language of sustainability:
present, green buildings are defined as ones that do less damage
than normal practice (i.e., LEED rewards energy consumption up to
60% less than baseline, but not more). This is not good enough, and
we urgently need to move to true sustainability, and beyond.
To us, Sustainable means no negative impacts –
a system that can continue forever. Green means
something better: systems that do more good than harm. We have chosen
the word Productive to
represent our aspirations, because it means positive impact, like
Green, but includes also human and economic productivity.
The scope of the problem:
The way we build and use our buildings affects everything we
Originally, buildings were little more than shelter for habitation.
Today almost all types of human activity take place indoors: work,
cultural activities, sports and recreation, and even agriculture.
Americans spend close to 90% of their time in buildings, and almost
all the time spent “outside” is in designed, semi-conditioned
spaces that surround and connect our buildings. (ref )
The built environment affects the natural environment almost as
much as it affects the human one. Buildings and infrastructure are
responsible for the majority of energy use and carbon and other emissions,
use a great deal of water, and generate large amounts of waste.
Given the interconnectedness of all these issues, we need to be
aware of, and look for inspiration in, every factor that
relates to a project, including history, economics, biology, agriculture,
natural context, cultural context, safety, health, and others.
The scale of the problem:
We try to solve these problems on the smallest scale, where
they are the most challenging, and then develop variations and
scale up (or down) as appropriate.
How sustainable can a building be? Is the best solution
on a national, regional, municipal, or neighborhood scale? How
do we define “best”: on economic, technical,or other criteria?
For example, energy self-sufficiency can often be achieved on a
single building, but usually is most easily done on a net basis if
the building is connected to the power grid. Larger systems will
usually cost less per watt generated, and they may be located in
places with more sunshine, but lower costs and higher output may
be offset by transmission losses. Transmission lines may be politically
difficult to build. And there are a series of other issues that are
rarely considered: what about the political, military, social and
cultural implications of centralized infrastructure?
The fact is that there is no clear answer to many of these questions.
At K+C, our expertise is not unlimited, and we
control only certain aspects of the projects we work on . So we
try to solve as many problems as we can, as elegantly and economically
as possible, within the scale of the individual project.
If individual buildings can be completely sustainable, and viable
in technical, aesthetic, and economic terms, then other, larger scale
solutions are likely to be no more difficult technically, and may
(or may not) be more economical.
Motivations: just good architecture.
|PV Shade Structure,
Taos New Mexico
An essential challenge of architecture, and what differentiates
it from sculpture and painting, is to accommodate human function
as well as the human spirit. A building that ignores one of these
factors at the expense of the other may be good in its own way, but
cannot be considered a complete architectural solution. A true solution
integrates program and systems, with form and materiality. Functional
aspects of a building should be expressive, and expressive aspects
The condition of the environment is one of the defining problems
of our time, and belatedly the building community is coming to understand
that we are a large part of this problem (in some sectors the largest
part). Construction has direct and indirect effects on energy, water,
waste, and transportation; and also profoundly shapes and embodies
human behavior and aspirations.
However, architecture today is a long way from sustainable, and
the green building movement for the most part does not fully recognize
the scale of the problems, or by extension, the nature of the solutions.
We are interested in environmental factors as a source of design
inspiration for two reasons: because they are important in themselves,
and also because they make for better quality architecture. We do
not define our work in the context of environmental alarmism, “restorative”
design, or biomimicry - ultimately we have a traditional approach
to architecture, embracing placemaking, sensitivity to context, urbanism
and appropriate technology. If we achieve these goals, we are doing
the performance of productive