If sustainability was the central philosophical theme unifying the 2011 AIA Convention, then a secondary premise was the methods architects use to actually achieve their green design goals. On projects of all scales, from individual buildings to entire neighborhoods, practitioners emphasized the importance of strong community involvement in the planning and design process.
Green design is usually viewed as a means to reduce resource consumption, thereby saving the client money in the long run. However, if true sustainability is considered, as Frank J. Greene, FAIA, of NYC-based RicciGreene Associates asserted, then the discussion must begin at the community level. The only way for architects to promote social equality — and thus social sustainability — in their buildings is through a prolonged interaction with the local citizenry.
Greene, and his colleagues Beverly Prior, FAIA, NCARB, LEED AP, Susan K. Oldroyd, FAIA, and Kenneth Ricci, FAIA, advocated for reform of the criminal justice system at the “Sustainable Justice: An Evolving System” session. They contended that the current paradigm is punitive, with success measured as reaction to incidents. Instead, they argued, architects should embrace a more proactive model in which community strength serves as the standard of achievement.
At “UC-Merced’s Long Range Development Plan: A Regional Model for Going Green from the Ground UP,” Thomas E. Lollini, FAIA, LEED AP, talked about how he had to engage an entirely different population during the course of planning a ground-up campus at University of California, Merced: students. They indicated that they wanted denser, more energy-efficient neighborhoods, in contrast to their typical suburban experiences. Thus, planners weaved mid-rise, mixed-use “main streets” through the campus.
In some cases, communities themselves drive the sustainable goals of a project, as discussed in “School and Place: Sustainability and Regional Diversity.” Gerald (Butch) Reifert, FAIA, LEED AP, experienced this phenomenon while designing a school in Kirkland, WA. The local population wanted to push the green envelope, so Reifert broke down the building mass into learning clusters, each of which had access to a separate rain garden representing a typical Washington ecosystem.
Most crucially, according to Ted Shelton, AIA, and Alexis Karolides, AIA, LEED AP, during the “Beyond the Building: Successes, Failures, and Possibilities of Low-Carbon Communities” session, communities must maintain their involvement in the sustainable design process even after construction is complete. The science of building is driven by information, and communities must keep accurate records reflecting both social and environmental results. By appropriating this data, architects can continue to serve the triple bottom line of environment, economy, and equity.
Matt Shoor, LEED AP, is a freelance designer, educator, and writer living in Manhattan. He is currently teaching sustainable design to Bronx high school students and recently completed his license exams.