By BECKY GILLETTE
“Green design” in architecture is far more than a buzz word or a fad. It is increasingly just the way things are done to not only preserve the environment, but the value of the owner’s investments.
Green architecture as a phrase may be a fad, said Michael Berk, AIA, director of the School of Architecture at Mississippi State University. The word he prefers is ecological design, that is designing in concert and in balance with the natural systems around us, working with these systems instead of against them.
The U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines are now used by many federal projects, as well as state and local governmental projects and private developments.
“The purpose of the guidelines is to minimize energy use, maximize resources, minimize land use and create healthier, sustainable construction and living environments,” Berk said. “In and of itself, it is not going to solve the world’s problems. But it is a good minimum standard like the building code is a good minimum standard. LEED guidelines are now fundamentally a standardized practice for building design, construction and commissioning. Homes are probably the largest investment most people will ever make, and green building techniques maximize the return on investment because buildings are designed to last and perform efficiently and economically.”
In the future, major changes will be coming in how buildings are powered. Berk said at present, electricity comes from large, centralized power plants many miles away, and approximately 40 to 60 percent of the energy is lost through friction and heat dissipation in the grid before it gets to the end user.
“That is not a good economic model,” Berk said. “We now have the solar technology that makes it possible for every building to take care of its own energy needs. The future could be based on a ‘distributed power model’ for localized energy generation. A comparison is the Internet and stand-alone computers versus the mainframe computer and dumb terminals. Currently we have buildings that rely on central power plants. We could use the energy grid in the same way that the Internet operates and allow each building on the grid to make its own energy and send excess energy to other places when there is excess and purchase additional energy from the grid when it is needed. Photo-voltaic collection makes economic sense right now.”
Berk said internationally the clean energy sector is growing at a phenomenal rate in terms of jobs and economic development.
“Japan, Germany, China and South Korea have figured it out, and they are leaving us in the dust,” he said. “The U.S. led the world in solar and wind technology 15 years ago and it now appears that many nations are leapfrogging ahead of us.”
Green architecture applies not just to new but existing buildings, said Allison H. Anderson, FAIA, LEED-AP, unabridged Architecture PLLC, Bay St. Louis, who in 2002 became the first architect in Mississippi to be LEED accredited.
“One principal is the greenest building is an already existing building, if you can keep it in a functional condition,” she said. “If you have a building that can be renovated, that is the best situation. You have already fired the bricks and cut down the trees. Those are resources that have already been extracted or harvested.”
For existing buildings, Anderson recommends better insulation, upgrading windows and doors to reflect the heat rather than absorbing it and “cool roofs.”
“Roofs are really important in this climate,” she said. “If you are going to replace your roof, you should look at cool roofs which are very bright white that reflects the heat instead of absorbing it.”
She recommends covered spaces outdoors to reduce the urban heat island effect. An example is trees shading permeable parking lots. For a really green building, install low-flow toilets, sinks and showers, and upgrade mechanical equipment. Replace lights with LEDs bulbs, and install motion occupancy sensors so lights turn off automatically when people are not in the room.
Even before Hurricane Katrina, Anderson stressed to clients that sustainability is really important. After Katrina, they realized it wasn’t just sustainability that was important, but resilience. That involves making buildings safe for occupancy before and after a storm event like a hurricane on the Coast or a tornado in the Delta. She said buildings need to be prepared for climate change that is resulting in more severe weather events.
Anderson said resilience is about the entire design of communities, not just individual buildings. After Hurricane Sandy, the 2012 Atlantic hurricane that caused an estimated $69 billion in damages, Anderson’s firm won a competition sponsored by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) called Rebuild by Design. Ten international teams were chosen to come up with ideas to make the Northeast more resilient because they weren’t prepared for Hurricane Sandy.
“Surprisingly, some of their buildings are only three feet above sea level, which is kind of shocking to us on the Gulf Coast,” Anderson said. “This project took about a year. I led a team from the Gulf Coast including the MSU Gulf Coast Community Design Studio and another firm from New Orleans. We designed city scale improvements in Bridgeport, Conn., and were successfully in getting Bridgeport $75 million in awards from HUD to improve their resilience.”
Anderson said it became apparent after Hurricane Katrina that communities must be prepared for bigger storms, higher temperatures and greater sea level change—more severe climate challenges all the way around. She did a lot of research and ended up writing an entry in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia about adapting to climate sensitive hazards through architecture.
“We talk a lot about adaption because we are going to have to adapt our buildings and behaviors to climate change,” she said. “Right now, here on the Coast, we have about 82 days a year that are more than 90 degrees. By the 2020, we will have about 100 days more than 90 degrees, and by 2080, 120 to 155 days that are more than 90 degrees. We need to prepare for that. Think how our air conditioners strain in the peak months. Think how our electrical grid is strained over peak summer afternoons.”
Anderson said it is also important to be prepared for more severe rainstorms by having less impermeable surfaces and more places for the water to go where it doesn’t cause flooding. Options include permeable paving options for parking areas and detection swales or ponds.
A good example is the Depot pond in Bay St. Louis. It stores storm water while creating a scenic spot for visitors.
“Green infrastructure can be a really beneficial attraction for cities,” Anderson said. “It doesn’t have to just be a ditch. And this isn’t just a coastal issue. There are just as many problems in Jackson or any other city that has a lot of concrete.”
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