Event: Design for Energy: The Language of Sustainability
Location: Center for Architecture, 12.01.11
Speakers: Robert Goodwin, AIA, LEED AP — Design Director, Perkins+Will; Daniel Kaplan, AIA, LEED AP — Senior Partner, FXFOWLE; Varun Kohli, AIA, LEED AP — Principal, MERGEstudio Architecture & Environment; Fiona Cousins, PE, FCIBSE, LEED AP BD+C — Principal, Arup
Moderator: Hillary Brown, FAIA, LEED AP — Principal, New Civic Works & Professor of Architecture, CUNY
Introduction: Ilana Judah, Int’l Assoc. AIA, OAQ, LEED BD+C — Director of Sustainability, FXFOWLE & Co-chair, AIANY Committee on the Environment
Organizers: AIANY; Center for Architecture Foundation
Sponsors: Underwriters: ARUP; ConEdison; Perkins+Will; Lead Sponsors: Buro Happold; STUDIOS Architecture; 3M; EPD Energy Products Distribution; APG Design Studio; Sponsors: FLIR; MechoShade Systems Inc.; Robert Silman Associates; Trespa; Supporters: Acheson Doyle Partners Architects PC; DeLaCour Family Foundation; Ibex Construction; KPF; Syska Hennessy Group, Inc.; Friends: 1100 Architect; Bleecker Area Merchants & Residents Association (BAMRA); Brenda Levin; Capsys Corp.; Community Environmental Center Inc.; Helpern Architects; Hugo S. Subotovsky AIA Architects LLC; Levien & Company; New York Building Congress Inc.; Oppenheimer Brady Vogelstein; P.W. Grosser Consulting Inc.; Swanke Hayden Connell Architects; Viridian Energy & Environmental LLC
Center for Architecture
A decade ago sustainable design in the U.S. was the province of specialists and enthusiasts; five years ago it was such a buzz phrase that its advocates worried that it might become one more in a series of passing bandwagons. Now it’s maturing into something close to a professional and societal norm. As Varun Kohli, AIA, LEED AP, noted, sustainability in any meaningful sense simply equates with “good design practice,” an integral element of architectural and environmental responsibility, rather than any particular style or type.
Kohli’s exploration of connections between MERGEstudio’s new project in Bangalore’s Special Economic Zone and the 16th-century Mughal complex Fatehpur Sikri in India, along with his fellow panelists’ presentations of high-performance, culturally contextual buildings located largely in the Middle East, illustrated that sustainability is not a mere style. It is something that manages energy and resources and the creative possibilities that arise. Sustainability is also, as Hillary Brown, FAIA, LEED AP, suggested, moving beyond voluntary initiatives and entering the regulatory realm. The enthusiasms of the early green-design years, respondent Fiona Cousins, PE, FCIBSE, LEED AP, observed, led too often to “green bling” technologies whose actual energy conservation falls below expectations. From the engineering perspective, she suggested, sustainability satisfies three criteria: functionality, longevity (including adaptation to climate change and an aesthetic appeal), and resource efficiency.
Robert Goodwin, AIA, LEED AP, discussed a series of Middle Eastern projects that counteract many commercial centers’ regrettable tendency (most notable in an image of Dubai’s parade of disconnected design idiosyncrasies) to erase any specific sense of place. In the Al-Birr Foundation headquarters (Riyadh), the Al-Issa Tower (Dubai), and particularly the multi-use Kempinski Hotel and Residence (Jeddah), with its strategically positioned “architectural sail” details managing shade and lighting, Perkins+Will draws from indigenous ideas to address contemporary resource requirements. Sometimes they are able to convince clients who weren’t initially thinking in green terms that cultural authenticity and sustainability is an excellent match. FXFOWLE’s Daniel Kaplan, AIA, LEED AP, added that the Islamic traditions of elaborate non-representative geometry and mashrabiya screens create useful precedents for contemporary designs like the sculpted veils and cloaks of FXFOWLE’s Renaissance Tower in Istanbul, serving multiple functions of climatic adaptation and aesthetic gesture.
Some of buildings’ most useful activities, Kaplan suggested, thus invoke the last of the three principles he cited from Susannah Hagan’s 2001 book Taking Shape (symbiosis, differentiation, and visibility): the realms of iconography and communication. As societies come to terms with conditions calling for what Brown identifies as “a new metanarrative, or set of metaphors, about sustainability [or] ecological thinking,” each building has a rhetorical function alongside its functions of shelter, commerce, climate control, and energy processing. A building’s performance includes the capacity to strengthen the urban condition and affect its occupants and observers. This makes its designers “accomplices” — a term Brown used in its most positive sense — in far-reaching, much-needed transformations.
Bill Millard is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in OCULUS, Icon, Content, The Architect’s Newspaper, and other publications.