Oculus - Spring 2011 - (Page 19)
A Critique of Pure Sustainability
After years of attention to sustainability, some architects are looking beyond semantics to substance and asking: What exactly are we trying to sustain?
B Y B I L L MI LLA RD
Kevin Kennon Architects/Ginsun Shanghai Digital Technology Co., Ltd.
or any idea to stand the test of time, it usually has to endure a backlash. This also happens to the idea of standing the test of time. Environmental sustainability has guided architectural practice long enough to elicit counterreactions. Some are tongue-in-cheek, some frankly hostile. Some critiques aim to hold the sustainable-design establishment to its own principles: when a few LEED buildings performed below expectations, skeptics accused the system of neglecting follow-through assessments. Even earnest advocates lament sustainability’s status as a buzzword: a buzz never lasts. “We’ve been at this now for 20 years,” observes William Morrish, M.Arch., dean of the School of Constructed Environments at Parsons The New School for Design. “So what do we know and not know? Everybody’s accepted the word, but not really interrogated what we know.” Multiple ideas, systemic scales Sustainability can be a goal, an ideal, a common language. What it can’t be is simple. It may be worthwhile to speak of sustainabilities, plural, rather than designate things green or non-green. The 1987 Brundtland Commission report Our Common Future defined sustainable development as both positive and negative
Design for a Change: Buildings, People, Energy
practices that meet present needs without diminishing later generations’ ability to meet theirs. Not all sustainabilities are environmental; economic forms inevitably constrain ecological ones. Some organizations sustain themselves by balancing solvency with environmental and social well-being, as expressed in Ove Arup’s 1970 “Key Speech.” Dennis Wedlick, AIA, who designed the Hudson Passive Project in Claverack, NY, one of the first U.S. houses to observe Germany’s Passivhaus standards, is disenchanted with point-based ratings, likening LEED to the IRS. “It’s as complicated, and as easy to cheat,” he says, defining sustainability by “thoughts of the day, as opposed to enduring principles and measurable results.” He prefers houses that are precisely designed, site-specific, and tightly built, with details assessed uniformly: “Every residual, every impact of building science, translates to energy.” The U.S. Passive House Institute claims a passive house uses about 15 million BTUs a year, compared with a national residential average of about 95 million. Wedlick hopes the National Association of Home Builders will promote Passivhaus standards industry-wide. Literal sustainability implies stasis, the province of preservationists rather than ecologists. Jonathan F.P. Rose of the Jonathan Rose Companies, a devel-
19 A Critique of Pure Sustainability 22 Testing Green Ideas 24 New Life for a Boomer Building 25 School Back in Session After 30-Year Recess 26 It Takes More Than a Village 28 Shedding Light 30 What Every Architect Should Know About NYC’s New Energy Laws
(above) Kevin Kennon Architects (design architect) and Beijing Victory Star Architectural & Civil Engineering Design Co. (architect-ofrecord):The Tian Fang Project of Tianjin Zhong Xin Eco-City South Subcore, China, will be a 45-story, multiuse skyscraper of bundled tubes “cracked” at intervals to create space for green atriums.
Spring 2011 Oculus
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Spring 2011
Oculus - Spring 2011
A Word from the Editor
Center for Architecture
One Block Over
Opener: A Critique of Pure Sustainability
Testing Green Ideas
New Life for a Boomer Building
School Back in Session After 30-Year Recess
It Takes More Than a Village
What Every Architect Should Know About NYC’s New Energy Laws
Index to Advertisers
Oculus - Spring 2011