joints loosen within a few years, and which involve massive environmental damage in their production and in their inevitable disposal within a few decades… Even if the curtain is shaped like a classical facade, it is a pretend facade, with only a blank expression. Usually, however, it is a sheet of glass or concrete panels, without intelligible apertures.

Kreir is, by all reports, articulate without being adversarial. A warm and positive kind of guy, he doesn’t waste time vilifying things he doesn’t like, but concentrates on making the world work for everybody. The worst he’ll say about modernism, apparently, is that it’s an error, one that is compounded by our error in thinking it’s inevitable. Although very unhappy about housing projects, business parks, and other relatively recent wrong answers, he doesn’t think it’s too late for some real, viable solutions.

The secret of his charm is that, like all the best teachers and leaders, he convinces his listeners that he is not informing them of outlandish newfangled ideas, but merely reminding them of profound truths of which they are already aware. Probably the most fervent fan of Krier’s worldview is the Prince of Wales, a.k.a. Prince Charles, who initiated the project of designing a whole new English town adjacent to, but not a suburb of, the city of Dorchester.

So: is Poundbury the city of the future?

SOURCE: ” Cities for Living ” 2008
photo courtesy of MarilynJane , used under this Creative Commons license