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June 22, 2010
by Linda G. Miller Kristen Richards Hon. ASLA and Jessica Sheri


Jason McLennan, LEED AP, CEO of the Living Building Challenge (LBC), outlined the progress of the LBC — a stringent certification program and advocacy tool originally focused on buildings, but which now includes landscapes, infrastructure, and neighborhoods. There are currently more than 70 projects in the pipeline in the U.S. and Canada, and a growing interest in the program from overseas. “It’s an audacious idea that is spreading,” he said. “But we still have a long way to go… buildings need to act like living things.” He is also bothered by “too many ugly green buildings.” Beauty has been left out of the green discourse for too long, he argued. The LBC’s financial study matrix (online at ilbi.org) proves “you can do a water-independent building in Phoenix,” and an energy-independent building, using solar panels, “in the sunny climate of Portland.”


The New York Times Building: A Tool for Evidence Based Design — The Role of Research and Energy-Related System Databases in Informing the Design Process
The New York Times Building continues to be a “Petri dish for design research,” stated Bruce Fowle, FAIA, LEED AP, principal of FXFOWLE Architects. By using research and practice, the team of Renzo Piano Building Workshop, FXFOWLE, and Gensler was able to make critical design decisions with sustainable results — a process called “evidence based design.” Whether it was the exposed steel structure or the exterior ceramic tubes used on the façade, each element underwent a series of experiments, from “solstice to solstice” daylight modeling to full-scale building mock-ups, to determine its performance characteristics. And in the end, the research seems to be paying off.

Data collection and experimentation not only happened during schematic design and design development. Processes have been set up to collect post-occupancy information. For example, whenever an individual overrides the automatic shading system, which happens a mere 5% of the time, he or she must give a reason. Most of the time, said Glenn Hughes of MechoShade, individuals are overriding to let more light in, rather than pulling the shades down to reduce glare. This, according to Hughes, is a testament to the lighting design, solar orientation, and strategic fritting in the glass — all which were thoroughly researched prior to construction.

With two years worth of data, evidence is showing dramatic pay-offs due to sustainability implementations.



Sustainable Justice: Designing a Green System

“The goal of our practice,” said Frank Greene, FAIA, principal of RicciGreene, “is to make the job of justice planners and architects obsolete.” Greene and fellow panelists, Kenneth Ricci, FAIA, Susan Oldroyd, FAIA, LEED AP, and Beverly Prior, FAIA, LEED AP, along with the several thousand members of the Academy of Architecture for Justice (AAJ), one of the AIA’s Knowledge Communities, claim there is a link between sustainable design, social justice, and economic development.

“Clients ask architects to solve the wrong problem,” according to Ricci. “Instead of asking ‘how big?’ they should be asking ‘how small?'” In simplistic terms, if society can reduce crime and reduce the rate of incarceration, architects can build smaller facilities, government can put funds into other public services, and the nation will reduce its carbon footprint. Police stations, court houses, and detention and correctional facilities that are as green as non-justice offices and residences, will benefit people who work, occupy, and visit these buildings, he said. Justice facilities should be close to courthouses, bail bondsmen, attorneys, and families. Therefore, it makes sense not to isolate inmates, but to locate them in urban areas and integrate them into the fabric of the community. Municipalities might be more accepting of justice facilities as neighbors if they didn’t look like fortresses covered with razor wire. Ricci and Greene argued that these facilities can make good neighbors, and even provide publicly accessible space for meetings and events.

Greene proposed the creation of green jobs within detention centers. Why not train prisoners to become organic farmers or solar panel experts, so they can help advance sustainability when they are released?



Sustainable Suburbs: Preserving Planned Communities in Queens — Douglas Manor and Sunnyside Gardens

Queens, NY, has eight historic districts, including Sunnyside Gardens and Douglaston. Both make the argument that the words “sustainable” and “preservation” are synonymous.

Laura Heim, AIA, LEED AP, principal of Laura Heim Architect and president of AIA Queens, lives in Sunnyside Gardens, a planned, affordable, middle class, and pre-green community. Built in 1924-1928 the community includes rows of one- to three-family private houses with mixed co-op and rental apartment buildings that wrap common gardens. Stores and parking garages are sited around the perimeters of the neighborhood, encouraging residents to walk home and socialize with neighbors along the way. When easements lapsed after 40 years, residents began to construct additional floors, paved yards, and enclosed porches. Today, each court has its own association that governs the community, and residents are encouraged to make more sustainable renovations. As a result, they are reusing materials, building solar tubes for natural light, installing radiant heating, dual flush toilets, and conduits placed for future solar panels on rooftops. For all that’s changed, according to Heim, the community retains what it had when architecture critic Lewis Mumford chose to live there.

Kevin Wolfe, AIA, principal of Kevin Wolf Architect, both lives in and designs projects for Douglas Manor, another planned garden community built around the same time as Sunnyside Gardens, though it serves more affluent owners. This secluded community was created with strict deed rules, but there was no restriction on architectural style. The streets are lined with homes in Tudor Revival, Craftsman, Colonial Revival, and Mediterranean. Prior to landmark designation, teardowns and McMansion-like restorations were changing the face of the neighborhood. Now, homeowners collectively maintain the community’s Little Neck Bay waterfront and wildlife preserve, and are scaling back their renovations with sustainability in mind. They are using recycled materials and natural daylight.

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