“Climate change is an existential issue,” said former President Barack Obama at the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) 2019 Greenbuild International Conference and Expo on November 20. Thousands of attendees gathered at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta to hear the keynote in which Obama spoke with USGBC president and CEO, Mahesh Ramanujam, about sustainability and affordability. To kick off the conversation, Ramanujam asked the former president what he believes to be the “most compelling issue in the world today.” The answer? Climate change and global economic inequality. “This is one of those [issues] where you can be too late. So, I know of no other issue that is more urgent,” he explained while pointing to the huge gaps in wealth and opportunity around the world. Citing the lack of affordable housing in California as one example, Obama said that in metropolitan areas, “building codes are so onerous that it makes construction of affordable housing almost impossible.” He anticipated some pushback but believes that the creation of sustainable building codes might also usher in an erroneous public perception of higher costs of living. “If we want to think about sustainability, we have to do it in a way that also is thinking about affordability,” he stated, according to Architectural Record. The former president followed that thought by stressing the importance of empathy and active listening to the concerns of constituents, neighborhoods, or clients. “When you listen, it turns out that you get a sense of what people’s priorities are,” he said, “Then, figure out how to shape a sustainable agenda around those concerns.” In regards to the progress of Chicago’s new Obama Presidential Center, he spoke about his experience working with architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien by emphasizing how important it is to have a diverse team. “The goal is to have people around the table who can bring to bear a set of different perspectives and correct for each other’s blind spots—including yours.” He also praised the younger generations and what he has learned from them, including his own daughters, on the urgency of climate change and the challenges ahead. “It’s visceral, visual,” he said according to Buildings. “Those young people change the minds of their parents in powerful ways. That kind of grassroots movement, particularly among young people, is something that is always going to be key.” At the end of the keynote, he concluded with the disconnect often present between values and actions: “I think it’s very important in our personal lives, but also collectively, to get those back into alignment, so each of us can do our part.”
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Work is currently underway on a new mixed-use development at Ohio's Oberlin College that, once complete later this year, will include one of only a handful of hotels pursuing LEED Platinum certification in the United States. The hotel operator is Olympia Companies, based in Portland, Maine. In addition to 70 guest rooms, the building features a restaurant focused on local food, 10,000 square feet of retail, a conference center, and a basement jazz club. Rounding out the facility's 105,000 square feet will be offices for the college's admissions and development staff. The Peter B. Lewis Gateway Center, developed by Cleveland's Smart Hotels, was planned to be “the cornerstone of Oberlin's Green Arts District,” at the intersection of North Main Street and East College Street. Chicago architects Solomon Cordwell Buenz designed the project, which will draw on Oberlin's existing 13-acre solar photovoltaic farm adjacent to campus. Smart Hotels' Christopher Noble said the design team worked with the New York office of Germany's Transsolar on the development of that solar farm, and the new building will not throw Oberlin off its target of purchasing 100 percent renewable energy for electricity by the end of 2015. Mechanical engineers KJWW helped finesse the building's fully radiant heating and cooling, which employs no forced-air ventilation—although some back-of-house areas will still use some water-source heat pumps, Noble said. “We're relying on nonconventional HVAC systems,” said Noble, who added that heating and cooling needs will be fulfilled fully from geothermal wells on site. The building is expected to be certified LEED Platinum after opening early next year. While the design team hasn't assessed the payback period for the building's sustainable features, Noble said Oberlin made energy efficiency a project priority. “It wasn't a cost issue,” he said. “It was a design issue—we were going to make a statement and do this.” Of the $35 million total project cost, $12 million came from outside donors, including $5 million from the building's namesake, the late philanthropist and chairman of Progressive Insurance Company, Peter B. Lewis.
Chicago's natural history museum, the Field Museum, announced Monday it has earned a Gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council under the LEED for Existing Buildings Operations and Maintenance (EB O+M) program, becoming just the second museum in the nation to do so. (The Madison Children's Museum is the other.) Two of the museum's halls already achieved LEED certification separately, including its Conservation Hall, which is LEED Gold. But Monday's announcement marks a building-wide rating seldom seen for such building types—the hulking museum, made of limestone and Georgian marble, comprises nearly half a million square feet. Its 3D Theater is also certified under LEED for Interior Design & Construction. Greening a museum that dates back to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition was no simple task. (The current building opened in 1921, originally planned by Daniel Burnham and designed by his associate William Peirce Anderson.) In many places its neoclassical stone walls don't have an air gap with the interior brick and plaster, making it difficult to regulate the building's temperature. And, as was made clear when the museum applied for LEED certification, it doesn't function on a typical building's schedule. “A normal building might shut down at 5 [o'clock], but not for us,” said Ernst Pierre-Toussaint, the museum's director of facilities, planning and operations. More than 99 percent of the museum's collection is in storage, which has to be climate controlled and monitored constantly. Pierre-Toussaint said improving energy efficiency has been a goal for at least 15 years. Working with the Delta Institute—an environmental consultant that worked with the Field Museum on the project—Field Museum staff replaced about 30 percent of the building's 6,700 incandescent bulbs with LEDs, and installed 100 kilowatts of rooftop photovoltaic panels. Pierre-Toussaint said they hope to install up to 220 kW more—enough to offset 10 to 15 percent of the building's peak electricity demand —by 2025. The museum accounts for all of its natural gas consumption by purchasing renewable energy credits and carbon offsets. Much of the certification work came down to mechanical system logistics. The museum has 11 separate electric meters, and 13 for water use. Since some collections and accessible areas need to be heated—even during summer—while others are cooled, the museum installed demand-control ventilation to regulate air in sensitive exhibits individually. “We made huge strides over the past two years and are proud to share the results with our visitors,” said Richard Lariviere, the museum's president, in a press release. “One of the big challenges is planning long-term,” said the Delta Institute's Kevin Dick. “You can certainly make quick fixes. But you know an institution like this isn't going anywhere. So in 40 years what will this look like?”
Last fall, new data revealed that Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park, revered since its 2010 opening as one of the most sustainable skyscrapers in the world, is actually a bigger energy hog than similar New York City buildings. As the first skyscraper to earn a LEED-Platinum certification, the BOA Tower, designed by COOKFOX, was praised by press, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and former Vice President Al Gore, who is currently a tenant. Yet, despite its superb rating and efficiency promises, Sam Roudman of The New Republic reports that the high-rise “produces more greenhouse gases and uses more energy per square foot than any comparably sized office building in Manhattan,” including its similarity with a lower LEED rating, the Goldman Sachs headquarters. Roudman comments that this vast chasm of difference between One Bryant Park’s reality and its expectation can be accredited to the daily operations of the building, namely Bank of America’s several trading floors of constantly running computers. The energy needed to maintain and cool these machines has caused power consumption to spike, but was purposely overlooked during the certification process. Rated under the pretense of the United States Green Building Council’s Core and Shell Program, the Tower gained points for the developer’s energy efficient initiatives and design to the exterior and core—plumbing, mechanical, electrical, etc.—of the building with the claim that the developer had no control over the tenants’ fit-out. The surprising energy use at the Bank of America Tower brings into question requirements for LEED certifications themselves. With a checklist of green initiatives, some as simple as locating its entrance within a half-mile of an existing subway station, or protecting and restoring habitat in Bryant Park, the Program’s environmentally conscious marks leave grey area in their ratings. Surely, Bank of America had an idea that they would be powering hundreds of computers round the clock, yet as a commercial building with other tenants, were allowed to be certified at the highest level of green design.
If you still think green building is a primarily coastal pursuit, you would be wrong. According to the USGBC, Illinois ranks third in square footage of certified green building per capita in 2011 (2.69 square feet a person) behind the District of Columbia (31.50!) and the state of Colorado (2.74). The leading states are scattered far and wide, with Texas (#8 with 1.99) outranking crunchy California (1.92). New York is even further behind (1.89), just edging out Minnesota's 1.81 square feet per person.
Wren's Dome. Some 300 years ago, Christopher Wren completed St. Paul's Cathedral in London. Now with today's modern icons transforming the city's skyline, the Telegraph pays homage to his lasting landmark amongst the new "Shards, Gherkins and distorted walkie-talkie-shaped skyscrapers." Green Mile High. The Editor-at-Large brings news that the USGBC has named Denver the "greenest" city in the United States with about 230 LEED registered or certified buildings. Two have earned LEED Platinum since 2010. Pike Park. StreetsBlog reports that construction has begun on permanent Pike Street pedestrian improvements to be completed this fall in Manhattan. The project replaces temporary materials DOT installed in 2009 to calm traffic along Pike and Allen streets. Shut Out. Reuter's has the list of the world's most (and least) livable cities ranked by the Economist Intelligence Unit. Vancouver topped the list (Harare, Zimbabwe came in last). No city in the United States managed to break into the top ten.
The building's been up and running for two years, but One Bryant Park wasn't finished finished until last Thursday night, when the opening party was held in the cavernous lobby and the U.S. Green Building Council awarded the Dursts with the building's LEED Platinum plaque. Jody Durst kicked things off, thanking everyone for coming, all the people who made the building possible, and the like before introducing Rick Cook, the lead designer for Cook + Fox on the penguin-shaped tower. Before a crowd of a few hundred bankers, real estate types, and other assorted Midtown workadays, Cook probably gave the largest architectural lecture of his career. Cook talked about how important it was to make the building natural and humane, how important it is that the the first thing anyone experiences when they enter the building is nature, granted in the form of wood-inlaid handles on the revolving door. There's the overhanging ceiling that draws the eye out into the park, the fossils scattered throughout the Jerusalem stone tiles on the wall. The crowd's heads swung back-and-forth from one sustainable feature to the next, mouths at once smiling and agape. (To go even deeper inside the building, check out this cool tour our pals at the Observer recently took.) Cook even quoted from Genesis before celebrating the freedom he and his team had had while working on the project: "When we were brought on, they didn't ask for big and green. Instead, the challenge was how do you design at scale in an American city today." He got about the most applause we've ever heard for an architect anywhere. Next up was Al Gore, who mentioned what a big fan he was of the mayor, also in attendance and about to speak. Gore happens to be a tenant in the building, as the offices of his private equity firm are located there, and he mentioned that they had just received their LEED Platinum for interiors certification that day, and entreating everyone to do the same while reciting the old saw about buildings eating up 30-plus percent of the world's energy. Then, the head of anchor tenant Bank of America's sustainability efforts got up for some back patting and to announce a $125,000 grant to fund 100 gardens at public schools in the city, part of a new initiative. Then came the plaque, and with the speechifying done, a champagne toast and back to our "locally sourced" mojitos.
Yesterday, the Times ran a decent though not totally honest and rather obvious piece on how a number of LEED buildings don't actually save much in the way of energy. The Federal Building in Youngstown, Ohio is taken to task for "rack[ing] up points for things like native landscaping rather than structural energy-saving features." Well, our dear friend and fellow blogger Chad Smith takes the Gray Lady to task for its disingenuity. Yes, LEED is flexible, maybe sometimes too much so, but that's precisely what makes it so good, Chad argues, or at least so successful. To wit:
4. One of the reasons LEED and green building is so hot right now is because LEED has been very popular. So like Wal-Mart bringing organic food to each of their stores everywhere, LEED has brought the idea of sustainability to the world of building in the United States. It's a huge success, but one that is not fully realized. [...] 6. The Times article implies that buildings can install a bunch of bamboo flooring and get a LEED rating. In fact, Renewable Materials is one of the hardest points to get in the LEED system. Basically it's bamboo anything, cork flooring, and like wool carpets...and that's it. As a percentage of construction, you'd need to cover every surface in bamboo to make it work. So no one is installing that much flooring in lieu of other sustainable strategies. [...] 9. Some LEED buildings are undoubtedly kicking ass on the energy consumption measure. Let's hear about those too?Be sure to check out Chad's original post for the other six reasons on why LEED's so good. And just to prove we're not on the take from the USGBC, here's one of the first article's I ever wrote for the paper on the need for testing these systems once they're installed. Not only does this verify their efficacy, but it also helps maintain their efficiency. It was true (and underutilized) three years ago, and it's even more true today. Let's just hope Chad's right about five years from now. The more things change...
The House’s passage of new Energy and Climate legislation (HR 2454: the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009) on Friday means more than just the possible institution of a new cap and trade system for the U.S. According to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the act includes several elements that should spur green building as well. These include: •The Retrofit for Energy and Environmental Performance (REEP) program, which supports the creation of retrofitting initiatives throughout the country for residential and nonresidential buildings that may offer a variety of incentives, including credit enhancements, interest rate subsidies, and initial capital for public revolving loan funds. •The GREEN (Green Resources for Energy Efficient Neighborhoods) Act (H.R. 2336), which provides incentives to lenders and financial institutions to provide lower interest loans and other benefits to consumers who build, buy or remodel their homes in ways that improve energy efficiency. The bill also increases energy efficiency standards for Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) owned and assisted housing. •The Building Energy Performance Labeling Program, which directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to create model building energy performance labels for new construction, establishing a meaningful and consistent basis for evaluating the energy performance of residential and commercial buildings. •EPA’s WaterSense program, which receives permanent authorization to designate products as water efficient, as well as funding for state incentive programs for use of water-efficient products. •Extension of power purchasing authority for federal agencies, which allows the federal government to enter contracts for the purchase of renewable power for a period of up to 20 years. The USGBC's complete summary of the bill can be found here. The bill must now pass the Senate and be signed by the President before becoming law. Not an easy task, but we'll be tracking!