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Mending Webs

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[Originally published 4th quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.4, “Sustain Ability”]


Nina Katchadourian, Fish II, (1999). Image used courtesy of the artist and Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco.

Author M. Susan Ubbelohde is an Associate Professor in the Department of Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, teaching design and building science. She is a principal of Loisos + Ubbelohde Associates in Oakland, a firm focusing on sustainable design, high performance façades, advanced daylighting design and simulation, energy modeling, and alternative energy sources (www.coolshadow.com).


“The Mended Spider Web series came about during a six-week period in June and July of 1998 which I spent on Pörtö, a Finnish island in the Baltic Sea. In the forest and around the house where I was living I searched for broken spider webs which I repaired using red sewing thread. All of the patches were made by inserting thread segments directly into the web, one at a time. Sometimes the thread was starched, making i t stiffer and easier to work with. The short threads were held in place by the stickiness of the spider web itself; dipping the tips into white glue reinforced longer threads. I fixed the holes until it could no longer bear the weight of the thread. In the process, I often caused further damage when the tweezers got tangled in the web or when my hands brushed up against it by accident. The morning after my first patch job, I discovered a pile of red threads lying on the ground below the web. At first I assumed the wind had blown them out; on closer inspection, it became clear that the spider had repaired the web to perfect condition using its own methods, throwing out the threads in the process. My repairs were always rejected by the spider and discarded, usually at night, even in webs that looked abandoned.”—artist Nina Katchadourian


The Mended Spider Web Series by artist Nina Katchadourian contemplates the relationship between the human made and the rest of the natural world. Her red threads, discarded each morning, ask how we are to act in the world in order to mend rather than tear. At heart, this is the complication of designing ecologically. Without a spider to fix our mistakes, how do we evaluate what we’ve done? How do we know what to do?


Turning directly to nature as a source of information and intelligence forms a strong theme in the sustainable literature. Scientists are now working on methods of manufacturing fibers based on the silk produced by spiders for their webs. As Janine Benyus writes in Biomimicry, “If we could learn to do what the spider does, we could take a soluble raw material that is infinitely renewable and make a super strong water-insoluble fiber with negligible energy inputs and no toxic outputs.” By considering nature as a model for processes rather than form, Benyus argues we can find the path to ecological design and invention. In Green Architecture (2000), James Wines expands on biomimicry in relation to architecture, but he is also keen to probe the architectural possibilities in the end of the industrial age and the beginning of the “earth-centric” era. Wines describes nature as “primal, metamorphic, and endlessly ambiguous. The mission … is to recover those fragile threads of connectedness with nature that have been lost for most of this century.” Part of this mission is not only to learn from nature, but to realize once again that people like nature and are better off when not separated from it by the built environment.

The Biophilia Hypothesis, edited by Kellert and Wilson, argues that “human identity and personal fulfillment somehow depend on our relationship to nature.” For architecture to be sustainable, it will also need to reconnect the inhabitants with the natural world outside. Biophilia poses a course of action that architects understand immediately and can choose to follow in pursuit of sustainable design. But reconnecting with the natural world does not guarantee an ecological building or development. How else might we discover what to do?

Points, Principles, Commandments, and Precepts

While Wines critiques the “tendency of the design profession to restrict ‘green’ to checklists of moral responsibility,” he himself includes such a checklist, which reminds us to make smaller buildings, use harvested lumber, situate buildings to make use of solar energy, and so forth. Benyus, as well, includes the “ten commandments of the redwood clan” to assist us in action. In doing so they recognize the long-standing history of the architectural treatise and a truth about how we practice.

From the Ten Books of Architecture by Vitruvius 2,000 years ago, to Le Corbusier’s Les 5 Points d’une Architecture Nouvelle of 1926, the treatise guides the designer toward appropriate action by stating a set of principles and then, often, backing them up with specific examples. Situated somewhere between guidelines and commandments, such lists feel potent with good ethics and design possibilities but are hard to translate into specific action. Most are phrased in the vocative: make nature visible, rely on natural energy flows, match technology to need, and so on. To put these commandments into practice relies on a different type of architectural text: the guidebook or handbook. Mendler and Odell’s HOK Guidebook to Sustainable Design in the United States and A Green Vitruvius serve us well in bridging the gap between intention and action, general principle and on-the-ground job organization and design process. Leaving the why and what to previous texts, these guidebooks assist with organizing the minutiae of the how.

Which still leaves evaluation. To have some measure of our successes and failures, in lieu of the spider judging our webs overnight, we can turn in two directions: the accounting methods and the checklists.

Evaluating Sustainability

In many codes, like California’s Title 24, there is a choice between the performance path, which asks the building overall to meet a performance goal, and the prescriptive path, which checks on the compliance of the component parts of the building. We can find the same characteristic division in sustainability evaluation.

The performance path delves into the complex arena of whole system performance, accounting for the entire ecological impact of a building. Conceptually, it is based in large part on the ecosystem work of Odum and Odum in the 1950s. To date, such systems of sustainable evaluation tend to inform the larger conversation rather than find use in practice in the United States. Our Ecological Footprint, by Wackernagel and Rees, is a method for calculating the amount of land and resources required to support a given development or community. Life Cycle Assessment methods (LCA) and the accounting for greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) are gaining currency outside the U.S. Much of Europe, as signatories to the Kyoto Protocol, evaluate building performance in terms of carbon emissions or GHG emissions, a metric ignored or bypassed here.

The prescriptive path, in the form of checklists, tells us how to achieve each component of sustainable design and rewards us for each individually. The more parts, the more “sustainable” the design. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), developed and managed by the U.S. Green Building Council, is the most broadly used metric for sustainable building in the United States. To the same extent that LEED has enticed building owners in the public and private sectors to ask for sustainable design, it has attempted to streamline and simplify the knowledge and expertise required to use the checklist. A highly flawed system, often without respect for technical accuracy, LEED has nevertheless achieved the market transformation for inclusion of sustainable concerns in the United States building industry, which previous efforts had not.

LEED is joined in use by local evaluation systems, such as BUILT GREEN, the Colorado Residential Rating System, and Certified Green for Eco- Hotels. LEED is also being challenged by alternatives such as Green Globes, a web-based building performance tool from Canada reworked for U.S. application. Similarly, a number of evaluation and assessment systems have been developed outside the U.S., such as BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) in Great Britain.

Ironically, the prescriptive assessment systems such as LEED downplay the rigor and expertise necessary to achieve a sustainable building and simultaneously distance ecological concerns from design. When daylighting becomes a spreadsheet calculation, when energy flow is disengaged from thermal comfort, when the sustainable aspects of a building and site become invisible and unexperienced, bad design can be, and is now, certified as sustainable.

Wilderness Gets a Perfect Score

In 1969, Malcolm Wells published Gentle Architecture, in which he proposed that we could measure our buildings against wilderness, because we know that wilderness is sustainable. In his “Wilderness Based Checklist for Design and Construction,” positive points or negative points are awarded on fifteen measures of performance, including “creates pure air,” “creates pure water,” “stores solar energy,” “maintains itself,” “matches nature’s pace,” and “is beautiful.” Wilderness receives the maximum possible of 1,500 points.

In 1969, well before the OPEC embargo, Chernobyl, and measured evidence of global warming, and without the science of the last thirty-five years, Wells seemed far on the margins of architectural thought and practice. How could one ask a building to grow food for the inhabitants? Or store rainwater? Or provide habitat for wildlife? Better yet, why? From the vantage point of 2005, Wells’s checklist seems almost mainstream, nearly a blueprint for LEED or Green Globes.

But our comfort with the Wilderness Based Checklist is misleading. Wells is challenging us to engage in sustainable issues as a set of ends, not means; as a set of ethics, not tradeoffs; as a means of being responsible, rather than marketable. As such, his “checklist” reaches toward the “ecological sustainability” defined by David Orr in Ecological Literacy (1992), rather than settling for “technological sustainability.” Wells gathers the advantages of biomimicry and biophilia and tells us we can, indeed, assess what we are doing, both pragmatically and ethically. Above all, Wells reminds us that being beautiful is just as important as any other performance metric.

Williamson, Radford, and Bennetts make this case eloquently in their highly intelligent Understanding Sustainable Architecture: “Sustainable designing means taking responsibility to anticipate the wide consequences of a building proposal …. Rather than prescribe a limited range of sustainable building solutions, we should support an increased richness and diversity of solutions crafted in joy and care.” The most convincing sustainable design is that which we value enough to maintain, reuse, reinhabit, and pass on to future generations. The most sustainable design must start as good design.


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Blog Is In the Details

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[Originally published 3rd quarter 2009, in arcCABeyond LEED.”]

Author Jimmy Stamp is a freelance writer and designer currently enrolled in the M.E.D program at the Yale School of Architecture. His work has appeared in numerous magazines and websites, and he has been publishing the architecture blog Life Without Buildings since 2004.


“It’s not easy being green.” So famously lamented (in song nonetheless) that most iconic of Muppets, Kermit the Frog. These days however, Kermit might be changing his tune. Spurred by an increasing public awareness of global warming, new government policies, and technological developments, being green is easier then ever. With topics ranging from the legal complexities of LEED certification to eco-friendly kids furniture, there are also an increasing number of online resources available to the verdant-minded architect with an Internet connection.

Of the green design blogs I read, Jetson Green is the most strictly architectural. Founder and editor Preston Koerner describes the site as “obsessed with green building and everything related to it, including sustainable architecture, good design, green prefab, clean technology in the built environment, affordable housing, and eco-friendly development.” It’s one of the most reliable sources for news and updates on sustainable buildings and technology—and there’s some serious eye candy too. Photos and renderings of the greenest buildings from around the world appear on the pages of Jetson Green. Fantastical structures like organic towers and “breathing” buildings make the blog live up to its space-age moniker. Like many other sites, it also hosts a green building jobs board—a useful resource for the unemployed architect looking to break into one of the few industries that seems to be thriving these days.

I’ve mentioned the blog Inhabitat in a previous article, but it’s worth a few more words as it was one of the first—and continues to be one of the best—sustainable design blogs. Although not strictly architectural, Inhabitat is dedicated to a “smarter and more sustainable future” through design. What does that mean? Simply put, Inhabitat is the blog for greening your modern life. It includes everything from the aforementioned environmentally friendly (and decidedly modern) cribs to eco-conscious clothing to prefab and modular construction. Residential architects and the environmentally friendly homeowner might want to check out their series Green Home 101, which offers posts such as “Greenovating” Your Kitchen.

And while we’re on the topic of homes, the Green Home Guide is an incredibly thorough and extremely useful resource for residential design and construction. At the Green Home Guide, you can have your questions answered directly by green professionals, read through buyers guides for sustainable products, get advice on selecting and installing products, and even find a local expert. The Green Home Guide is a service of the United States Green Building Council, an excellent online resource itself. The USGBC is, of course, your go-to site to learn how to get your building LEED certified and to become a LEED accredited professional.

Finally, Green Building Law Update, a blog written by LEED accredited construction attorney Chris Cheatham sheds some light on the politics, policies, and procedures associated with sustainable design and construction. Not to mention the risks and liabilities surrounding it. Recent topics have included an insightful analysis of the stimulus funds dedicated to green building and retrofits and, of particular note, a series of posts about the future of LEED De-Certification.


For people using twitter (see this column in the last issue of arcCA to learn about how twitter can help your office) many of these blogs have their own green feeds. Follow Jetson Green [@jetsongreen], Inhabitat [@inhabitat], and the USGBC [@usgbc].

Over the past ten years, interest in blogging and sustainability has been growing exponentially, hand-in-hand and arguably symbiotically. Today, a search for “green architecture blogs” returns more than twelve thousand results. The sites I’ve mentioned are just a few of the ones I’ve found useful. Sure, the amount of information can be intimidating, but just start small, focus on what interests you, and keep clicking through. Your carbon footprint will be lower in no time.


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AIACC for a More Accessible Built Environment

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accessibility, architecture, built environment, construction observation

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accessibility, architecture, built environment, construction observation

Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, courtesy of the Library of Congress

How to create a more accessible built environment in California has become a contentious issue. The AIACC has been participating in a series of weekly stakeholder meetings with Senator Steinberg and Senator Dutton’s offices and representatives from a variety of interested parties to address how to achieve a more accessible built environment. The focus of the effort is to resolve access related issues that have bedeviled not only those seeking a more accessible built environment, but those responsible for providing it. The issues on the table range from the Division of the State Architect’s current alignment efforts regarding the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and the Chapter 11A and 11B provisions of the California Building Code (CBC), to legal reforms to ease, if not altogether eliminate, the serial lawsuits related to access.

It is alarming that there is a perception among many people both inside and outside the disabled community that the cause of inaccessible buildings is the result of their having been incorrectly designed by architects – architects who either do not understand the CBC, or, as some have suggested, simply do not care. Neither opinion could be further from the truth.

accessibility, architecture, built environment, construction observation

Mikiten Architecture, Maher Residence, Livermore, an elegant and comfortable example of Universal Design and a 2010 AIA East Bay Exceptional Residential Merit Award winner.
Photo by Erick Mikiten, AIA, LEED-AP

The fact of the matter is that architects do care about achieving barrier free accessibility in their designs and that, despite the conflicts and confusion between the ADA and the CBC, new buildings are designed to comply. Indisputably, what is not occurring is the access compliant construction of those same buildings.

I submit that,with regard to inaccessible buildings and perhaps other construction related issues that have been deemed design errors (think back to the condo conversion litigation so prevalent a few years ago), we do not have as much a design problem as we do a construction problem. Ask yourself, how is it possible that a building that has been plan checked and approved by certified building officials, then constructed by licensed contractors and subcontractors, and then finally inspected by certified building inspectors, can still be considered to have been designed incorrectly when in violation of the ADA and the CBC?

So what’s the solution to this problem? The AIACC has advanced mandatory Construction Observation as a viable solution to part of the problem. In view of the fact that Construction Administration is not always part of their scope of services, there is no way for an architect to be sure that what they’ve designed is what will be constructed. Conceptually, with the benefit of being provided the opportunity to observe specific and key milestones during construction, the architect could verify placement of work during the “rough-in” portion of the phase, and then follow-up during the finish phase, thus providing not only the ability to verify and assure barrier-free construction, but also affording greater control of exposure to this type of risk.

For too many years, blame for ADA violations has been laid at the feet of the profession of architecture. ADA violations are very real, but the blame is with little merit – and it’s well past time for both to end. Mandatory construction observation is one solution toward that end.

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California Best Buildings Challenge

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Clinton Global Initiative America, CGI, Best Buildings Challenge, Adobe, Genentech, Google, Prudential Real Estate Investors, SAP, Zynga, USGBC, USGBC Northern California Chapter, USGBC-NCC

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Earlier today at the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative America (CGI) event, President Clinton announced the six initial participants – Adobe, Genentech, Google, Prudential Real Estate Investors, SAP and Zynga – who have committed to a 20 percent reduction in energy, water and waste in two years across a portfolio of five million square feet.

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and USGBC’s Northern California Chapter (USGBC-NCC) will launch the California Best Buildings Challenge at the closing plenary event of the (CGI America), a meeting focused on finding solutions that promote economic recovery in the United States. President Clinton and USGBC President, CEO and Founding Chair, Rick Fedrizzi, will join three of the six inaugural commitment participants, Genentech, Google and Prudential Real Estate Investors (PREI®), on stage to announce the Challenge during the closing plenary of the popular event that draws more than 900 business, non-profit and media participants.

Inspired by the White House’s Better Buildings Challenge (BBC) and President Clinton’s pioneering work to promote sustainable buildings, the California Best Buildings Challenge consists of industry-leading firms with a strong California presence that have committed to reduce their building energy, water and waste by 20 percent in two years. Adobe, Genentech, Google, PREI, SAP and Zynga have stepped up to kick off the challenge, collectively committing five million square feet of building space from their portfolios.

“We are pleased to have these leading-edge organizations on board with this incredibly meaningful challenge,” said Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO and Founding Chair, USGBC. “The California Best Buildings Challenge is raising the bar in terms of what is expected in the realm of corporate sustainability. We are eager to prove that curbing energy and water use and reducing waste by 20 percent in two years is not only possible, but a must-do. The goal is for this type of achievement to become the norm.”

USGBC and its Northern California Chapter are launching the California Best Buildings Challenge as a 2012 CGI America Commitment to Action and are working to inspire other leading companies to sign on. The commitment was selected by CGI America as an exemplary approach to addressing challenges in the clean electricity and efficiency space.

The plenary will be live webcast at live.cgiamerica.org.

“As the founder of the biotechnology industry, Genentech is excited to be part of the California Best Buildings Challenge and we look forward to sharing best practices with other leading California companies. As we continually strive to create and deliver innovative medicines for patients, we also seek to employ new, more sustainable technologies and processes in order to minimize our impact on the environment,” said Carla Boragno, Vice President of Site Services, Genentech.

“When it comes to greening our office buildings, we apply the same focus that we use for any of our products: put the user first. Improving the environmental performance of our buildings not only helps us reduce waste, save energy and water and improve indoor air quality, but also positively impacts the health and productivity of our employees around the world. Through our early participation in the California Best Buildings Challenge, we hope to inspire companies of all shapes and sizes to implement innovative approaches to reducing their environmental footprint,” said David Radcliffe, Vice President of Real Estate and Workplace Services at Google Inc.

“As a major investor in commercial real estate around the world, PREI is committed to our investors, our tenants, and each other to find creative, sustainable approaches to building, improving and managing property. We’re excited to be part of the California Best Buildings Challenge as it is an opportunity to demonstrate that commitment by bringing out the best in us while improving our environmental practices,” said Allen Smith, PREI’s CEO.

“SAP is committed to developing innovations that help run operations more sustainably for ourselves and our customers,” said Peter Graf, Chief Sustainability Officer, SAP. “A key part of SAP’s sustainability leadership is our dedication to environmentally-sustainable buildings, including optimizing the efficiency of our existing buildings and when creating new buildings from the ground up. By participating in the California Best Buildings Challenge, all companies have an opportunity to demonstrate how they are driving sustainability into their core business strategy and communities.”

“Zynga takes the challenge to reduce our environmental impact seriously and we are proud to be an inaugural participant of the California Best Buildings Challenge. We are committed to reducing the consumption of energy, water, and waste in our San Francisco headquarters building by 20% or more in two years. Zynga fundamentally believes that with innovation and diligence that we can achieve our commitment goals. We hope the Challenge will inspire other building owners and managers to do the same,” said Jim Morgensen, Vice President of Workplace, Zynga.

About CGI America

President Clinton established the Clinton Global Initiative America (CGI America) to address economic recovery in the United States. CGI America brings together leaders in business, government, and civil society to generate and implement commitments to create jobs, stimulate economic growth, foster innovation, and support workforce development in the United States. Since its first meeting in June 2011,CGI America participants have made more than 100 commitments valued at $11.8 billion. When fully funded and implemented, these commitments will improve the lives of three million people, create or fill more than 150,000 jobs, and invest and loan $354 million to small and medium enterprises in the United States. The 2012 CGI America meeting will take place June 7-8 in Chicago. To learn more, visit cgiamerica.org.

About the Clinton Global Initiative

Established in 2005 by President Bill Clinton, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) convenes global leaders to create and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. CGI Annual Meetings have brought together more than 150 heads of state, 20 Nobel Prize laureates, and hundreds of leading CEOs, heads of foundations and NGOs, major philanthropists, and members of the media. To date CGI members have made more than 2,100 commitments, which are already improving the lives of nearly 400 million people in more than 180 countries. When fully funded and implemented, these commitments will be valued at $69.2 billion.

CGI’s Annual Meeting is held each September in New York City. CGI also convenes CGI America, a meeting focused on collaborative solutions to economic recovery in the United States, and CGI University (CGI U), which brings together undergraduate and graduate students to address pressing challenges in their community or around the world. For more information, visit clintonglobalinitiative.org and follow us on Twitter @ClintonGlobal and Facebook at facebook.com/clintonglobalinitiative.

About the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is committed to a prosperous and sustainable future through cost-efficient and energy-saving green buildings. USGBC works toward its mission of market transformation through its LEED green building certification program, robust educational offerings, a nationwide network of chapters and affiliates, the annual Greenbuild International Conference & Expo, to be held this year Nov. 14-16 in San Francisco, and advocacy in support of public policy that encourages and enables green buildings and communities. For more information, visit usgbc.org and follow us on Twitter @USGBC, and Facebook at facebook.com/USGBC.

About USGBC-Northern California Chapter (USGBC-NCC)

USGBC-NCC is one of the largest USGBC Chapters in the country, with 22,000+ constituents, 10,000+ LEED accredited professionals, and more than five percent of the world’s LEED-certified square footage. The chapter hosts more than 150 annual events, workshops, and conferences with regional, national and international organizations, and is a leading voice in green building public policy. To join the California Best Buildings Challenge, contact Ashleigh Talberth, Director of Special Projects, USGBC-NCC, at ashleigh@usgbc-ncc.org. For more information, visit usgbc-ncc.org.

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CALGreen: a Commentary

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Photography by Ragina Johnson

Have you been undecided about whether to jump into the world of green building? Have you been concerned about additional project costs, owner acceptance, personal time, and the expense of learning green building concepts? Have the complexities of processing a LEED®, CHPS, or Green Globes® project delayed your entry? With the adoption of the new CALGreen 2010 Green Building Standards Code, the State of California has made the decision for you. The new code is going to require green building measures for all new buildings. For those who have been involved in green building for some time, the new building code provisions will not be surprising. But they will change the way design and construction is practiced in California—most have argued for the better, though not everyone fully agrees.

If you are unfamiliar with the new code, it is the result of a directive from the Governor to the California Building Standards Commission (CBSC) to comply with the requirements of AB32 (Global Warming Solutions Act) and Executive Orders S-06-08 and S-20-04, both of which seek to provide for more sustainable building practices, reduce water use, reduce grid electric power consumption by buildings, and reduce green house gas emissions. While these two executive orders were directed at State-owned facilities, it was clear that they would be extended to private sector construction. AB32 requires reduction of green house gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, about a 25% reduction from current levels. The CBSC undertook an extensive process in developing the new code by partnering with a number of State agencies, task groups, and industry focus groups. It also studied existing, voluntary, green building rating systems including CHPS, LEED®, ASHRAE 189P, and Build-it-Green, among others. The new CALGreen Code represents a major revision of the 2008 California Green Building Standards Code, most of whose provisions were voluntary. Significant new standards affecting design, construction, and cost are present in the new code.

All of this comes with some criticism. Much has already been published about how CALGreen compares to existing third party green building rating systems. I believe no one is entirely happy with it. Even as the code was being printed into law, the California State Chamber of Commerce and the oil industry, among others, are seeking to delay AB32 implementation until the economy recovers significantly. While this effort against AB32 does not change the implementation of the new code, it may affect the thinking of many in the construction industry that, with a very weak building market, now is not the time to significantly raise the requirements and expense for new building projects.

There are other organizations and individuals who do not believe that the code goes far enough toward making buildings more sustainable or that it is confusing in the way it is written and how it will be enforced. Criticisms have risen from some sectors of the existing green building industry and communities who feel that it will fall short of specific earthfriendly goals, including the AIA’s 2030 Challenge. These criticisms focus on five areas:

Is It Stringent Enough?
The new code was criticized for not being stringent enough to make a difference in climate change efforts. The CBSC has responded by pointing out that the California Air Resources Board estimates that the mandatory provisions of the new code will reduce green house gas emissions by 3 million metric tons in 2020. However, the mandatory requirement is only to meet the existing CEC minimum standards. The code states that green buildings should seek to achieve savings of 15% below this minimum standard, but at this time doing so is still voluntary. As an example of greater performance requirements, LEED® requires a minimum of 10% better performance than the current energy standards.

Do Jurisdictions Have the Requisite Expertise?

The next criticism suggests that State and local jurisdictions do not have the technical expertise to verify whether builders are in compliance. In response, the CBSC says they will utilize the long-standing enforcement infrastructure that is used to enforce other building codes. In addition, they state that, unlike most private green building programs, the new code requires inspection in the field to ensure compliance, and property owners will not have to pay additional fees for certification.

Having practiced as a LEED AP and Green Building Professional for the last seven years, it is clear to me that some local building officials will lack the technical expertise to enforce many of the new mandatory standards. The CBSC has indicated the intent to educate local code officials before the code goes into effect in January 2011. Yet, while it is currently conducting introductory workshops statewide, it has not developed a clear plan for the training of local officials. I foresee uneven enforcement for the next several years. Many smaller building departments contract with private-sector plan checkers to review submissions for which they lack the technical expertise or have insufficient staffing to check. There is a potential market for these same agencies to hire private sector reviewers to assist with the review of the new green building standards.

It is true that the code will not require additional fees for building certification. However, in the context of overall cost, fees for LEED® certification are typically less than 0.1% of the total construction budget.

Will There Be Confusion In the Marketplace?
Another criticism of the new code is that the CALGreen label and the tier structure will create market confusion with other third-party verification systems. The State counters this statement by pointing out that the CALGreen moniker was established to distinguish the Green Building Standards Code from other building codes. The tier structure was established to provide local jurisdictions with tools for creating additional standards to provide market continuity.

The CALGreen 2010 Green Building Standards Code is simply another section in the overall Title 24 building code. It creates additional minimum standards for building compliance. The tier structure, located in the voluntary portion of the code, outlines a group of standardized green building electives that local jurisdictions can choose from if they desire to establish local standards greater than the mandatory provisions. This program looks very similar to the LEED® Bookshelf developed by USGBC, wherein specific credits are the same across multiple rating systems to create continuity in the application of the credit. The tier structure should be viewed as a laundry list of specific measures that communities can use to establish local standards.

Will There Be Conflicts with Existing Municipal Green Building Programs?
It has been argued that the new code will significantly impact some California cities that already have their own green building programs. In an interview for the USGBC News, an information section on the organization’s website, Dave Walls, the Executive Director of California’s Building Standards Commission, points out that, “California is a very large and diverse state, and there will be a number of jurisdictions that choose to not go beyond minimum code.”

Many cities have already adopted standards for public and private construction, including requirements for LEED® Certification, that exceed the CALGreen mandatory provisions. Currently, even the State requires LEED® Silver Certification for all new State projects in excess of 10,000 square feet.

How Will Contractor Means and Methods Be Handled?
Some of the mandatory provisions include measures that go beyond simple building requirements and cover areas of contractor means and methods. One example is Section 5.408, “Construction Waste Reduction, Disposal and Recycling.” The code requires development of a plan for reduction of construction waste and diversion of waste to recycling. Contractor means and methods are typically areas that architects have avoided so as to limit liability. Yet, traditionally, the courts have held that the contractor is not an expert on the building code. Since this new code contains several stions that will affect means and methods, it will be incumbent on architects and engineers to find ways to include provisions in their specifications to direct the contractor to required activities while leaving them free to determine their own method of achieving the standards. Dave Walls indicated that the CBSC is aware of these aspects of the code and is working to develop documentation and direction to clarify how these measures will be handled.

Looking Ahead, Getting Prepared
The CALGreen code significantly raises basic building standards to a greener level. While the new code was not designed to achieve certification in any of the third-party green building certification systems, those who have been active in the development of projects seeking LEED® Certification will find that many additional credits and prerequisites are now a part of the building code.

I recommend that you obtain a copy of the CALGreen 2010 Green Building Standards Code and begin reviewing it now. A prepublication draft can be downloaded from the CBSC’s website. Also, the CBSC is currently conducting introductory programs around the state. There is, as well, an intra-organizational effort bringing together the AIACC, the USGBC Northern California Chapter, and Build It Green, among others. Together, they are developing educational tools for outreach to local officials and construction professionals that will assist in implementing the new code requirements. _

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Expert Intuition & Evidence-Based Design, Part I

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architecture, health, healthcare

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architecture, health, healthcareThe first of two articles in which W. Mike Martin draws on his book Design Informed: Driving Innovation with Evidence-Based Design, co-authored with Gordon H. Chong, FAIA, and Robert Brandt.

Why Evidence?
Architecture is grounded in ideas, visions, and a passion for making environments that inspire our senses. This article is about taking that starting point—a formal concept or a statement about the spatial, geometric, and aesthetic context for inhabitation—and expanding the agenda by bringing evidence to the forefront.

The 2002 Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, a Princeton University psychologist, has studied the concept of expert intuition for decades. He defines expert intuition as the ability to deal swiftly and decisively with difficult circumstances—making a quick chess move, responding to an emergency medical condition, or in our case understanding the complex spatial relationships and configurations of human inhabitation. Many times, under such conditions, the person is not even consciously aware of the decision process that determines the outcome.

This is an exciting time in our profession. New technologies and materials, concern for human performance and experience, and critical agendas like sustainability, energy conservation, globalization, work productivity, healing, and learning are providing important challenges. These challenges are in fact opportunities to refine, expand, and improve our abilities to make places for human experience and add services for our clients.

In this context, understanding the relationship between expert intuition and evidence-based design can be transformative. Such an understanding honors our values and traditions as architects while expanding our capacity to deliver not only inspirational buildings, but ones that increase building performance, enhance human experience, and contribute to making a more sustainable planet. The following set of questions seeks to present the challenges and opportunities in this transformative agenda.

What is Evidence?
During a 2008 interview on National Public Radio, New York Times political commentator David Brooks referred to some of the people being considered as running mates by then President-Elect Barack Obama as being “evidence-based.” This characteristic, according to Brooks, “created potential bridges between Obama and people with sometimes divergent opinions—disciplined consideration of the facts (evidence) would enable them to make reasoned decisions.”

By contrast, when design is cast as an act of expert intuitive creativity, uniquely owned by the designer, it sets a context of ambiguity and uncertainty. Many architects shroud their decisions under a cloak of mystery, inaccessible to their clients, who are expected to approve these decisions through acts of faith. The notion that there is a need to make transparent the basis on which design decisions are made is unsettling to many designers, as it challenges their expert intuition.

Yet every design decision, no matter how small or large, how simple or complex, is grounded in some form of evidence. There is a continuum of evidence found in experience; evidence drawn from expert intuition; evidence grounded in rigorous processes of inquiry; and a mixture of other sources of knowing. The evidence is all around us, but we, as designers, have difficulty acknowledging its importance, it power, its potential for innovation. And we have difficulty making it transparent to others.

This misunderstanding of what practitioners actually do and how they use evidence has generated widespread misunderstanding of the design process and has diminished the perceived value of architects and architecture to society. The public may be enamored by a structural tour de force or a landmark design that captures their spirit, but when they put on their client hat, they know they are responsible for delivering value to their organization, institution, or family. Rarely will the hospital, school, commercial organization, or family judge a building on the basis of aesthetics alone. Rather, it will be judged on its contribution to organizational or individual goals. The fundamental question is, “Do the performance outcomes provide a good return on the resources invested?”

Why Are We Fearful of Evidence?

Most designers, when asked if they use evidence in their design process, will answer, “Of course.” But if you probe a bit deeper, you find concerns about the underlying concept of evidence. There is a belief that evidence binds the designer to a purely rational process of decision-making, limiting the freedom to be creative—to employ expert intuition. Or evidence may expose professional secrets that guide their work and may provide some type of competitive advantage. Much of the reason for this situation comes from our educational and professional training, in which we learn that creativity is supreme and must be protected at any cost.

Another major concern is related to our cultural understanding of the meaning of evidence. Evidence is a legal term, associated with judicial proceedings. That evidence is either true or false, right or wrong. It is about establishing certainty grounded in facts. Yet design challenges typically do not have a right or wrong response; some responses are merely better or more appropriate than others. This creates room for misunderstanding of how best to judge the outcomes of design action.

Designers and clients believe that students learn, patients heal, office workers produce better in certain types of environments; that, in fact, the physical environment can influence human performance and wellbeing. And there is mounting evidence that we can influence organizational performance through design. Yet rarely is this evidence used to ensure those outcomes. Why do we continue to fall back on a model of designing that relies on expert intuition and experience rather than one that melds expert intuition with defensible and transparent evidence?

Precedents for Evidence-Based Design
Evidence is not new to architects. Throughout history, vernacular building forms have used prototypes to ensure a level of predictability about functional effectiveness. Similarly, structural systems have utilized precedent to predictably improve construction stability.

Codes and standards, a basic set of tools of architecture, are validated by systematic testing and past performance evaluations. ASTM was founded in 1898 to address public railway safety through standards that would decrease rail breakage. The organization claims that the consensus standards it issues are the work of its 30,000 members. What better example of collecting experience and applying it to future decision-making?

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) provides widely accepted guidance for design decisions through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. LEED is an evidence-based tool intended to verify that a building project will be environmentally responsible, profitable, and healthy. Certification through LEED requires a systematic application of performance guidelines that reflect the experience of professionals as well as standards of professional organizations.

ASTM and USGBC are but two of many organizations that seek and use evidence to predictably improve design outcomes. Certainly, both have widespread endorsement by designers. It seems that the use of evidence is well accepted when it relates to building performance as measured by physical testing and building science.

There’s less precedent for the widespread use of evidence to anticipate human performance, but it is there. The Environmental Research and Design Association (EDRA) and others have a long history of seeking linkages between design and behavior. The roots of architectural programming, now a core practice within architecture, can be traced to behavioral design and the application of social science methods to design questions—from which the analysis of user needs evolved into a design strategy. Even so, only a subset of architects uses evidence from the social sciences to make design decisions.

The Need for Confident Closure
In the design world, we tend to focus on artifacts—the building or interior environment that results from the design process. We struggle to define what is an “evidence-based” hospital or school, seeking highly predictive guidelines that can be directly applied to our work and ensure desired outcomes. We struggle to define an evidence-based product.

Perhaps we might look instead toward an evidence-based process. When making design decisions about complex functional and technological environments, we need a more transparent basis for the client and design team to understand and assess choices collaboratively and to reach confident closure. This no longer is just a desire, but has become a requirement on many projects.

In our day-to-day work with our clients, architects and other designers talk about our work in terms of transforming the lives of the people who inhabit the created environments. Too often, however, we lack the evidence to communicate how this is accomplished. Expert intuition suggests that certain design actions will yield a desired response. Do we, however, really know? Do we have the evidence to give confidence to our client? In many case we don’t.

Unlike Barack Obama’s potential teammates in David Brooks’s commentary, architects pervasively lack sufficient evidence about the impacts of design and their decision making process to enable critical assessment by other who participate in that process. Our clients seek to understand how design choices will affect their organizational performance, but we lack the transparent evidence needed for meaningful, critical dialogue. The myth of architecture as a mysterious act of creativity separates the designer from the client. The architect’s expert intuition may inspire, but it cannot by itself create trust.

Evidence Across the Discipline
In recent years, a number of design professionals have embraced the notion of evidence-based design practice, as a model for rigorously seeking or conducting research to predict how well specific design proposals will support desired performance outcomes or, conversely, cause harm. Our profession has tried to learn from similar movements in other professions—medicine, education, engineering—and we’ve explored the relevance of lessons from those fields for the practice of architecture. We’ve challenged both the quality of non-scientific evidence and the applicability of scientific method.

Despite differences of opinion within the profession about the role of evidence and its associated methods, we’ve reached a point of considerable consensus that evidence is a core component of the design process. The health of our profession, measured by the perceived and delivered value of our services, depends on our embracing our clients’ mandates, to provide physical environments that support organizational performance objectives. In this world, the impacts of design on the people who use the environments and the performance of building systems must be anticipated and represented, so that performance outcomes are documented. We must demonstrate in a transparent manner how these performance outcomes are facilitated, so that the proposed design outcomes justify the resources expended.

Many proponents of evidenced-based practice agree that we need to look beyond our individual practices and share what we learn across the profession, just as we have traditionally worked together to create and document technical data in codes and standards that provide performance standards for determining appropriate action. Much can be learned from program analysis, client web surveys, and other techniques that are project-specific, but evidence-based practice must ground itself in broader, deeper data, possible only in a system that enables us to draw evidence from sources beyond the individual project, one that creates an open infrastructure for evidence accessible to everyone involved in the design process.

To be continued . . .

Robert Brandt, Gordon H. Chong, and W. Mike Martin’s Design Informed: Driving Innovation with Evidence-Based Design (John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2010) is available here.

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in: AIACC / 4 Comments
legislative, interior design, practice act, court construction, vehicle miles traveled, building code

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Navigating the political process has been compared to making sausage…you don’t always want to know what goes into it. But like it or not, sometimes there are important “ingredients” that should not be overlooked. This article is the first in a regular series about some of the latest developments heard “around town” which may have an impact in the regulatory world.

Announcing Executive Appointments

Much of what the AIACC is able to achieve in the regulatory arena is founded on our trust-based relationships with decision makers; it’s harder to say no to a friend than a stranger. And so we were quite pleased when we learned Governor Brown has chosen to reappoint James Barthman as a Public Member to the California Building Standards Commission.

Jim has served on the CBSC since 2000 contributing his vast amount of experience gained as a building official, electrical inspector, and, most recently, as a building and electrical code consultant and regional supervisor of codes and technical services for Underwriters Laboratories Inc.

Jim has been a good friend and supportive of the AIACC’s efforts to assure California has safe, sustainable, affordable, and sensible building codes. We look forward to working with Jim and congratulate him on his appointment to the CBSC.

In addition to Barthman, Governor Brown has also appointed Richard Sierra, of San Bernardino, as the Organized Labor Member to the California Building Standards Commission. Mr. Sierra has worked at the Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 783 since 1977 and has served as business manager since 1996. The AIACC welcomes and looks forward to working with Mr. Sierra.

These positions require Senate confirmation and there is no compensation.

A New Twist on Qualifications Based Selection

I hesitated to put this in writing for fear I would be participatory in this becoming the new norm – if it’s not already.

For years public project owners have “complied” with California’s Qualifications Based Selection (QBS) laws using the sealed “wink wink” envelope method to pretend compliance with the law, while in actuality circumventing it. For years this has been their solution to the prohibition on requesting fees prior to the ranking of a firm, based on its demonstrated competence and professional qualifications prior to selection.

Now, I’ve learned from an AIA member of a new strategy that, to be quite candid, caught me by surprise: a school district has taken the position that all architects responding to their Request For Proposals are equally qualified, thereby avoiding the need to individually interview and rank them.

Obliquely, one could conclude that the district has met the selection requirements of QBS and is within the law. What is clear is that the profession is being treated, now more than ever (and especially so in this economy), as a “product”. A commodity no different than any other be it a case of copy paper or a carton of paper towels, moving us further from a service and closer to its margins.

Changes to LEED 2012: Public Comment Period Open

The USGBC is seeking public comment on revisions to LEED for 2012. Architects are encouraged to review LEED 2012 information and submit their input. Changes are scheduled to be released by USGBC at this year’s Greenbuild Conference in San Francisco – November 12-16. The deadline for comment is March 20, 2012.

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Small Firms Benefit From LEAN Construction

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An Interview with Bonnie Blake-Drucker, FAIA, regarding the Laboratory Renovation project at the University of California San Francisco School of Dentistry, Mesenchymal and Craniofacial Biology Lab.

“Without a doubt, this was one of my most pleasant working experiences, and it was a very successful project,” states Bonnie Blake-Drucker, FAIA. For more than 30 years, Blake-Drucker, FAIA, has been an innovator in her field; a pioneer in the design of sustainable, accessible, and work-enhancing scientific and medical laboratories for world renowned researchers. She has earned a national reputation for the design of exceptional, universally accessible classroom labs and has dedicated her practice to the creation of sustainable built environments, especially in renovation, an area not often known for “green” architecture.

Blake-Drucker states that there are many primary purposes for conducting “Green” project delivery types, but there are also many unexpected beneficial outcomes that occur during the process as well. For example, during the design and construction of this particular project, it was calculated that the team had captured an 18% carbon footprint reduction by conducting virtual meetings in place of the more typically used face-to-face meetings. She describes it as, “Inherent Sustainability”, and it is key to Blake-Drucker’s work. Her designs integrate flexibility for multiple users. Her architecture incorporates daylight and outdoor views (rare of this project type) essential for dense work environments, thus encouraging productivity, resulting in fewer changes over the life of the space and minimizing the expense and disruption of the renovation cycle. (Clients affirm her design strategies have persuaded researchers to stay at their labs.)

Blake-Ducker has experienced nearly every kind of project delivery during her career and thoroughly enjoyed this entire process. This project was a renovation of the 15th floor of the existing Health Science East building and was guided by a combination of BIM and LEAN construction principles, and was awarded LEED Gold Certification. The project delivery tools allowed many sustainability and efficiency enhancements in this project, including creation of efficient infrastructure space. The redesigned plan consists of two large, open laboratories separated by a common core of spaces for equipment, cold room, tissue labs and imaging rooms.

This 11,000 square foot lab synthesized Blake-Drucker’s career pursuit of accessible and sustainable design for sophisticated research settings. The entry grants a view through to the trees beyond the building, with natural light brought into the main hall. This project achieved sustainability in the design and construction process, as well as in the initial life-cycle use of resources. It is the first UCSF renovation project that combines BIM, LEAN Design, and LEED certification. The LEAN Construction process (enhanced by stewardship of the virtual model) also significantly reduces construction waste. The Labs were small and only one lace piping could go through a very small section, but contractors knew exactly how much room they had due to the computer images, as well as the exact shape of the ducts. The team could also order large quantities of materials because they knew exactly how much to order due to the pre-measurements in the computer. It was a trial process, but worked great!

Steps utilized in the development of this project benefited the efficiency and outcomes throughout all stages of the design and building process, such as using virtual models, with an architect who did the entire project in BIM. In addition to utilizing individuals who had experience in delivering the principles of Lean Construction, where a contractor manages a project, and no one has to re-do their work, as it gets done right the first time due to all the preliminary planning. During the planning phase, no one sets foot on the project site for months. Everyone works on all the virtual models, where all submittals and checks and balances are done, with many systems coming in prefabricated. No one had to move where they were working, they got to stay put. Blake-Drucker states, “Taking the time to go slowly, and do all the steps correctly prior to construction, creates a teamwork approach, and is a collaborative model of construction, and questions are asked at a much higher level. Asking better, more detailed, and smarter questions upfront, helps eliminate potential problems. This early, open discussion addresses all issues and topics prior to the beginning of the process, saving an enormous amount of energy and time! The project was finished a couple of months early. (It was originally a 13 month project, yet was done in 11, and they were only on the site for seven months out of the 11.)

Blake-Drucker states, “This project delivery process works well for any size firm. Small firms or large firms benefit from this type of project delivery as everything is done up front. I had done a lot of other projects in this building, but never like this process, and I didn’t see how it could work, but it did!” In addition, the lowest bidder did not get the project; it was awarded to the “best value” bidder. (In this particular project, it was the fourth lowest bidder.)

UCSF enabled legislation from the legislature to employ the “best value” approach, where a project includes BIM, LEAN Construction and sustainability, thus saving piping and many other materials, as well as creating very little waste. Time and money was scarce, yet the project received LEED Gold Certification. “Best value” is defined as a process in which there are two phases; an RFQ (where the end result is a short list of three selected firms) with the score based on qualifications. Secondly, an RFP- goes out to the short list and it is a “low bid” vs. “best value”, based on design, qualifications and price. There was no special contract language, and specification requests included strong demands for people with experience in LEED, with USGBC certification.

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Class action lawsuit against LEED and USGBC evolves

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Washington Business JournalIn October 2010, Henry Gifford filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Green Building Council alleging misrepresentation claims against USGBC and some of its individual founders regarding its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system. The crux of the suit centers on Gifford’s claims that the USGBC and LEED green building rating system makes false promises about the energy performance of LEED buildings. The original complaint named Rick Fedrizzi, Rob Watson and other individuals as defendants, included misrepresentation style claims and also included monopolization anti-trust based claims.

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