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the Cascadia Region Green Building Council (CRGBC), a regional equivalent to the USGBC that focuses on the Pacific Northwest, prefers tough love. In January 2006, it created the Living Building Challenge (LBC), which implores designers to create buildings that meet sixteen prerequisites. “It’s all or nothing,” says Thor Peterson, research director for CRGBC. “You achieve all the requirements, or you don’t have a Living Building.” Living Buildings must generate their own energy with renewable resources; capture and treat their own water; operate efficiently; and, believe it or not, make some effort to be beautiful. They may only be sited on previously developed lands, like grayfields (parking lots or abandoned commercial spaces) or brownfields (formerly contaminated land); and they must be more than 50 feet from wetlands and far from sensitive ecological spots. The structures must also be net-zero energy, use all FSC-approved wood, and incorporate habitat exchange (which involves setting aside an equal amount of land for every acre developed). A materials “red list” denotes forbidden substances like lead, neoprene, or anything with formaldehyde. “It’s extremely difficult to get the Living Building designation,” Peterson admits. Living Building is not intended to be a competitor to LEED, but to raise the bar higher than Platinum and focus on what LEED is missing. That includes bioregionalism—advocating different buildings for different ecosystems. “A building built in the Pacific Northwest will respond one way, and one in Tucson, Arizona, will respond another way,” says Peterson. It’s like growing “a cactus versus a Douglas fir.” No Living Buildings exist yet to hold up as a hallmark—they must be in operation for a year before they can earn the rating—but there are seven announced winners of the 2007 Living Building competition, both in operational and blueprint stage. One of the winners under construction, the Omega Center for Sustainable Living in Rhinebeck, New York, features a water filtration system that uses plants, bacteria, algae, snails, and fungi to treat approximately 5 million gallons of wastewater a year, which is then funneled into an aquifer on site. For this reason, among others, it’s the closest thing we’ll have to a building that’s alive—and it’s LEED Platinum, too. But greener buildings aren’t necessarily dependent on complex LEED checklists or high-tech equipment. Architecture 2030’s Mazria maintains that the revolution can be as simple as altering building codes and tweaking public policy. “We don’t give out plaques and gold stars,” he says. “We try to affect policy.” The state of California has already amended its building code, a change inspired by Mazria’s call for all new buildings to cut fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2010 and be carbon neutral by 2030. Since launching in January 2006, Architecture 2030’s goals have been adopted by nearly 1,000 individuals and groups, including the American Solar Energy Society, the US Conference of Mayors, and the state of New Mexico.

The Sustainable Energy Centre at Cambrian College, Ontario, is a Living Building finalist that will house learning facilities for resource conservation studies.

The know-how and the will clearly exist to transform the building sector—one holdup is money. Energy Plus is still waiting on a tenant willing to pay the premium for its office space (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill won’t say exactly how much that is), despite the potential for substantial utility savings. Thomas Behr, an associate with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and one of the architects working on the Energy Plus project, says the French government has agreed to buy back the building’s excess energy at five times the going rate. That’s the only way that energy positive buildings can make financial sense at the moment, Behr says. You must have a customer for your excess energy, and “you need to be subsidized by your government to do it.” Other barriers exist as well. Though twisting a building to face the sun will do wonders for energy efficiency, most developers won’t do it. “For hotels or condos, you orient toward the views, not the sun,” Behr says. Maybe supermarkets and bigbox stores could make that shift, but those who want to look at the mountains or the sea will have to find another way. Laurentian University in Northern Ontario is aiming to be Canada’s first institutional building to gain LEED Platinum certification.

photo courtesy of busby perkins + Will (bottom)

If RMI favors radical reimagining over ratings systems,

Plenty Magazine Issue 23 Aug/Sept 2008  

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