Contract - January 2009 - (Page 32)

green beyond fad Designing enduring sustainable architecture when times are tough Stefan Behnisch, Hon. FAIA, RIBA, BDA, CIMA In the current economy, the broad topic of design for a more sustainable built environment must be viewed in context. Not long ago, it seems that the construction industry was incredibly strong, credit was easy, the green movement was going mainstream, and energy prices were soaring. But today, real estate development reflects a weakened global economy and the especially distressed credit markets. Suddenly, a whiff of dilettante environmentalism could spell disaster for an architect. As in so many previous recessions, each real estate expenditure today is more strictly examined by investors and developers. Despite that, I argue that we must create good when we can, at every juncture. This credit crisis can be considered as a new starting point, an opportunity to slow down and consider future sustainable building options. We in the first world, despite positive strides, have consumed resources at times recklessly, with insufficient regard for the environment and the future. Perhaps we have been too busy and successful to really change. Now we have time to do so. It is agonizing to consider how much money was destroyed in the current banking failure, and how much could have been achieved had that money been spent on education, environmental measures, or even on changing whole economies to a more sustainable approach. We can only double our resolve to place our economies and banking systems on solid footing going forward, while relentlessly mitigating our environmental damage along the way. The development of truly sustainable businesses and economies should be our goal, aided—and not hampered—by our banking system. I truly hope President-elect Obama emerges as a leader in these objectives. Perhaps because of his generation’s inherent focus on the environment, it is more than just a hope. The environment is not a “fair weather” problem. The damage to the environment—even from a purely business standpoint, as the Chinese are finding out—is a reality with grave consequences. And while energy is cheap today, there is no guarantee it will be in the future. We find that clients are very aware of this condition. There can be optimism with regard to potential government infrastructure spending, that such projects will be both purposeful (i.e., mass transit, clean power plants) and built green. This economic climate also poses a chance for change in people’s behavior—a redefinition of comfort. Turning down air-conditioning systems by eight degrees Fahrenheit will cut energy consumption roughly in half and also save a substantial amount of water used in the chiller systems. Promoting the money-saving aspect will make people more accepting of increased temperature swings in summer and winter. They will come to live by different comfort expectations. It will also allow architects and engineers to design far more sustainable buildings without additional costs. Now we have to convince clients to build green with carefully constructed economic arguments. Simply, the economic facts in times of limited financial resources are more convincing. Regarding private-sector projects, I am less confident. While the LEED rating system is an advance, it nearly became little more than a marketing “brand” that developers wanted attached to their buildings. Can sustainability survive if it is only an affectation? We, as architects, designers, and engineers, need to strengthen, not lessen, our efforts to convince clients of the need to build truly sustainable buildings that will be much more adaptable for generations ahead, and thus be more viable through future economic fluctuations. There are some other rays of light. Construction and acquisition costs have fallen, and the additional price of going green is more than offset by these reductions, which should ease our task of convincing clients that sustainability is not a luxury, but a necessity to survive future economic hard times. Tenants and building owners are looking at monthly, energy, and maintenance costs more closely than ever. If the additional cost of sustainable construction is recouped in three to five years, it may seem more palatable today, than when a building was being constructed for near-certain immediate sale, with an emphasis on quick transactions, not durability. Now we will have to convince clients to build green with carefully constructed economic arguments. Simply, the economic facts in times of limited financial resources are more convincing. We must face the future with resolve and optimism. The green movement is not a fad or period piece; it is a necessary adaptation to ensure higher living standards for all. That is something worth fighting for. Stefan Behnisch is principal/partner of Behnisch Architekten, based in Stuttgart, Germany, with offices in Los Angeles and Boston. Give us your feedback on this story at 32 contract january 2009

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Contract - January 2009

Contract - January 2009
Urban Elegance
Beyond Fad
Designers of the Year
Legend Award
The 30th Annual Interiors Awards
Large Office
Small Office
Public Space
Environmental Design
Designers Rate: Furniture Systems
Leader, Not a Follower
Deconstructing Costs
Ad Index

Contract - January 2009