Archive for the ‘Green Buildings’ Category


Sunlight penetrates into basement of new Center for Landscape Architecture / Gensler

While LEED is nearly a household name, not everyone has heard of WELL, the first building standard for human health and wellness. Used for an office, LEED looks at environmental sustainability, but WELL is focused exclusively on the health of employees, whose salaries account for the vast majority of the total cost of any commercial building. The new rating system, which was just released last fall by the International Well Building Institute, is in its pilot testing phase, but already a number of companies and organizations are jumping on board. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), which is transforming its 20-year-old Washington, D.C. headquarters into a state-of-the-art Center for Landscape Architecture, will aim for both LEED Platinum and WELL Silver in its renovation.

At an event in Washington, D.C., Whitney Austin Grey, International Well Building Institute, said WELL will help architects “design out health problems.” Like others, she believes the built environment has a major impact on health, mostly a negative one. Chronic diseases — like obesity and stress — are in large part created by poor environments that encourage sitting and eating fattening foods, and limit walking and access to nature. As a result, “planners, architects, landscape architects have a bigger impact on our health than physicians.”

As Nathan Stodola, also with the Institute, explained, the new system, which is being tested in everything from residential to commercial to restaurant environments, has 7 categories, with 122 features, and 450 requirements. Categories include air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. WELL seeks to create indoor building environments that “create habitats for life.” The prerequisites and credits are based on “best empirical research and practices.”

Grey provided a brief run-down of each of the seven categories as they relate to offices:

Air: Indoor air quality and building materials are deeply linked. “There are about 75,000 chemicals in existence. About 7,000 have been tested by the Environmental Protection Agency, and a further 700 are known to be carcinogenic.” While it’s hard to establish a causal relationship between exposure to a chemical and cancer, “we can look at the chemicals in a environment we don’t know the impact of and take precautions.” WELL calls for both strict air quality testing and details on the materials of all products used in the building.

Water: While there is source treatment of water in the U.S., urban water infrastructure is eroding and outdated building pipes can be problematic. “There is great misuse of water in infrastructure.” WELL aims to get all heavy metals out of the water coming into a building and moving through it. For some buildings, that will mean completely redoing the pipes.

Nourishment: “We need to create full health for employees, which means staff cafeterias or caterers don’t serve fried foods.” Grey also talked about making smart use of “choice architecture.” For example, cafeteria managers can put healthy food front and center and make it more difficult to get to the M&Ms. “We have to make it easy to do the healthy thing.”

Light: “We are concerned with circadian rhythm issues. Humans are meant to be exposed to light; its how our organs function and repair themselves.” Grey said there are studies showing that shift workers who don’t have access to daylight have higher rates of some cancers. “Light is not optional, but far too often it’s a privilege.” Already, some $63 billion in company losses can be associated with poor work performance due to sleep deprivation, which can be tied to issues with the circadian rhythm.

Fitness: “Employees need to be active throughout the day.” To accomplish this, employers must realize not all environments are for everyone. “It’s not ideal for employees to be sitting 8 hours a day. Going to the gym for half an hour in the morning it’s going to help.” Wider staircases can help as well as using “choice architecture” to force people to circulate.

Comfort: This is about everything from acoustics to temperatures to ergonomics and even smell. If any of these things are off, they can cause stress.

Mind: “Buildings need to incorporate beauty and equity.” Employees should have access to everything from spaces for respite to progressive travel policies to paid volunteer work opportunities, in the effort to restore productivity and improve wellness.

Already, efforts to achieve WELL are shaping the overall design of the new ASLA headquarters. For example, ASLA is cutting a hole through its roof, putting in a light well with a sunbeamer that will intensify and direct light all the way into the basement level so all employees benefit (see image above).

But putting all WELL asks for into practice may prove to be a challenging but fun puzzle, said Gensler architect Katie Mesia, who explained how LEED rewards buildings for reducing energy use and therefore lighting use, while WELL calls for having “light on your face and in your eyes” at all times to restore the natural circadian rhythm. She said this will be tricky to reconcile the competing requirements, but one possible solution will be to use blue lights, which have a healthier color temperature under cabinets and in task lighting, leaving out ceiling lights all together.

Another challenge relates to water: D.C.’s water standards are about 4 times lower than what WELL wants. “The standard here is not good.” A water filtration system would need to be added to ASLA’s building, but the existing mechanical system doesn’t have space for UV light or carbon filters. Replacing the existing system may be cost-prohibitive.

But Mesia is optimistic she can find solutions with ASLA: “they are a special, progressive client. I’m getting into the heart of their business, and they have opened and exposed all of that.” Plus, using LEED and WELL in combination has meant the challenge is really just “choosing between multiple healthy solutions.”

Learn how to donate and help build ASLA’s new Center for Landscape Architecture.

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Project Jewel at Changi Airport, Singapore / Safdie Architects

Singapore has long aspired to be a “city in a garden.” Since the early 1960s, the 300-square-mile city-state has been serious about preserving nature and also greening underused spaces. In 1970, President Lee Kuan Yew dictated that there were to be “no brownfields;” all empty space would be planted. Today there are 5.4 million people packed into the island, but nearly 10 percent of the country is covered in parks, many of them newly created. More than 300 neighborhood and regional parks along with four nature preserves are in the process of being connected through hundreds of kilometers of greenways. Now, Singapore’s Changi airport, the sixth busiest in the world, is getting the same treatment as the rest of the country — its being greened, in an exciting way that re-conceives the experience of the airport.

Safdie Architects and PWP Landscape Architecture are creating a spherical “air hub,” a 134,000-square-meter bio-dome, in the center of Changi so even brief visitors passing through Singapore will get a sense of this garden-city as they walk through the interior landscape.

According to Safdie Architects, the glass dome will be home to gardens and walking trails, accessible via multiple levels.

The centerpiece will be a “rain vortex,” a 40-meter-tall waterfall fed by recycled rainwater collected from the dome.

This being Singapore, the land of shopping malls, some 4 million square feet of retail, hotel, restaurant and entertainment space will circle the exterior of the gardens.

The entire structure will be supported by a ring of tree-like columns at the outside edge of the gardens.

Safdie told DesignBoom: “This project redefines and reinvents what airports are all about. The new paradigm is to create a diverse and meaningful meeting place that serves as a gateway to the city and country, complementing commerce and services with attractions and gardens for passengers, airport employees, and the city at large.”

Work began at the end of 2014, and the dome is expected to open in 2018.

Learn more about Singapore’s ambitious green plan.

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Mesa City Center / all images Colwell Shelor, West 8, and Weddle Gilmore

Colwell Shelor Landscape Architecture, West 8 Urban Design + Landscape Architecture, and Weddle Gilmore have won a design competition to create Mesa City Center, a new civic space destined to accelerate urbanization in Mesa, a city of more than 450,000 in the greater, sprawled-out suburban area surrounding Phoenix, Arizona. A major investment in making this part of the country more walkable, the new 19-acre town square will be a “catalyst for the next 100 years of urban growth in downtown Mesa,” argued Colwell Shelor, the lead landscape architects. The new downtown public spaces will be financed with park bonds, approved by voters in 2012. This project, like the new Klyde Warren Park in Dallas and the Newport Beach Civic Center in California, indicates that more heavily car-centric cities are making ambitious investments in high-quality public space, because people everywhere want these amenities and are willing to pay for them.

“Today, the site is a mix of parking lots and municipal buildings. When complete, Mesa City Center will feature a signature public space that will catalyze new development and enliven Mesa’s downtown core,” said Michele Shelor, ASLA, principal, Colwell Shelor. And from design partner West 8’s Jamie Maslyn Larson, ASLA, we hear: “Cities around the country have been shaped around their ‘village green’ or town square. These places are oases in the city. We started thinking, this is what Mesa wants — its own town square, but with a twist, so that it’s a place people from all over the state will revisit again and again.”

The new space is “characterized by generous spaces for flexible uses, inviting landscapes celebrating the Sonoran desert, and ground floor uses with public-oriented programs that draw people into and through Mesa City Center to Main Street, the Arts Center, Convention Center, and residential neighborhoods.”

The center piece of the design is a new events space that will both accommodate larger festivals along with weekly events like a farmer’s market, exercise classes, and movies in the park.

The new space features a unique copper shade structure with an “evaporative cooling tower,” which will “mitigate the dry, hot climate with added moisture and a consistent, cooling breeze.” According to Colwell Shelor, “similar constructions have been shown to drop air temperatures by fifteen to twenty degrees. The surface will also host a projection screen for performances and movie screenings.”

Part of the structure is set within a pool of water. In the renderings, this undulating form will also provide the frame for swings, making this a mecca for kids.

And the pool will become an ice-skating rink in winter.

An upper terrace will create have a more informal feel, with Sonoran Desert-themed gardens and smaller plazas.

A promenade will connect the plaza and upper terrace, with a path lined with seating and trees.


Sustainability is a focus. Allison Colwell, ASLA, a principal at Colwell Shelor, explained: “A guiding principle of the design is to incorporate sustainable measures into all aspects of the design so that the Mesa City Center will be a model for environmentally sensitive and energy-efficient development. A few of the strategies we will consider are adaptive reuse of existing buildings, an evaporative cooling tower, bio-retention planters, rainwater harvesting, solar power, use of grey water, and permeable paving.”

Furthermore, “the overarching landscape strategy is to use native plants as the backbone of different plant communities for seasonal beauty, diversity, and habitats, and to use stormwater and greywater to support these plant communities.”

City Hall itself may also contribute to the the sustainability of the overall design. The team proposes a 150 kW solar parasol over the roof, creating an inviting rooftop public space with great views.

The parasol will provide shade but also generate approximately 260,000 kWh/yr. power.

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ASLA 2014 General Design Honor Award. Low Maintenance Eco-Campus: Vanke Research Center Shenzhen, China. Z + T Studio, Landscape Architecture/ Z + T Studio

In New Orleans, GreenBuild participants filled an auditorium to hear world-famous author and alternative medicine guru Deepak Chopra speak. He shared his road map for “higher health” and discussed practical ways to experience higher consciousness, transformation, and healing.

Chopra serves on the advisory board of Delos, a real estate development and research company that has developed the WELL Building Standard®, the first protocol of its kind to focus on human wellness in the built environment.

“I want you to have a sense of wonder over the mystery of your own being,” Chopra told the audience. He posed two of the “most important unsolved scientific questions,” namely: what the universe is made of? and what is the biological basis of consciousness?

These questions are important because “suffering happens when we don’t know the true nature of reality.” The universe is mostly “nothing, with only five percent made up of atoms.” It’s a “mysterious force holding your body together.”

The universe is also “consciousness and its contents,” and therefore, according to Chopra, “you are the localization of the entire universe.”

“This leads us to a very fundamental idea—you are the immediate environment, the room you’re in, the air you breathe,” added Chopra.

He cited the WELL Building Standard® as a means to connect people within the built environment and optimize their well being. He also described hospitals as “the next frontier in building standards” because creating “the right environment can improve the poor quality air, bad food, and anxiety” often found in healthcare environments.

Chopra ended his talk by leading a relaxing meditation. Once the audience opened their eyes, they gave him a standing ovation.

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Empire State Building, Earth Day / Inga’s Angle blog

Achieving sustainability requires more than just enacting forward-thinking legislation—it also requires compliance with laws and regulations. This was the message of Gina Bocra, chief sustainability officer; Emily Hoffman, director of energy code compliance; and Holly Savoia, director of sustainability enforcement, all with the New York City government, as they spoke at this year’s GreenBuild conference in New Orleans.

The three work for New York City’s department of buildings’ sustainability unit, one of the largest of its kind in the country. Informally known as “NYC’s Green SWAT Team,” the panelists and their staff are charged with helping the city meet its goal of reducing greenhouse emissions by 30 percent by 2030. They have a tremendous task, as nearly three quarters of NYC’s greenhouse gas emissions comes from the building sector.

The city’s groundbreaking Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, which was enacted in December 2009, is actually composed of four laws that address benchmarking, energy codes, audits and retro-commissioning, and lighting and submetering. [To further explain, retro-commissioning is a whole-building systems-based approach to improving an existing building’s performance.] These laws have to be enforced to be effective. “We provide some incentives, but we also hold the stick,” said Bocra. “We focus on fines and violations, but the goal is compliance.”

According to Hoffman, in January 2014 the unit began inspecting all new and renovated buildings for energy efficiency. A sustainability plan examiner reviews the energy code, and an inspection team, which may include third party inspectors, ensures the building is meeting the code as it is being built. So far, inspectors have looked at 2,600 new building applications, 4,500 major alterations applications, and 60,000 minor alterations applications.

Hoffman said the inspectors often encounter a “mind boggling” number of documentation and administrative errors and other technical issues. For instance, the square footage of areas don’t add up, or the U-factors (showing how part of a building conducts heat) are thrown in without any supporting documentation. As a result, Crain’s New York reported that nine out of ten commercial and residential projects fail on their first try to get their applications approved.

According to Savoia, sustainability inspectors make objections after comprehensive review. Half of submissions were returned last year due to “minor” issues, including missing owner signatures and improperly filled out forms. However, the unit is having an incredibly positive effect: compliance with local laws governing annual benchmarking of energy use, energy audits, and retro-commissioning increased from 76 percent in 2011 to 84 percent in 2012.

Hoffman acknowledged that “the energy code is really complex. There are different paths to compliance for residential and commercial buildings. It’s really difficult to understand this stuff, and so we have to provide more education.”

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Curly willow, myrtle, and palm fronds in the “Tension Release” sukkah, Sukkot at the Ranch 2014 / Yoshi Silverstein

“On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the harvest of your land, you shall observe a festival . . . you shall take the product of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook . . . You shall live in booths for seven days.” Leviticus 23:39-43

Ancient verses from the Jewish Bible and contemporary landscape design do not often overlap, but this year no fewer than five design competitions and exhibitions throughout the U.S. and Canada have asked designers to create modern interpretations of the “booths” referred to in Leviticus. Called a sukkah in Hebrew, the temporary dwellings have been built annually by Jews for the last two millennia to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot (plural for sukkah), a week-long Autumn harvest festival. The holiday is a unique, three-dimensional religious experience, where participants are asked to not only re-tell the stories of their Jewish ancestors, but actually re-live their experiences and make them meaningful for today.

The idea of a design competition for the sukkah, however, dates back just a few years to 2010, when the popular Sukkah City event built twelve radical new interpretations of the sukkah at Union Square in New York City.

“The sukkah is one of the very few times where the Jewish liturgy and tradition actually has an architectural expression. So it’s amazing nobody thought of this before,” says architectural critic and Sukkah City juror Paul Goldberger in the documentary film chronicling the process.

Interpreting what is meant by “booth” creates a natural design challenge. The Talmud, a compendium of Jewish law, lays out the parameters that make a sukkah “kosher” – up to code, so speak. The basic constraints are simple: it must be temporary, with at least two and a half walls, big enough to contain a table, and have a roof made from organic materials that provide more shade than sun, but allow one to see the stars. “Yet a deep dialogue of historical texts intricately refines and interprets these constraints,“ says Sukkah City. “The paradoxical effect of these constraints is to produce a building that is at once new and old, timely and timeless, mobile and stable, open and enclosed, homey and uncanny, comfortable and critical.”

Sukkah City People's Choice Winner "Fractured Bubble" / Wikimedia Commons

Sukkah City People’s Choice Winner “Fractured Bubble” / Wikimedia Commons

Many who grew up celebrating the holiday of Sukkot think of the sukkah as some version of a box framed by 2 x 4 wooden planks or PVC piping, walls built from plywood or stretched canvas, and a roof made from whatever branches or other plant materials could be sourced locally. Many Jewish homes and communities enjoy the opportunity to gather friends together to build and decorate the sukkah, often with the kind of fall-themed decorations found at the local craft shop: dried gourds, hanging paper ribbons and pendants, string-lights. The holiday has long engendered a warm, community-based ethic – and for those who sleep in the structure, it’s like backyard camping as a kid.

For designers, however, the possibilities of new forms, materials, and construction methods within the set design constraints are a fascinating opportunity to translate religious ideas and values into physical form. For event organizers, the opportunity is to directly connect important social justice issues like homelessness to Jewish tradition and engage community members in new ways.

In Toronto, Sukkahville was started in 2011 by non-profit housing agency Kehilla Residential Programme to highlight its affordable housing initiatives. “Sukkahville helps create a conversation about affordable housing, raises public awareness through an interactive Sukkah exhibition and most importantly, it generates funds for its Rental Assistance Program that helps those who need a home,” says the design brief on the website.

Visitors climb inside a sukkah at Sukkahville 2013 / Sukkahville

Visitors climb inside a sukkah at Sukkahville 2013 / Sukkahville

While the basic constraints are tantalizing on their own, some organizers dug deeper to further frame design guidelines with Judaic connections. As this year is considered a year of shmita (sabbatical), the 2014 Sukkot at the Ranch competition is themed “Release, Renew, Reimagine.” Based on the traditional shmita year during which the Israelites were instructed to fallow their agricultural lands and release debts, the design brief asks: “How can a temporary structure explore these juxtapositions of harvest and release?” Here are the three finalists. (Full disclosure: the author is a finalist in this competition as well).


“Three Petals” sukkah pays homage to nomadicism with its teepee inspired form / Sukkot at the Ranch


“Untitled #8″ sukkah has seven sides, one of which is open / Sukkot at the Ranch

Central bamboo spire inside the "Tension Release" sukkah at Sukkot at the Ranch / Yoshi Silverstein

Central bamboo spire inside the “Tension Release” sukkah, Sukkot at the Ranch / Yoshi Silverstein

Other events, such as SukkahPDX at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education in Portland, and Sukkah City STL 2014: Between Absence and Presence in St. Louis, partner Jewish community organizations with museums and design schools. “What sets apart Sukkah City STL is that the competition focuses on emerging architecture and design students,” says Jacqueline Ulin Levey, St. Louis Hillel president, in a St. Louis Post Dispatch article.


Visitors take a selfie in the “Disintegrating Boundaries” sukkah at Sukkah City STL / Joe Angeles, WUSTL Photos


“Fleeting Moments” sukkah at SukkahPDX / Janet Eastman

These kinds of design competitions provide the opportunity to invite distinguished professionals to the jury. Kenneth Helphand, FASLA, a well-known landscape architecture professor at the University of Oregon, was a member of the jury for SukkahPDX. The Sukkot at the Ranch competition sponsored by the Leichtag Foundation in Encinitas, CA, features landscape architect Mia Lehrer, FASLA, as a judge this year.

The competitions and exhibitions gave finalists materials budgets ranging from $1,000 – $3,600, and most require the structures be built in a day. Many exhibitions are still open to the public for the remaining days of Sukkot.

Yoshi Silverstein, Associate ASLA, is founder and lead designer-educator at Mitsui Design, which strengthens Jewish connections to place. He was the ASLA summer 2014 communications intern.

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Perez Art Museum Miami / all photos by Robin Hill

The built and natural environments merged to form something new and amazing in Miami: The Perez Art Museum. One of the most fascinating recent uses of integrated design, the museum features a hanging garden and a complementary, tropical landscape filled with native plants and irrigated by the building itself. Designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron and landscape designers at ArquitectonicaGEO, the museum is a prime example of multidisciplinary team-driven sustainable design.

Exploring the museum from the ground up shows us how the project just builds one sustainable layer upon the next. As ArquitectonicaGEO explains, given the museum is close to the Biscayne Bay, it first had to be elevated to meet flood and storm surge requirements.

The designers ended up putting the garage underneath, which opened up opportunities for smart, multi-purpose design. The arrangement enabled the creation of a “design that integrates parking and planting beds with irrigation system water storage, storm water infiltration, temporary storm surge storage, and aquifer recharge. The innovative porous-floored parking garage, along with rain gardens, has been designed to capture rain water and funnel it into the ground water system, thus reducing local flooding and storm water runoff into Biscayne Bay.” This approach apparently saved the client money, too.

Examining the surrounding landscape, one discovers the varied yet native-rich landscape is also a journey of discovery, enabling visitors to explore new realms of both the plant and art worlds. ArquitectonicaGEO tells us: “A naturalistic planting style dominates throughout the ground level and Level 1 planters, progressing from South Florida natives mimicking endemic habitats outside the building, to a mix of plant types adjacent to the building, and finally a more constructed pan-tropical and exotic palette within the garage and Level 1 planters. The landscape sequence begins on Museum Drive along the new Science Museum and Art Museums, continues in the underground parking garage with a surprising display of plant material in an unexpected location, and continues above ground with the spectacle of the hanging vegetation, and the discoveries within the sculpture garden.”

Landscape architects also saved ten of the large West Indian Mahogany, Black Olive, and Tabebuia trees found on the site, transplanting them to new spots.

The building itself maximizes its exposure to natural air flow and the cooling power of plants. There are “extensive roof overhangs,” providing access to the landscape and elements.

Much like the first Brutalist buildings in France, which paired concrete and nature, here, the pan-tropical vegetation is a counterpoint to the Modernism of Herzog & de Meuron’s building. Laurinda Spear, lead designer of ArquitectonicaGEO, told us: “Native plants have been chosen to display the raw materials of our landscape as a contrast to the geometric architecture of the building.”

The hanging vertical green gardens only enhance the effect of the green counterpoint. They were created by green wall designer Patrick Blanc and horticulturalists Michael Davenport from Fairchild Tropical Garden and Jeff Shimonski from Jungle Island.


ArquitectonicaGEO explains the original design just featured the hanging gardens, but was eventually expanded to include the sustainable system for the horizontal landscape. The result is a far richer place.

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Helen Schneider / Naturbad Riehen

The people of Riehen, a small city near Basel in Switzerland, have long wanted a new public swimming pool to replace their “obsolescent baths” by the River Wiese. In the late 1970s, the city government even launched a design competition. Unfortunately, the initial vision was never realized, but, just a few years ago, the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron got to thinking about new possibilities. They write: “the changed perspectives brought by the intervening years prompted the idea of abandoning the conventional pool concept, with its mechanical and chemical water treatment systems, in favor of a pool closer to a natural condition with biological filtration.” The citizens liked the idea, giving it the thumbs-up in a municipal vote.

Herzog & de Meuron say their new approach enables “technical systems and machine rooms to vanish.” Their all-natural approach means no chlorine or other chemicals are added; filtering plants help keep the water clean.

Biological water treatment basins, which are the “heart of the baths,” also play a major role. DesignBoom tells us: “The process is modeled after natural, terrestrial water purification, through layers of gravel, sand, and soil.” Herzog & de Meuron worked with Swiss landscape architecture firm Fahri und Breitenfeld on the system.

Amazingly, this all-natural approach enables the bath to accommodate up to 2,000 people a day, who enter as they would a small pond. DesignBoom writes: “Its edge takes an irregular and vegetated boundary, with various methods for guests to enter the water. These include a gently sloping gravel beach, staircases, as well as wood docks that allow for a jump.”

The structures around the natural pool are modeled on the local “Badi,” or Basel’s “traditional wooden Rhine-side baths.” Timber walls provide screen on the north and west sides, with built-in recliners for sunbathing.

The southern view, which faces the river, is open. On the east side, the wood wall opens for the entrance.

There are also open-air showers and a small cafe.

See more images at DesignBoom.

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Darmstadt – Kranichstein Passive House, Germany / International Passivehaustagung

At a conference organized by the National Council on Science and the Environment (NCSE) in Washington, D.C., Diana Ürge-Vorsatz, director of the Center for Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Policy at Central European University, said “spreading today’s best building practices could hold energy costs steady,” but the big question is “how to get the public and private sectors to work together to make transformational change.” That was one of the key takeaways in a session moderated by The New York TimesAndrew Revkin.

Here are some more problems limiting action on climate change, and the transformational solutions needed to solve them:

The problems

David Hales, president of Second Nature, thought “higher education should be leveraged to promote the transition to a sustainable society.” However, “all educational institutions think they are eternal and plan to be around forever.” Hales noted that “we’re not prepared to deal with the gap between aspiring for eternal existence and living in our future climate.” Plus, most university endowments don’t take materials’ effect on the environment into consideration. About “seven percent of endowments are invested in fossil fuels.”

Robert Dixon, vice president at Siemens Infrastructure and Cities, worried that “our decision-making methodology is broken.” Thinking about the life of a building tends to be short term rather than long-term, considering the building’s entire life cycle.

Jennifer Jurado, director of the Natural Resources Planning and Management Division, Broward County, Florida, noted that in southeast Florida, “water is recognized as a vulnerability, impacting now just coastal communities but inward ones as well.” Measures are not in place within the water system to deal with the massive flooding associated with storm events.

Also, boosting renewable energy is challenging, with “very few incentives for anyone to do anything.” She said “our energy prices are already very low.” Accordingly, the risk in renewable energy is transferred to the individual.

According to Ürge-Vorsatz, “there is a way to get more energy wisdom.” She provided a European perspective, with “systemic approaches to energy waste.” A “transformational change in the building sector gives us tremendous opportunities. It’s good for everyone.” She noted that “we know how to build and retrofit buildings that use one tenth of energy, get rid of allergens, and are more comfortable, but a lot of people don’t believe this.” Incremental change, for instance replacing a roof or light bulbs, is “doing more harm than good,” given “systemic deep retrofits are more cost effective.”

Anthony Michaels, co-founder and managing director of Proteus Environmental Technologies and chief scientist at Pegasus Capital Advisors, said “you can make money reducing emissions. Why aren’t companies doing this?” He asked us to think about material waste. We “haul oil out of the ground, pour our ingenuity to turn it into products that end up in the dump and don’t commingle.”

Some solutions

Is the academic side too slow? “Yes and no,” said Hales. “What colleges and universities have done well is to grab the low-hanging fruit, but they haven’t looked systemically at how to produce change.” He urged “starting with research and refocusing the mission of higher education on this critical issue of the twenty-first century.”

Dixon called for a push to build awareness of the environmental return on investment. “Building owners have a choice, and there’s no imperative to do anything.” The “real challenge is economics—a new roof will take 50 years to pay back.”

“Europe has a very different approach to regulations,” said Ürge-Vorsatz, who cited their quite strong legislation and strict building performance standards. “I do see tremendous behavioral changes in Europe”—for instance, “one third of people commute by bicycle”—but “there is still a tremendous educational need.” She saw a need to be “more innovative with business models,” really educating business leaders to use economic models that capture long-term interest.

Finally, Jurado saw “the consequences of elected officials always dealing with post-event effects rather than the long term.” She observed that “local communities have a greater understanding of sea level rise, but this conversation isn’t happening at the state level.” She described a 2009 partnership between several counties in southeast Florida, including Broward, that resulted in “uniform planning tools and sea level planning projections being formally integrated” into local government.

This guest post is by Karen Grajales, ASLA Public Relations Manager.

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Botanist and garden designer Patrick Blanc, who usually stays just a few stories off the ground with his densely-planted vertical gardens, is now moving higher and higher. Working with starchitect Jean Nouvel, Blanc has been sheathing two 380-feet-tall buildings in green. What once looked like a fanciful graduate school student’s thesis has now become reality: vertical gardens are now climbing up skyscrapers, too.

One Central Park, a residential tower in Sydney expected to open this winter, has plants and vines climbing up its glass facade. Blanc told Dezeen: “The building, together with my vertical garden, will be an architectural work floating in the air, with plants growing on the walls – it will create a very special result that will be very new to Sydney.”

The greenery is meant to extend the nearby park onto the buildings, creating a verdant district. According to The Architect’s Newspaper, “the lush green tapestry of the structure’s facade will be entwined with the foliage of the adjacent park in order to replicate the natural cliffs of the Blue Mountains, which are located in the Western part of Sydney.”

Some 190 native Australian species and 160 non-natives will cover more than 1,200 square feet from the 2nd to 33rd floors, or some 50 percent of the building’s exterior. The Architect’s Newspaper said this is possible because Blanc has perfected the use of “synthetic moss instead of soil for the growing medium.”

tells us that the building is specially designed to redirect light to parts of the vertical gardens. “The tallest tower features a large cantilever. On the underneath, there is a heliostat of motorised mirrors that direct sunlight down onto the surrounding gardens. After nightfall, the cantilever is used as a canvas for a LED light installation by artist Yann Kersalé.”

Those lucky enough to snag one of 624 apartments will be able to descend to the ground levels, where there are stores, restaurants, and some office space.

By using plants and natural sunlight throughout, the building cuts energy use and therefore greenhouse gas emissions.

Nouvel and Blanc are also now teaming up on another green skyscraper in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which appears to be even taller and more ambitious.

Fast forward sometime in the near future: Hopefully, this model has spread fast — not just for wealthy renters and owners, but for all urban tower dwellers.

Image credits: Atelier Jean Nouvel

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