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illustration courtesy of iredale group architecture

The Robert Bateman Art and Environmental Education Centre in Victoria, Canada is a Living Building competitor that will create zero greenhouse gas emissions.

While he applauds the work done by LBC and RMI, Scot Horst, chair of the LEED Steering Committee, thinks LEED’s more populist approach is still the best way forward. “We need to engage all of society at a common level,” he says. “If we’re only focused on moving to the very top, we know it won’t work.” That said, a new set of LEED guidelines, Version 3.0, is set for release in November, and it will look a lot more like the Living Building Challenge and RMI’s Cooling the Warming. LEED’s governing body is reassigning the value of credits for the carbon-neutral era, with energy reduction earning more points than, say, bamboo floors. Regional concerns have also been integrated into the guidelines. The combined changes, Horst believes, means that “we’re going to see another level that’s beyond zero” carbon.

Until now, the second wave of green building has been largely divorced from the first, a shunning of what might have been seen as out-there hippie building, irrelevant to the production building sector or the masses sprawling into suburbia.

For all the building codes enlightened, milestone policies passed, and high-tech solutions proffered by think tanks, the most innovative methods of greening the construction industry are almost embarrassingly simple. Twenty-first-century green buildings will also feature a good dose of the past. “You don’t need any new technology,” Behr says. “Everything is there.” Green building first took shape in the 1970s, part of that decade’s nascent environmental movement. Two groundbreaking books were published: Victor Olgyay’s Design with Climate introduced the concept of designing in harmony with the climate; and Ralph Knowles’ Form and Stability detailed how buildings affect the environment and vice versa. Rising oil prices led to the formation of national groups like the American Institute of Architects’ Committee on Energy and the Solar Energy Research Institute. The pressure was on to create buildings that both saved energy and embraced nature. But the route to creating those buildings was and still is surprisingly low-tech. The effectiveness of passive-solar technology is largely determined by how a building is situated—orient it toward the sun and the bulk of your work is done. Catching rainwater to use for irrigation is also far less technologically demanding than treating water and pumping it from a distant reservoir. Some architects brought these nature-loving building techniques to the mainstream. Norman Foster, for instance, created his first grass-roofed building, the Willis Faber and Dumas Headquarters, in England.William McDonough built the country’s first solar-powered house in 1977. But many experiments in sustainable architecture were conducted by fringe types like Michael Reynolds, who uses recycled bottles, tires, and cans to build dwellings in New Mexico called Earthships, which generate their own off-the-grid electricity while collecting and treating their own water and waste. The Earthship sounds a lot like a Living Building—perhaps an early cousin of Energy Plus or the Omega Center—and it would probably qualify for LEED Platinum. But until now, the second wave of green building that started with the USGBC’s formation has been largely divorced from the first, a shunning of what might have been seen as out-there hippie building, irrelevant to the production building sector or the masses sprawling into suburbia. “There might have been a gut reaction away from that stuff in the 1990s, to define green building as this forward-thinking, technically-oriented approach,” says CRGBC’s Peterson. In the second wave, eco-structures were high tech and high-rise, many of them camouflaged so as not to draw attention to their green attributes—and that, of course, is what allowed green building to become mainstream. Tomorrow’s green buildings will benefit from advanced structure codes, policy, and technology, but they’ll also have Earthship-like living walls of greenery inside that clean air and filter water. Buildings that strike a balance between the first and second wave will shy away from the sun in desert climates or hug it in colder regions. Passive solar technology will be found just as readily in some off-the-grid mountain cabin as in a skyscraper. The emerging third wave of green building, then, might be most likely to succeed when it borrows from the past to shape the future. “Look at the natural world to inform design decisions,” Peterson says. “We’ve got millions of years of R & D out there.” ✤ | 77

Plenty Magazine Issue 23 Aug/Sept 2008  

beyond the bulb> the best Ideas In green desIgn krIstIn gore kIlls her laWn | saIlIng greece | gossIp gIrl’s eco star