Net Zero and the Future of Facade Design

Architecture Sustainability Technology West
Next week, leaders in the fields of facades design and fabrication will gather in LA to discuss pressing issues, including sustainability. (Neil Kremer/Flickr)

Next week, leaders in the fields of facades design and fabrication will gather in LA to discuss pressing issues, including sustainability. (Neil Kremer/Flickr)

Though sustainability remains a primary goal for many AEC industry professionals, its definition is increasingly up for debate. Tried-and-true energy efficiency standards such as LEED and Energy Star are facing competition from other rubrics, including net zero. “LEED was the sustainability measure,” said CO Architects‘ Alex Korter. “It’s good, but people looked at it more as a certification. With net zero, you’re setting hard performance goals.” With his colleague Kevin Kavanagh, Korter will lead a panel on “Net Zero and the Future Facade” at Facades+ LA next week. Korter, Kavanagh, and the panelists—who include ARUP‘s Russell Fortmeyer, Atelier 10‘s Emilie Hagen, and Stephane Hoffman from Morrison Hershfield—will dig in to the what and why of net zero, and ask how facade designers and builders can push the envelope on environmental performance.

Seattle's Bullitt Center was designed to be the world's greenest office building. (Taomeister/Flickr)

Seattle’s Bullitt Center was designed to be the world’s greenest office building. (Taomeister/Flickr)

Both Korter and Kavanagh see room for improvement in terms of how facade designers and fabricators address sustainability. “Something that we’ve talked about—and something that will get us in a bit of trouble—is that we don’t think the envelope world has done well in terms of upping performance,” said Korter. Part of the problem is the focus on checking boxes for energy certifications, rather than setting concrete goals. Even in the world of net zero, said Kavanagh, “the facade is often looked at as an insulating layer, and is relegated to a high-performance insulating component. Our argument is that if you want to maximize net zero, architects and developers really need to rethink their approach to building. Why are facades trying to get as thin as possible? It makes sense for an Apple Store, but for other buildings, why not a two-foot-thick facade with [integrated mechanicals]?”

The logical extension of the critique posed by Korter and Kavanagh is, as Kavanagh put it, “Is it possible for a facade to make a building net zero?” But to get there, the two say, designers and fabricators will need a push as well as a pull. “The way this is really going to happen is that the code tells you to, or the building owner—the person who pays the bill—starts to make it their number one priority,” said Korter. “Those are the two ways. We’ve been dancing in this nebulous time: We could do it, but do we really have to?”

Hear more from facades experts on net zero and other pressing issues next week at Facades+ LA. To learn more and register, visit the conference website.

Though not net zero, the Detroit School of the Arts placed an emphasis on the capacity of green design to enhance student performance. (Knight Foundation/Flickr)

Though not net zero, the Detroit School of the Arts placed an emphasis on the capacity of green design to enhance student performance. (Knight Foundation/Flickr)

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