“What are you reading these days?” is a tough question.
To be honest, most of what I read now is in the social media stream. Although I still drop everything for a new print copy of The New Yorker (thanks, Katie!) and do plow through an actual book now and then (just finished The Metropolitan Revolution by Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley, just started On Some Faraway Beach: The Life and Times of Brian Eno), architecture magazines pile up on my desk and trade papers go right to the recycling bin.
But when people ask me what I’m reading, they usually mean “where do you find all the climate-change related articles, studies, and posts that fuel your Tweets, posts, and links?”
Well, these are a few of my favorite sources:
Let’s start with Grist, environmental news and commentary. “A beacon in the smog.” My all-time favorite source. I go to grist.org for clever, hard-hitting, timely, and well-written posts. Today’s home page features a piece on how Washington State knocked $2500 off the cost of solar panels and an interview with controversial new Sierra Club chief Michael Brune. Fair warning! This site – and many others on my list – is pretty left-leaning. My architectural firm, Bergmeyer, does not endorse a political ideology. But this list is my own, and I’m a Progressive and proud. So, to continue . . .
Next on my list is The Natural Resources Defense Council, “The Earth’s Best Defense”. By their own (and many others’) assessments, the NRDC is the most effective environmental action group in the USA. More specifically, I follow the NRDC “Switchboard” blog. The Switchboard throws out regular policy updates and provides easy ways for you to poke your elect officials. Because they need frequent poking.
The Conservation Law Foundation has a full spectrum of really good environmental policy pieces written by environmental lawyers in New England. Today’s “CLF Scoop” does a deep dive (pun absolutely intended) on the inestimable ecological value of Cashes Ledge, a kelp forest in the Gulf of Maine, and an editorial about the fishermen’s view of peer-reviewed cod stock assessments. Smart people not afraid to take on hot topics.
Posts from the Pulitzer-Prize winning Inside Climate News usually get my attention, too. Like: “CLEAN BREAK: The Story of Germany’s Energy Transformation and What Americans Can Learn From It.” As if watching them in the World Cup wasn’t lesson enough. Inside Climate News is always on point, although not to be confused with RealClimate who are not the same as the Climate Reality Project. Still with me? All good.
I think The Atlantic Cities is pretty interesting right now. “An engaging destination for an increasingly urbanized world,” Atlantic Cities collects essays on the future of urban living. Go to their home page, click on “CityFixer,” and get stories like “Hey Congress, Oregon Has Your Long-Term Highway Funding Solution Right Here” (emphasis mine!) Of course, Oregon has Earl Blumenauer, too, which helps with that issue. Love this site. Love their parent magazine, The Atlantic, too. But please note: their Twitter feed and Goggle+ pages have recently moved to www.citylab.com and @CityLab.
Emails. Sheesh. I asked for them! They come every day from Green Buzz Daily and Environmental Leader Daily although sometimes the spam filter gets them first. I also get posts from The Breakthrough Institute, The Energy Collective and ThinkProgress’s climate blog. I don’t always agree with what I read on these sites and they tend to be deeply wonkish, but they’re always though-provoking and topical.
Energy-conscious architects in greater Boston are pals with NEEP, the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnership. NEEP “facilitates partnerships to advance energy efficiency.” I subscribe to their blog site “Energy Efficiency Matters.” We also like the Institute for Market Transformation for their work on building energy use reporting and disclosure ordinances and their partners the Global Building Performance Network.
Our A-list also includes the Boston Harbor Association for their advocacy leadership on climate change adaptation, Greenovate Boston as an aggregator for all our municipal government’s GHG reduction efforts, and the Sustainable Performance Institute for building the environmental design capabilities of our firms. And for SPI blog posts like “Putting the Management Back in Change.” And we’d all be lost without BuildingGreen and their gold-standard publication Environmental Building News, an absolute “go-to” for building profesionals since 1992.
Finally, you have no doubt heard of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Lemme tell ya, my brother is a climate scientist and he’s concerned. So I read their stuff religiously. I also appreciate the solid scientific research produced by Yale Environment 360. OK, being an alum I’m a little prejudiced here. Their posts are often not about architecture, but they’re always fascinating and well-researched.
So I hate to use the phrase “tip of the iceberg” given the state of the Greenland ice sheet, but this list is really only that. And of course nothing of this social media download will help you pass a lazy Sunday afternoon on some faraway beach. For that, give me the great Gray Lady any day. I’ll take the Sunday Review section, thanks. And please recycle.
Today I’m blogging live from the 2014 AIA Convention in Chicago. A trip to Chicago is always fun, but truthfully, I enjoy the AIA Convention wherever it is. I come for seminars that expand my mind. I attend to see friends and colleagues from across the country – including people I never get to see in my hometown. And I show up for the parties. But not necessarily in that order.
I kind of like where architecture is going these days, too. There are far more conversations at this conference about design and health, architecture and climate change, public-interest design and human-centered design. Maybe it’s just where I am, but the profession seems to have put the rose-colored Corbu goggles down and is focusing on big social issues to which architecture can contribute. And in a meaningful way.
Not that beauty isn’t important. I just don’t think we need 4-hour workshops on beauty.
For example: my four-hour workshop this morning was on health impact assessments. We heard about the Health Impact Project, a national collaboration between the Pew Charitable Trust and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to identify the health impacts of public policy. We learned about how architects participate in health impact assessments (HIAs) on things like development proposals and infrastructure projects. We were introduced to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a survey tool from the CDC that tracks and maps health indicators . . . and may have persuaded me to skip a couple of those parties. Or not.
And then there’s this new materials transparency movement.
As follow-up to last year’s Sustainability Leadership Opportunity Scan, the AIA has launched a new web page called Materials Matter. It’s dense with information on what green building products are, where they come from, what goes into them, and the crowded field of new reference standards and claims. It makes a great case for why architects should be pushing for readily available, transparent, and accurate information about what’s in building materials. The Convention has a whole materials seminar track and a nifty “materials matter” button. Because a serious conventioneer must wear nifty buttons.
And how does all this relate to the AIA 2030 Commitment? Glad you asked.
Ed Mazria will be our Friday keynote speaker. Yes, the founder of the 2030 Challenge that set the bar for building energy efficiency. Ed is still the avenging angel of architecture and climate change, but lately Architecture 2030 is not only focusing its research and advocacy work on energy use. They’re also looking at . . . materials.
The 2030 Challenge for Products also makes the point that materials matter. Their research says that over the first 20 years of a building’s life, 45% of its total energy consumption comes from the energy used to produce its building products (embodied energy) and by the construction process itself. Of course, this is because when a building is first built, 100% of its energy expenditure has come from materials and construction. But we haven’t been able to account for that impact. We don’t have meters that collect real-time data on embodied energy like we do for operational energy. But those carbon emissions from material fabrication are just as real as the ones caused by lighting loads and air conditioning.
So if we’re really serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, we must consider the carbon consequences of the materials we use, too.
There you have it. My mind has been pretty well expanded today. And now, it’s time to enjoy this beautiful city. Cheers!
Whenever someone says the word “feedback” I become momentarily distracted. I mentally flip into “air guitar” mode and imagine that I’m Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock playing the Star Spangled Banner . . .
But feedback is a good word. It’s an important concept. Anyone who wants to improve the output of a system needs to recognize – or create – process feedback loops and watch them closely.
Designing buildings and spaces that are more and more energy efficient every year is one heck of a process. When you persuade your architectural firm to sign the AIA 2030 Commitment and join a leadership team to monitor the results, you have embraced process improvement in a big way.
So what kind of feedback loops could help in this quest? Sadly, the very best feedback loop that you could imagine of is one that we architects rarely use: Going back in after a project has been in operation for a year or so and comparing actual energy use with design intent.
In a phrase: post occupancy evaluations.
The fiercest criticism of “green building” is that we’re basing all our claims for energy efficiency on design intent only. It’s our Achilles heel. Fact is, we don’t know how to address a potential delta between intended and actual performance, and we certainly don’t know how to use what we might learn from this potentially valuable feedback loop to improve our design process.
And what’s more, we don’t even have a clear picture of what a thorough post-occupancy evaluation looks like. The estimable Z Smith of Tulane University and Eskew+Dumez+Ripple describes the “four horseman of building performance” as actual building energy use, building management system data, thermal performance and occupant comfort. Maybe commissioning agents are collecting this info somewhere, but it’s not getting back to the designers in a form that we can use. ASHRAE Energy Audits? Engineers do that stuff. Building diagnostics? Call a HERS Rater.
In doing my research for this post, I found no end to the studies that compare actual building energy use to codes or to CBECS or some other criteria. But comparing actual energy use to design intent? Nothing.
So I called a colleague at one of the few Boston firms I know that does POEs with any regularity. It helps that they have engineering and commissioning in-house. But their POE experience is limited to a few building types and it’s been hard for them to consistently get multi-year metrics. And in my estimation, that still puts them way ahead of the pack. Most architects I know – like us – are still trying to get our heads around how to collect energy use info and what to do with it when we get it.
Look, I’m not saying that client feedback on the quality of space and materials and how the lighting controls worked out and whether the coffee maker was in the right place isn’t good. But that kind of information isn’t going to get us to the zero-energy 2030 future.
Yeah, I know. This post is turning into a rant. I don’t have the answers. But I think I see the challenge.
It’s this: architects create analogs. REVIT models and performance specifications and energy use calculations are not buildings. Construction is a variable process, as are building operations and maintenance, as are weather and climate. We need to know more about the many variables that influence building energy use and how design can mitigate those variables. For that, we need feedback loops. We need to be prepared to hear that the gap between designed energy use and actual can be pretty substantial. And we need to be smarter – and braver – about harvesting this feedback and putting it to use to improve our design process. 2030 is only 16 years away.
Meanwhile, back at Bergmeyer, we have targeted a few clients for data collection in 2014. And we have started the conversation with our consultants about connecting this information back to our models once we get it. Every journey begins with a first step, right? I’ll post later on our progress . . .
What do you dream about when you’re designing? The thrill of seeing your brilliant ideas built? The joy of receiving thanks and praise from your clients? Maybe you dream of getting some publicity or winning a design award? Or feeling deeply satisfied from knowing you’ve made the world a more beautiful place?
Or do you just hope the lawyers won’t show up?
Fame and glory and energy efficiency that’s 50% better than baseline are all good. But in reality, sometimes just getting that last invoice paid, delivering the manuals and walking away without getting subpoenaed is cause enough for celebration.
But let’s return to those happier thoughts. My crystal ball is ready. We can imagine a better future and set more ambitious goals for our practice. Here’s my dream about what a better working relationship between an architect and client would look like in the near future:
(The place: a snowy Vermont mountain town, slopeside. [Hey, this is my dream, right?] Architect sips coffee while looking at laptop. Architect looks at cell phone, pokes keyboard, waits for screen image, then speaks.)
Client: I’m a little concerned about the energy use spike last month. It’s outside the ideal performance range you guys established for us on buildings 1 through 5.
Arch: Well, we did just install those laminar air flow sensors in the Building 6 auditorium. But they shouldn’t draw enough power to affect your demand that much. Can you link me to the live BMS dashboards?
Client: Will do. Lemme contact IT at Facilities and get right back to you.
(Architect reloads on coffee, watches snow accumulating, opens trail report site. Another email re-focuses his attention. Picks up phone, dials, speaks.)
Arch: Thanks for that link, Jesse. I’m on the dashboard right now. That power spike might be from increased fan energy use. You know we installed those air flow sensors when we suspected the stack effect ventilation strategy wasn’t giving you enough air changes when the hall was full. Do you think people are still screwing with the digital thermostats? That would cause fan energy to spike. Lemme check another document. (Pause.) We have plenty of fee left in this year’s master post-occupancy performance contract. I’m going to see Ling (our firm’s commissioning specialist and an excellent snowboarder) on the hill in a little bit. I’ll see if she can be on site tomorrow.
Client: Thank you so much. I’m sorry to pester you when you’re out of the office, but we really appreciate everything you’ve done to make our whole university more energy efficient. And by the way, the President has some new ideas for energy-positive buildings and a net-zero branch campus. I know she’ll want your input.
Arch: No problem, Jesse. At your service, as always.
(Client hangs up. Architect smiles, turns off laptop, picks up backpack, leaves for boot room.)
Do you have a favorite recreational activity? Does it involve equipment? Golf clubs? A tennis racket? A bicycle, perhaps? I’m a skier. Skiers are serious equipment geeks! But the phrase you hear around the lodge is: Good skis don’t make a good skier.
However, better skis can make you a better skier. In my experience, if you’re already pretty capable at something and working hard to improve, better equipment can really amp your game.
Same goes for those of us who are working to improve the designed energy efficiency of our buildings and spaces through the AIA 2030 Commitment. The 2030 Commitment – a great program brought to you by the American Institute of Architects – gives us tangible design performance goals to help bring our projects into line with the carbon emission reduction targets of the Architecture 2030 Challenge. To do this, the AIA has created some pretty good tools including a nifty, multi-tabbed reporting spreadsheet. It’s what we use to enter the designed energy use of all our year’s projects before we send it off to the AIA for their annual compilation.
It’s a good tool. But it may get infinitely better. Here’s the scoop:
This year, the AIA National Committee on the Environment (COTE) Advisory Group and an AIA 2030 Commitment Working Group has begun collaboration with the United States Department of Energy (DOE). The team hopes to develop an online reporting platform for the AIA 2030 Commitment for potential rollout in late 2014.
Think: What would make it easier for you to do drive energy efficient design in your practice? Would you like to be able to compare your projects’ performance to thousands of other buildings sorted by type, size, or location? How about being able access utility consumption data and track energy targets for your projects from design through occupancy over multiple years? How cool would that be?
These are aspirational goals for a better tool that could rock our world. But as my good friend and LEED Fellow from Chicago, Rand Ekman AIA, cautions: the development of this new tool is totally dependent on funding, time, and available data. And at the risk of sounding like an NPR pledge drive, you can bet that none of this will happen without your help.
March 31 is the 2014 AIA 2030 Commitment reporting deadline. When you file this year, here’s what you could do to help the AIA and DOE meet these goals:
First: Please send the AIA not just for your aggregated results, but the full spreadsheet that you create to support the reporting goals. You can scrub all project names to maintain confidentiality, just send the raw data.
Second: Please provide the AIA with additional data on SOME of your projects. The current reporting spreadsheet has tabs for “Detail Commercial” and “Detail Residential” data. Give this stuff a look. It’s optional for the Commitment and a fair amount of extra work, but if the DOE can collect this info on about 1,000 projects, it will help them connect the reporting tool with an important national database called the Building Energy Asset Score program.
That’s it. That’s the whole “ask”. Add a little more data to your AIA 2030 spreadsheet this year and maybe – just maybe – the AIA and DOE can deliver a sweet new tool for us to use next year. Like newly sharpened edges and fresh base wax on my boards, I can feel the performance enhancing effects already . . .
The Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation (BWAF) is working to change the culture of the building industry so that women’s work is acknowledged, respected and valued. I was honored when the BWAF invited me to be a guest blogger. Fully aware that women are woefully under-represented in the field of architecture, I looked instead at the many thought-leaders I have come to know in the world of sustainable design. A re-posting of my BWAF blog follows:
A few weeks ago, I moderated a panel at the Boston Society of Architects on resilient design: preparing buildings and cities to survive the inevitable impacts of climate change. The two speakers on my panel – Dr. Sarah Slaughter, President of the Built Environment Coalition, and Fiona Cousins, Principal at the engineering firm Arup (and a BWAF Board of Trustee member) – shared with us their groundbreaking research and policy work on buildings and urban systems.
The next day, I was in Washington DC at AIA national headquarters for a task force on “transparency” – the disclosure of toxic substances in building materials. The group was convened by Mary Ann Lazarus, FAIA, a research fellow at the AIA and former Director of Sustainability at HOK, and Paula McEvoy, AIA, Co-director of Perkins+ Will’s Sustainable Design Initiative. Lazarus and McEvoy were also co-authors of the AIA’s 2013 Sustainability Leadership Opportunity Scan, a report that outlined top sustainable design priorities for architects.
Meanwhile, I was working on a new blog post on post-occupancy energy use evaluations: the process where architects go back into a building after it opens to evaluate actual building energy use. This is a delicate subject for architects. I needed to speak with someone with first-hand experience. Martine Dion, AIA, Principal and Director of Sustainability at the Boston firm SMMA, graciously gave me a half an hour’s worth of insight.
And the list goes on.
When I need an overview on how research informs sustainable design, I call Andrea Love, AIA, Director of Building Science at the Boston firm Payette. When I need a gut check on sustainability action plans or health product declarations, I go to Meredith Elbaum, former Director of Sustainability at Sasaki. And when I’m really in trouble and need someone to explain the new Version 4 of the LEED Rating System, I ask Bergmeyer’s own Director of Sustainability, Dee Spiro.
I recently got an email from my old friend Barbra Batshalom. Trained as an architect, Barbra founded the Green Roundtable – the region’s first non-profit consulting group with a mission to mainstream “green building” and transform the marketplace – in 1999. That was before most of us had even heard of the US Green Building Council. Now CEO of the Sustainable Performance Institute with a mission to help companies deliver on their sustainable design promises, she wanted to introduce me to a colleague. Thanks again, Barbra.
In my world, women in sustainable design are the true believers, the mentors, and the change agents. How does this happen? How is it that the practice of architecture in America has 32% less women than in the general population, yet among professionals who specialize in sustainable design, women are the stars?
Sustainable design requires us to take the long view. It requires us to be empathic; to think seriously about achieving the greatest common good. It requires assumptions to be challenged. And its practice is dynamic, interdisciplinary and inclusive – and not calcified by ancient hierarchies, obsolete traditions, or unwritten behavioral codes.
Perhaps the practice of architecture needs to look more like sustainable design. If this ever happens, I’m sure our practices will improve, and we will be able to thank women for leading the change.
My fellow Americans:
For tonight’s State-of-the-Union address, I’d like to share a vision with you all. A vision of a world where people work together to assure that fresh air, clean water, wholesome foods, and free, bountiful energy will be available for future generations as long as humankind exists.
This is called sustainability. Don’t we all want to live in this world? If we could make this vision real, what would it take?
Let’s begin with this thought: Imagine that a divine force endowed this planet with just enough fossilized energy from sunlight buried in the ground for our ancestors to dig up and burn so we could eat and stay warm. And this underground carbon-based fuel was meant to be an interim solution until we became smart enough to understand that burning this stuff had long-term consequences. Imagine that the divine plan for us all along was to get the energy we need directly from the sun.
Well folks, that day has arrived. We have survived those fossil-fuel burning days and we’re ready to start a new global era. We’re ready to make the transition to a sustainable civilization.
But this won’t happen overnight. It’ll take decades of work. And amidst the climatic and economic challenges that we will experience, it will be difficult to maintain our focus. Some familiar industries will change drastically. Some will vanish. But only a few centuries ago, people could become wealthy by trading spices. Cinnamon, for crying out loud. So humankind has always adapted to these kinds of changes, and we’ll do it again.
The United States of America stands ready and able to do our part to help shepherd in this new global era. But in addition to time, it’ll also take public investment. Now I know my friends across the aisle aren’t gonna let us spend money we don’t have. And they shouldn’t. So I’d like to talk about money next.
First, I’m gonna ask Congress to begin to dial back that 4 billion dollars in annual US government subsidies to oil companies. Oil companies are making profits hand over fist now – which is great for them – but now they’re gonna have to pay their fair share. Second, I will ask Congress to pass a tax on the release of greenhouse gasses – especially carbon. Industries that make money while polluting our atmosphere are in effect making all of us bear the cost of their pollution in the form of climate change impacts. Those industries also need to pay their fair share of this cost.
So when we get this new revenue – without adding a dime to the deficit, I might add – how will we spend it? Here’s what I propose. Let’s call it the New Era Fund. Twenty-five cents of every dollar of the New Era Fund will go to building a “smart” – and more secure – 21st century nation-wide electricity distribution grid. That’s new jobs, too. And another twenty-five cents of every dollar of New Era Fund will go to jump-start the solar power industry like we’ve never done before. Think of it like an “Apollo Program” for renewable energy. That’s even more jobs.
And fifty cents of every New Era Fund dollar will go right back to you, the American taxpayers, in the form of rebates on your electricity bills, educational subsidies if you want to earn a degree or learn a skill that will help you get a job in the new era economy, and an earned income tax credit. Yep, we are gonna reduce taxes on your income and raise taxes on pollution. Not bad, huh?
Last point, it’s also time for us to pay more attention to our nation’s buildings. American auto makers have done a great job of improving fuel efficiency. But you might not realize that today the construction and operations of our buildings use more energy than our transportation.
The professional association for US architects – the American Institute of Architects – has a program called the AIA 2030 Commitment. This program helps architects design and renovate buildings that are increasingly energy efficient with the goal that by the year 2030, buildings will only use as much energy as they can produce. Imagine that. Buildings that produce energy. I like this program so much, that I am issuing an Executive Order requiring the General Services Administration – the nation’s largest building owner – to only hire architects who have signed the AIA 2030 Commitment.
So whaddya say, Congress? Let’s get this done.