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Sustainable Building Precursor: Opportunities + Widgets

Breathing_earth
Every now and then I get a question on green building, or I’ll ask someone a question on green building, and almost every time, the reaction I receive is bitter beer face.  What’s the problem?  It’s like by saying the word "green building," I’m a hippie, a crazed environmentalist, or worse: "a tree-hugger."  I don’t know about hippie, but words like "environmentalist," "tree-hugger," and "sustainability," are losing that subtle, pejorative connotation in a quick way.  In fact, the real smart cities (i.e., San Francisco, Austin, Portland, Honolulu, and San Diego) are often the greenest.  Catch my drift?  Green = Smart; Green = Opportunity.  Intelligent people are rethinking antiquated notions about the environment and are moving in a green direction. 

That said, I want to clarify and delineate the two main categories of green building that you might be interested in:  (1)  Building and (2) Maintenance.  Lets explore the myriad of sustainable opportunities to be found in each category. 

  • Building – this includes new construction, renovation, and rehabilitation.  Opportunities to save money + energy, pollute less, create less waste, and discover new uses for old materials abound.  There are hundreds of entrepreneurial opportunities along the building spectrum from design to build, from deconstruction to renovation.  We’re talking xeriscaping, getting solar panels, incorporating passive solar design, insulating correctly, using the right windows, and finding the right mixture of water, electricity, and gas-guzzling appliances. 
  • Maintenance – this includes everything related to using and abusing a structure on a going forward basis.  You will find money + energy saving opportunities in energy efficient appliances, light bulb choices, decorative decisions, and lifestyle choices.  Here, we’re talking about choosing the right TV, light bulbs, lamps, blinds + shades, decorative paints, and furniture.  We’re also talking about cutting out waste in your lifestyle, like running the water while you brush your teeth for 8 minutes every day. 

Think big, think innovative, and think independent.  Going green requires taking proactive choices about how you interact with the world we live in.  I like to think of all these green opportunities as web widgets that you can pull out of the sky and place them in your home.  I’ll take the Energy Star appliance widget, the plug-in hybrid vehicle widget, the CFL light bulb widget, the zero-VOC paint widget, the dual-flush toilet widget, etc.!  For motivation

ParkUrbia: PB+CO's Green Home Concept

Parkurbia Lake

I noticed this futuristic, yet realistic, home concept in the latest issue of Popular Science.  It’s was designed by PB+CO (aka Philippe Barriere Collective) and "reflects the desire to create socially responsible communities with an environmental ethos.  The idea is to converge the scattered remnants and residual land ‘vacancies’ mapped by the uneven contours of a disassembled suburbia, to reclaim them as Readymade Parks and, finally, to recycle the undefined ‘greenways,’ which will constitute inhabitable wooded Public Parks:  Parkurbia." 

Parkurbia Home The prototype is based on the desire for housing with a minimal environmental footprint.  It incorporates recycled materials and translucent photovoltaic films that provide electricity and filtered natural light.  I think it’s a nice idea actually:  there are active windows for ventilation, two floors with a balcony, and intrinsic flood-protected design.  It’s modern, too.  What more could you ask for? 

Green Office: The Sustainable Liege Desk

Chestnut_desk In the last "Green Office" segment here on Jetson Green, I talked about the merits of investing in a Think chair from Steelcase for your office.  Need a desk?  Some of you may shut down purely at the price tag ($2,200), but there’s a price premium for style + sustainability.  You can find the Liege Desk, designed by Jeffrey Bernett + Nicholas Dodziuk, exclusively at Design Within Reach.  The desk uses sustainable chestnut or oak veneers and the stainless steel is finish-free.  The wood varnish is non-toxic and low in volatile organic compounds.  Measuring H 30" x W 60" x D 30", the Liege Desk accommodates storage that can be placed on the right or left, depending on your orientation.  It’s a pretty good looking desk solution and would definitely go well with the Think chair.  Via Collin Dunn at Treehugger

Storage_image Cross_bars_1 Stainless_steel

Jennifer Siegal, Office of Mobile Design, the Modern + Green Take Home

Take_homeQuoting Jennifer Siegal, founder of Venica, California-based Office of Mobile Design (OMD):  "I’m interested in how technology is influencing the way we form communities…because our lifestyles are demanding more lightness, our buildings shouldn’t be sitting so heavy."  Siegal was featured in the October 2006 issue of Fast Company magazine, and praised as a "fresh face from the front lines of design."  In a world where renderings are common and completed projects are not, aka, the prefab world, Siegal is really staking a claim in this ultra-stylish, sustainable chase for comfortable, affordable living. 

Fast_company_siegal

Siegal’s work includes the Mobile Eco Lab (1998), Portable House (2001), Seatrain House (2003), and the Swellhouse.  Her most recent work is a modern, modular home product line called Take Home.  Go to the website and take a gander at her captivating architecture.  You’ll find also that her work goes beyond the realm of aesthetics and mid-century modern vernacular and into sustainability.  That’s going to be where architects will make a huge difference, I believe.  In addition to that, I think OMD is taking pro-active steps to clarify the pricing of their prefabs and make modern + sustainable living more affordable.

Take_home_3 Take_home_2 Take_home_4_1

Sustainability:
Sustainability is a key issue in the design process at OMD.  Prefab presents the natural green benefit of avoiding all the construction waste that plagues stick-built construction.  With the Take Home, OMD also offers precision steel construction, high-end amenities (Italian Boffi kitchens + Duravit bathrooms), fully landscaped courtyards with pools, passive cooling systems, and AVAILABLE 100% solar power and water heating.  Also available is bamboo and radiant heated flooring.  Homes range in size from 800-5,000 square feet and cost $210-270 per square foot.  Not bad at all!

Extra Links:
Incoming! [Fast Company]
Office of Mobile Design [OMD + Prefab]
Siegal’s Desert Hot Springs Development [the take home]

Blog Notes From Leo Marmol Lecture in Dallas (10/14/2006): Prefab + Environmentalism

Other_front On Saturday at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, Leo Marmol was kind enough to spend an hour and talk about his firm‘s work in the design-build and prefab context.  I was looking forward to this lecture for about 2 months and was not disappointed.  Marmol lectured on his firm’s work with mid-century modern residences and the four standards (Secretary of Interior Standards) for renovation:  preservation, rehabilitation, restoration, + reconstruction.  Towards the end of the lecture, he started to get into his firm’s prefab work and environmentalism. 

Here are some notes…

  • As a site-build firm, we know very intimately how inefficient and stupid architectural processes are.  We live with that stupidity everyday.  It’s a really inefficient, wasteful, cumbersome process that we use to build today.  There’s a lot of reasons why we still do it, but it’s inherently wasteful, so our goal is to build as much as possible in the factory. 
  • We’ve seen lumber + steel prices climb, and even labor is a little strained.  Materials are getting more and more scarce, more and more, therefore, valuable, and more and more expensive.  That will continue in the future. 
  • We’ve seen the rise in design with the iPod and with Target enlisting Philippe Starke to create a toothbrush.  Design is a marketing opportunity to set your firm apart from the norm. 
  • With Prefab, the goal is to provide clean, simple, modern living and do it as cost-effectively as possible.  So prefabrication is a means to deal with the rising construction costs. 
  • If you’re an architect and a builder, and you don’t have guilt, you’re not paying attention.  We put so much attention on the auto industry, but it pales in comparison to the architecture industry.  Architecture is the greatest polluting force on the planet.  There is no other industry on the earth that uses more of our earth’s resources than construction and there is no other industry to releases so many polluting, bad things back to the earth.  Prefab allows us to deal with this guilt and be more efficient. 
  • Sometimes the media gets it wrong with regards to prefab, but they are enthusiastic about this technology.  That enthusiasm can lead everyone astray.  Prefabs are not manufactured homes.  Prefabs won’t save the world or deliver homes for under $100 a square foot.  Prefab is not a magic bullet.  They are cheap in comparison to custom, architect-designed homes (LA price:  $400-600 sq.ft.), but they are not necessarily cheap.  Building homes is difficult and takes lots of money + materials. 
Back_and_pool Kitchen_1 Bedroom

It should be noted that Mr. Marmol’s prefab division is making a conscious choice to be environmental in the construction of prefabs.  The prefabs are designed to receive LEED certification, made from recycled steel, employ Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs), and use FSC-certified wood, low-VOC Green Seal paint, solar panels, etc.  Each prefab is designed with the site in mind so the structure can be attentive to natural light and shading.  And if you’re interested in seeing one, there’s an open house in California (instructions below). 

Open House of the Desert House:
October 28, 1 pm – 6 pm
Desert Hot Springs, CA
RSVP NOT REQUIRED
Navigate the Website for Map

Skyscraper Sunday: LEED Platinum Genzyme Center

Anton_grassl_genzyme_rendering This building is a little old hat for many of the readers here (it was an AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Project in 2004), but I think there are some important aspects of the projects that can be remembered and applied to new green projects.  This building is in the highest eschelon of LEED ratings, the platinum standard (LEED-NC, v2), and if you follow the links below, they’ve been generous enough to explain how they received all the points towards Platinum certification.  You can even take a virtual tour of the building if you’re interested. 

The building is the corporate headquarters for a biotechnology firm and houses 900 employees in 12 floors.  Here are some of the many green features:  high performance curtainwall glazing system with operable windows on all 12 floors; steam from local plant is used for heating + cooling; about 1/3 of the building uses ventilated double-facade that blocks summer solar and captures winter solar gains; the central atrium acts as a huge return air duct and light shaft; air moves up the atrium and out exhaust fans near the skylight; natural light is brought in from solar-tracking mirrors above the skylight and reflected deep throughout the building; the building saves water use comparably by 32% by using waterless urinals, dual flush toilets, automatic faucets, and low-flush fixtures; storm water supplements the cooling towers and irrigates the landscaped roof; partial electricity generation is provided by the building integrated photovoltaics (PV); nearly 90% of the wood is FSC-certified; and the building materials were chosen based on low emissions, recycled content, and/or local manufacturing.  Not a bad list!

Anton_grassl_layers_photo_1 Roland_halbe_interior

Really, I think this enormous achievement required the collective efforts of many different players with a similar vision.  Architect and lead designer was Behnisch, Behnisch & Partner, executive architect – base building was House & Robertson Architects, tenant improvements architect was Next Phase Studios, landscape architect was Michael Van Valkenburgh Architects, and Turner Construction Company was the contractor. 

Extra Links:
USGBC Case Study Information
Top Ten Green Projects 2004 [AIA/COTE]
Genzyme Center Building Information + Facts [Genzyme Website]

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