Ecobuild Federal
Dec. 4-7
Washington Convention Center

The Industry: building design, construction, and renovation

The Attendees: 2,000 engineers, designers, architects, and urban planners transforming the built environment with lean, green, and ultimately self-sustaining machines

The Issues:

Eskimo’ Better: Sure, Buckminister Fuller’s geodesic dome maximizes structural strength while minimizing materials, thanks to its self-bracing framework of triangles. But the Inuits’ igloo optimizes volume, minimizes surface area, and conserves energy. “You can’t get more rapidly renewable than ice,” said “The Shape of Green” presenter Lance Hosey.

Aesthetics Vs. Ethics: Hosey, an architect with Charlottesville, Va.–based green building pioneers William McDonough + Partners, said architects must aspire beyond eye candy. “If it is not beautiful, it is not sustainable,” Hosey said, noting that nine of 10 buildings certified by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards suffer from uninspired design. “You can make a water bottle infinitely recyclable, but in the end, if it’s uncomfortable or hideous, people will throw it away,” he said. “How long will buildings last if they’re not embraced culturally?” A noted success: 30 Saint Mary Axe, the glass-sheathed London skyscraper whose nicknames include the “Erotic Gherkin” and “Towering Innuendo.”

Mold Rush: Building Health Sciences Inc. toxicology experts tallied the growing expense of mold and moisture damage. In one case, a leaking pipe ultimately cost $3.2 million. In December 2004, the mold- and class-action-lawsuit-plagued Hilton Hawaiian Village spent $55 million and a year gutting a 453-room tower.

See Nocebo, Sniff Nocebo: Elaborating on “false-positive outbreaks,” the Rockville mold experts posited that many problems stem from etiologic agents outside the accused building. Furthermore, “perception of hazard”—the human tendency to link physical phenomena to unrelated causes—can lead to reporting bias and the “nocebo effect”—sickness caused by the expectation of sickness.

Sustaina-Bull?: Buildings consume more energy per square foot now than in 1990, said Vicki Worden as she introduced the Green Building Initiative’s Green Globes rating system. This alternative to LEED certification squares up metrics with performance targets, thus fostering reduced energy consumption, lower operating costs, and improved IAQ (indoor air quality). The eight buildings certified in the Green Globes pilot program include the Clinton Presidential Library. Commemorative displays may not be awarded until a building performs to standards for a year or so, since, Worden noted, “it’s hard to hack the plaque off the wall.”

Animal Plan-It: Among the year’s Top 10 Sustainable Solutions: a concrete-laden Las Vegas water-treatment plant transformed into an animal shelter that uses 81 percent less energy than similar facilities, thanks to 100 percent daylighting and wind-powered ventilation. At the new World Birding Center in Mission, Texas, rainwater collected in a 47,000-gallon tank serves all of the center’s needs and has turned its once-barren 1,700-acre site into a wetlands habitat for birds and butterflies.

Guilt Environment: At the “Making Renewable Do-Able,” session, Steven Strong, designer of the first all-solar house in 1980, reflected on an 800-year-old building at Oxford that exemplified rock-solid architecture using locally sourced, renewable materials: “What have we accomplished in sustainability in all of the years since?”

Mis-LEED: “Building Green” keynote presenters examined why green-wannabe buildings underperform: a lack of accountability to achieve or maintain high ratings; design details that prove too complicated to execute; systems that consume as much or more energy than conventional counterparts. The takeaway: “Let’s not treat green as just a marketing tool.”

Eco-Logic: A sentiment expressed in several conference seminars: In this age of smart materials and technologies, architects are increasingly mustering the courage to tell clients, “Size matters.” Instead of obsessing over how to make a large building more efficient, why not just build a smaller building? Likening design of an energy-autonomous building to that of a boat for the America’s Cup race, presenter Steven Strong stressed that every decision must optimize performance: “Don’t seek a bigger ass; decrease load.”

Solar, So Good: Strong observed that even though Holland has less sunlight than Anchorage, Alaska, photovoltaic cells are everywhere, and Switzerland’s highways are lined with solar collectors. “Here in the U.S., we fuss over cornices,” he said.

Just Like Old: This year’s first-place Sustainable Buildings Industry Council award winner, the Cambridge, Mass., City Hall Annex, is world’s the oldest building to earn LEED certification. This 33,000-square-foot showcase of sustainability includes skylights, glazed partition walls, and green new-technology replications of parapets and other historical elements. Exterior brick and stairwells are all that remain unchanged in the 1871 landmark.