In 2010, RNL published ‘Design For One Earth’, a call to action internally and to the broader A&D community to consider the simple, yet crucial question: What would it take to live within the natural resource capacity of one earth? Since that time, the nature and meaning of sustainable design have evolved. Three key trends, however, have emerged as game-changers for planning and design...
“Are buildings in danger of becoming just another consumer good in our disposable society?"
Given how difficult it (still) is to convince clients to look at long term cost benefits instead of initial costs, it certainly seems like most of today’s buildings are the fast food of the built environment. A recent RIBA article describes a series of approaches to building design and construction that helps them see the 3R’s of waste management and raises them another 3 as a shift to the circular economy:
design principles mentioned:
Build in layers.
Design without waste.
Design more adaptable buildings.
Design for disassembly.
Carefully select building materials & products.
"Creating buildings that people love & value is a proven way to ensure longevity."
Another principle is to move away from the linear economy model of purchasing products. Instead, consumers can become users, with ownership replaced by stewardship. Customers purchase performance instead of products, which encourages manufacturers to take a vested interest in designing products that can be maintained, upgraded or recycled. This approach also helps secure a future supply of components and materials.
Applying circular economy principles to buildings uses fewer resources, enables adaptation for different uses and can even provide healthier environments for people to live and work in. But they also create an opportunity to design buildings that are not simply consumable goods, leaving a positive legacy for future generations. - RIBA Journal
*Speaking of waste. Here is a sobering thought:
The amount of plastic wastes on the planet today is enough to cover the planet with plastic.
Over the past week, two earthquakes measuring greater than 7.0 in magnitude struck Japan and Ecuador.
This April marks the fifth year of the California drought. In March, the Paris Prefecture conducted the Sequena 2016 to help authorities and citizens prepare for a hypothetical 100-year flood similar to the one that drowned the city in 1910.
Globally, we have seen an increase in unpredictable weather patterns, growing populations in urban, coastal areas and social inequity in access to basic infrastructure and services. It is imperative, as designers, we understand how our work can strengthen the resilience of our buildings and communities. In the post-Hurricane Sandy world, resilience has finally come under a long overdue spotlight. The design community and policy makers alike have focused on the role of sustainable buildings, specifically passive design strategies and islandable power sources. Consider a building in which the most regularly used spaces are predominantly day-lit and naturally ventilated, and the rooftop PVs, fleet of electric vehicles (and on-site battery storage for extra credit) are all part of an on-site micro-grid. This building has the potential to remain operational – or at least habitable - in the event the power grid goes down. Ironically, the more technology-driven society becomes, the more designers need to consider how our buildings can function when that technology cannot be plugged in or turned on.
Even more importantly than the individual building scale, we should focus on how to nurture and develop resilient communities. Not all disasters are weather-induced. Some issues are public health related. Flint, Michigan has experienced one of the greatest modern examples of failed and deteriorating infrastructure. Because the cost of fixing the piping infrastructure is so large, community members have had to rely greatly on their neighbors, their local businesses and their public partners in order to get back up to an operating level.
As designers, we have the unique ability to affect the resiliency of the physical building. But the larger impact of our critical thinking provides us with opportunities to support the development of resilient communities. This can come in many forms – for example the current focus on health and wellbeing often fosters community relationships through promotion of community exercise classes, car-pooling, or even the realization that you share a bike route with your co-worker. Space planning to include a large room in a building for exercise classes means there is also a gathering space in the event of a disaster, natural or man-made.
We cannot foresee 7.0 magnitude earthquakes or hurricanes that shut down an entire metropolitan area. But we can anticipate and proactively design more resilient buildings, and the infrastructure needed for resilient communities. The ability to be resilient leans heavily on the local environment. As design professionals, we are one of the best resources when it comes to understanding the local environment and the potential catastrophic effects these events can cause on our communities.
Our next biggest design challenge, however, is to shift our thinking from reactionary resilience to proactive resilience. This is a conversation we are having on many of our projects right now, particularly with our transportation and utility company clients. Every project, every location faces different threats and requires different definitions of what ‘resilience’ means, but the common thread is the need to stay one step ahead of an unknown future.
Korey White, Architect
Rachel Bannon-Godfrey, Director of Sustainability
Considering the bigger picture of global, regional & local ecosystems as design professionals.
Earlier this month, President Obama signed off on a 1,300 page piece of legislation that will provide $305 billion for the country’s roads, bridges and mass transit over the next 5 years. The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act will be a large step to improve the longer-term planning and stability of transportation projects.
The execution of these state and federal public transportation projects will rely heavily the effort to produce sustainable infrastructures. But the idea of sustainability comes with different connotations and preconceptions that may make us feel warm and fuzzy or be worrisome due to the unavoidable economic effects.
A recent article written by RNL’s Ken Anderson and Merlin Maley explores the idea of sustainability and it’s necessity in the planning and design of public transportation:
While sustainability can mean many different things to different people, the common theme is considering the future—the unknown—while at the same time caring for the present. The beauty of sustainability is that it can be understood and utilized as a unifying idea by communities, agencies or individuals in a multitude of ways, any number of which can fit their larger ideas about life and society in general. Sustainability should be an idea that crosses party, gender, racial and socioeconomic lines.So why are public transit systems such an important part of a sustainable future for communities worldwide? - Passenger Transport
Norman Foster stepped into the fray of politics in the UK to combat what he called a short-sighted approach to airport expansion near London. His message was specific, but also geared toward a much grander scale of thought - the design and investment in infrastructure is critical to our future chances of living better. "Infrastructure," Foster says, "is not to solve the problems of today, but to anticipate the issues of future generations."
Foster's recent work, dealing with anything from droneports in Africa to development on Mars, may sound far-fetched, but as described by Rowan Moore in his article for The Guardian UK, they begin to anticipate a new thinking on infrastructure's role in the livelihood and sustainability of our cities. Even though Foster see's his only power as an architect being as an advocate for change, these explorations into solving the future's problems are perhaps among the best uses of the design community's creative energies.
Chicago may favor deep-dish for its pizza, but a company is going thin crust for its green roofs and living walls. The Omni Ecosystems Green Roof technology grows more plant options in half the weight of conventional green roof systems. With installations in Chicago the system is clearly being tested under some of the harsher conditions in the U.S (hot summers, cold winters, high winds). The benefit of the lighter weight and more concentrated plant diversity is wider applicability on existing buildings where significant structural upgrades to the roof may not be possible. The same technology is applied to their living walls, with equally appealing financial benefits:
“Whereas most living wall products require constant plant replacement - as much as 100 percent every six months - our system has required less than six percent in the 18 months since installation”
Whether these claims bear the test of time, their next partnership is exciting in that it sets up a PPA-like relationship between roof owners and a group called Roof Crop:
“Building owners meet their green roof obligations for sustainable development in the City of Chicago, receive rent from The Roof Crop as the “roof tenant,” and have a reliably maintained green roof. The net effect is a green roof that pays for itself and is truly maintenance-free for the building owner”
Their first leased rooftop farm was recently installed in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood.
And their Omni Tapestry living wall wins Biophilia of the Week Award…
We all have our own personal sore points with the LEED rating system, but for some reason the bike rack credit seems to be one of the more highly divisive. Why all the hate for bike racks? This post does a great job of reminding us that LEED is about more than just building energy use.
“The energy content of the gasoline used by the typical office commuter each year is comparable to the energy used by his or her share of the building where he or she works.”
Last week was monopoly, this week it's 'why we should use Legos to explain everything'. Watch this adorable video on why driverless taxis could be awesome for the environment: