Architects take the LEED
By Karen Spence
"Green architecture" is a phrase that reminds me of one of my favorite bumper stickers: "Stamp Out and Abolish Redundancy." Shouldn't every building be designed and constructed in a way that uses resources efficiently and responds to the environment sensibly?
Yet people often ask if I teach and design "green architecture" and rightly so. It is estimated that building construction and operations consume 40 percent of the world's energy. This activity uses 40 percent of all extracted materials and is responsible for more than 30 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. Clearly, building is an industry that needs to consider wisely its use of resources and relation to the environment.
Green architecture speaks to how designers can be smart about their actions, creating a situation that benefits everyone and everything. As an architect, I believe this can be a win-win scenario: people deserve buildings that last longer, are more comfortable and healthy, use less energy and are less expensive to operate. Our environment is worthy of architecture that works in harmony with it, sustaining our communities and ecosystems at both local and global levels.
While green architecture is a general term, other environmentally-related phrases are also commonly heard. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is an international third-party rating system and often discussed in relation to the performance of a building or the certification of a professional. Carbon footprints are a measure of greenhouse gases produced by our activities. There are many other topics that offer different angles for understanding sustainability. Green architecture, however, is a phrase that operates at a broad level, addressing environmentally friendly efforts in buildings.
A few of my students always want to debate whether or not green architecture is no more than politically correct or trendy. I'm more than happy to participate in such discussions. The weather in the Ozarks always makes for good conversation about global warming. Yet regardless of one's interpretation of the latest hail storm or record flooding, the perspective I share with them is not grounded on climate change science. I simply believe that green architecture is the right thing to do.
There are many ways to achieve this type of building. It is not required that green architecture be new construction, nor does it have to include specific types of design elements or particular equipment. There is certainly more than one way of being sustainable and there are many degrees of green architecture, or "shades of green," so to speak. The key is to find the ways that work for you and continue expanding them.
Replacing incandescent bulbs with a variety of recent lighting technologies is something that everyone recognizes as part of the green building movement and a great place to start. Updating equipment to obtain the best efficiencies reduces energy consumption and lowers operating costs, as does adding insulation and replacing older windows and doors. Geothermal systems, which use the earth to provide heat in the winter and absorb it in the summer, are becoming more and more common, as are solar panels and wind turbines. Actions such as these begin moving architecture toward being green, and that's exactly what Drury University has been doing recently.
From Stone Chapel's geothermal system to Wallace Hall's renovation and Smith Hall's solar panels, Drury is taking important steps to improve existing facilities in an environmentally friendly way. I am excited that these historical structures are now also teaching tools for how to live more sustainably. Drury's new construction is taking the same path, as the O'Reilly Center introduces a combination of green building approaches that range from storm water retention to superior equipment and systems ratings.
While these are wonderful steps, I know that even greater green architecture possibilities exist for Drury as well as the rest of our built environment. It is rare that a building generates its own power using renewable resources today, but I hope this will be the standard in tomorrow's buildings. Rain water collection systems can also become more common, even being integrated with waste systems. Each building element will be reusable, recycling everything from carpet to ceiling tile. Nothing will be sent to the landfill. All buildings will be healthy and comfortable. Even the land in which the building is located will be better because of a strong relationship between the site and the facility.
I believe that all these possibilities are within reach. If we continue to pursue these green approaches, we will achieve a significant paradigm shift, perhaps even the greatest of our history. That is, if we succeed in constructing, renovating and maintaining a built environment that operates not to exploit the environment but become part of it, we'll adopt a view of buildings and nature in which the two work with respect for one another. Buildings and their environments will finally be recognized as the holistic system they are.
While this paradigm shift is achievable, it cannot be done without a commitment to it. Not only does the building industry have to continually improve the technologies, but we have to step up our actions as well. Adoption of green building systems is a must. Persistence in embracing sustainable habits is necessary, such as turning off lights, adjusting thermostats, operating windows and shades and maintaining equipment. Improved comfort in buildings may be gained only if we consciously think about and put to work the green measures around us.
I am looking forward to the day that green architecture is simply the way construction is done, and there is no other way to build. A shift of this magnitude doesn't happen overnight, but we are certainly on our way. I am proud that Drury is being proactive in this movement and serving as a leader and teacher for green building in the region.
Karen Spence is assistant professor of architecture at Drury University.