Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Philosophical Approach to Sustainable Design

It's been a while since my last post, so I thought I would include my essay response to a prompt given to me from my Sustainability Building Advisor course, a class I'm taking through the UC Berkeley extension program.

Essay prompt: “What are the benefits and pitfalls of approaching sustainable building from a philosophical position?”

Viewing sustainable building design from a philosophical position presents some weaknesses and strengths, which must be considered as we integrate these principles into more pragmatic and mainstream modern day construction practices.

One of the main benefits to the philosophical approach is that the simplicity and elegance of sustainability becomes immediately apparent: design should be created to meet our needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This concept creates a lens from which we can reevaluate our design traditions and building practices. From this perspective, we find that design operates in the present while taking into account the history of evolution, revolution, and refinement in design. This sustainable focus highlights the significant deficiency in traditional design: the full life of the design is not usually considered during development. As designers, we love to consider our products and designs as “timeless” and static. This simplistic consideration overlooks the reality that designs are dynamic, aging, and ultimately another form of our finite resources. A static design assumption is idealistic at best, arrogant at the worst, and ultimately invalid. Sustainable design forces designers to broaden the scope of their work, and to reconsider the overall economic, environmental, and social impact of their creations throughout their entire life cycle.

The strength of approaching sustainability from a philosophical position comes with it an immense responsibility and countless questions with regard to implementation. How can we apply these all encompassing concepts to the design of buildings and designed systems? For how long into the future should our designs be held accountable? To what end should our buildings be sustainable? Based on annual energy usage, on the embodied energy within building materials, on the energy required for construction, or other carbon or energy related metrics? Furthermore, in a society with people becoming increasing specialized, who can possibly possess both the capability and capacity to design a truly sustainable building? This vastly increased scope is viewed by some to be an increase in liability, a burden, and a pitfall. To others, this philosophical approach leads to paralysis caused from designing with an infinite scope, or even to revisiting the initial requirement behind the whole conceptual design process: “Why even build?”

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This philosophical quandary of sustainability is remedied when we approach sustainable building and design from a more pragmatic approach. At the core of this more practical approach is the notion that sustainability is a concept designers should always strive to achieve. Sustainability, in an idealistic sense, is a goal, which the best designers should always aim for, but will never achieve. It is a moving target, which repositions itself as quickly as a project’s design scope is redefined, and ultimately assists us in differentiating between the good and the truly great designs.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Proposed changes to the LEED system for 2009: LEED v3

With the first public comment submission ending today at 5pm PST for the USGBC's proposed LEED v3 2009, let's take a quick look at the major changes of LEED v3 versus the 2.2 (NC).

Point system:

Certified: 40-49 pts (up from 26-32)
Silver: 50-59 pts (up from 33-38)
Gold: 60-79 pts (up from 39-51)
Platinum: 80-110 pts (up from 52-69)

Credit Category Weighting:

Sustainable Sites: 24% of pts (from 20%)
Water Efficiency: 9% of pts (from 7%)
Energy & Atmosphere: 32% of pts (from 25%)
Material & Resource: 13% of pts (from 19%)
Indoor Environmental Quality: 14% of pts (from 22%)
Innovation in Operations: 6% of pts (from 7%)
Regional Credits: 4% of pts (new category)

(credits percentages do not add to 100% due to rounding)

I applaud the USGBC for putting more emphasis on water savings and efficient energy usage in v3. The Energy Performance credit EA1 has been increased from 10 to 19 pts and the energy standard has been updated to ASHRAE 90.1-2007 (from 2004). Alternative energy production has increased to a possible point total of 7 (up from 3), which makes the generally capital intensive alternative energy credits make much more sense. Furthermore, doubling the possible Water Efficiency points while REQUIRING that buildings consume 20% less potable water is very responsible, given the strong link of water to energy in dry areas. Achieving 20% less potable water usage used to be piece of low hanging fruit in the LEED 2.2 system.

A regional credit category has been added to v3 to reward green building innovation relevant to the site's particular region. I feel it is a good idea to promote regional solutions, but I'd like to see examples where points are awareded from this particular category.

LEED v3 also places more of an emphasis on the smart planning of dense urban areas, which is a good strategy to reduce the carbon emissions from commuting and transportation. However, I feel that 1 point for Brownfield Redevelopment does not go far enough. For those that don't know the term, a Brownfield is (defined by the LEED 2.2NC manual) a site where
...redevelopment or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant.
1 measly point for developing a potentially polluted non-productive site? I feel the USGBC should place more emphasis on this credit to help motivate developers and owners to rehabilitate damaged sites. There is a great opportunity in the intent of this point and I feel the point should have a larger weight to incentivize the pursuit of this point.

For all those who like to get into the nitty-gritty, check out the USGBC's LEED NC "tracked changes" document here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

San Francisco passes largest city wide solar incentive program

On June 10th, 2008, San Francisco passed a city wide solar (PV) incentive program, and with $4.5 million per year, it is the largest city incentive program yet.

Annual subsidy budget, for a planned 10 years: $3 million for individuals and businesses

In addition, a 1 yr pilot program budget: $1.5 million for non-profit, low income

Individuals can obtain $3000 to $6000 cash incentives and businesses are eligible for $10,000.

The subsidy can be retroactively applied to projects installed after Dec 11th, 2007, and only applies to existing buildings.



I assume the incentives are proportional to PV system size, but I can’t find the specifics.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Nouvel's "Green Blade"

10,000 Santa Monica is Jean Nouvel's new sleek green design and promises to add some chlorophyll to the concrete jungle of LA. Winner of the 2008 winner of the Pritzker Prize, Nouvel's design calls for a 45 story tall tower with a width of only 50 feet. 177 residential units will be housed in the "Green Blade" and construction is projected to cost a cool $400 million. The vegetation in Nouvel's tower is planned to be native to California on the south side, and lush and tropical on the north side.

In the context of the surrounding area, the tower promises to promote quick commute times to the surrounding area, minimize the local area heat effect through plant evapotransipiration, and add some much needed greenery to the City of Angels.

However, I'm a bit skeptical about the tower with regards to the water and energy needed to sustain the proposed living environment. Having a glass tower only 50 feet wide with the majority of the surface area oriented North/South is going to have a huge solar gain heating load component and poor envelope insulation. Aggressive window glazing techniques will be able to offset some of the solar gain and increase the insulation properties but at substantial cost. Native flora on the south side of the tower will help reduce some of the solar gain and require less water to maintain than generic landscaping, but I'm curious to see how much water the tropical north side landscape will require.

Hopefully the tower will have some form of a mix mode (natural ventilation + mechanical) cooling system to reduce the energy consumption required to offset the greenhouse properties of the tower. With California's strict Title-24 energy code, obtaining LEED energy efficiency credits are going to be very tricky. Since the project is aiming for LEED Silver, maybe energy efficiency credits are not being considered, given the large cost to offset the building's natural characteristics.

Overall a very interesting design that promises to add some much needed green to LA.

Via AIArchitect and Inhabitat

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Paul McCartney's gas hog of a hybrid

Taken from Gas 2.0

In a perfect example of why Cliff’s Notes don’t substitute for reading the whole book, the method by which Paul McCartney’s new luxury hybrid was delivered to him has ruined any environmental gains that might have been made by driving a hybrid in the first place. Indeed… his brand new Lexus LS 600h hybrid was flown to him by cargo plane. Questions of whether or not a 5.0-liter, V-8, 19 mile per gallon luxury behemoth really exemplifies the spirit of a “hybrid” aside, the judgment involved in shipping cars by airplane is enough to cringe at.
The post continues with a back of the hand calculation that summarizes the Lexus 600h, while in transit, posted a whopping 4 mpg from Tokyo to London.

Sir McCartney forgot to view his actions in the whole grand scheme of things, which we all do, but we must overcome if we want to get anywhere on tackling global climate issues.

Let's hope Sir McCartney doesn't open a hybrid car importing service anytime soon.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Comparison of Biofuels

Click image to expand it

Taken from the SeattlePI, the full article can be found here

From the chart it becomes very apparent that not all biofuels are created equal, and that ethanol produced from corn doesn't seem to make much sense. True, it does give farmers in the Midwest another use of their industrial grade corn, but there is very little truth behind the idea ethanol from corn will break the American dependence of foreign oil anytime soon.

What appeals to me most about the table is the consideration of carbon dioxide emissions produced per megajoule of energy created. It allows for an objective look about the various biofuel strategies and their role as carbon sequestering techniques. Even after growing, harvesting, refining, and burning, biodiesel based on algae results in a net negative carbon dioxide balance. Furthermore, algae does not have to be grown on land that could be used for food production. Now if we could combine the algae blooms produced from nitrogen enriched agriculture runoff with algae based biodiesel production, we'd really be getting somewhere ...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

SF Transbay Transit Center

Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects will be responsible for the design of the TransBay Terminal and mixed use tower. Construction is set to be completed by 2014. The project will be located South of Market Street (SOMA) in San Francisco, CA.

They have really thrown the book at this project: high performance glass, natural ventilation, wind turbines, passive solar shading, gray water recycling, geothermal heat pump, a garden/park on the roof ...

The design is definitely in line with the other 'crystal palace'-type international high profile designs coming from Foster + Partners and Will + Perkins, and supports the public perception that green buildings are high tech buildings.

Nonetheless, it looks like a very exciting project, and is another chapter in the SF SOMA development saga.

More info at the official site here.

Images taken from Inhabitat