Practice 2.0: Are we ready for the Challenge?

by Steve Sanderson

This is the first in ,  a regular series of posts guest authored by our friends at CASE (@case_inc), focusing on technology and innovation in the building industry. While we all share tremendous enthusiasm for the opportunities afforded by technology, my particular interests are on gaining better, more timely access to information and improving building performance through informed decision making. Given the proximity to Earth Day (better late than never), I’m going to start things off with a related post. You can expect future posts to focus on building simulation and evidence-based design, with an emphasis on energy, validation and standards. You can also expect to hear a lot about Passive House.

Last Wednesday, I had the pleasure of seeing Ed Mazria of Architecture 2030 speak at Cooper Union. For those that don’t know, Mazria and his organization have been instrumental in raising awareness of the enormous impact of buildings on climate change. His initiative, The 2030 Challenge, has been adopted (in varying degrees) by the most influential organizations on the built environment in the United States, including: the Federal Government, US Army, State of California, AIA and ASHRAE, among others. What does that mean? It means these organizations will require (or encourage) all new construction and major renovations to be carbon neutral by the year 2030.

Sounds good right? Frankly, it sounds awesome, but when you dig deeper into how this is received by the industry, you come away with a different perspective. As a building technology consulting firm, we interact with a diverse group of stakeholders from across the industry, representing all of the organizations noted above. In conversations with these individuals about the goals set out by The 2030 Challenge, you can basically group nearly everyone into one of two groups: The Blissfully Ignorant or The Fearfully Aware.

The Blissfully Ignorant group is made up of people that have: a) no idea that any of this is happening, or b) no idea of how much will be entailed to achieve these goals compared to where we are today. The numbers in this group are in rapid decline, given the amount of attention that building energy efficiency is receiving as of late. The Fearfully Aware are those individuals that are more attuned to just how significant of a shift these goals represent from ‘business as usual’ and are generally skeptical that we have the technical and/or political will to achieve them. I would place myself in the latter (although I’m pretty dense at times). While I’m pretty confident in our technical ability, I’m deeply concerned about our ability to collectively roll our sleeves up, cut through the BS and put a plan into action.

Without a doubt, the goal of achieving carbon neutrality across a broad segment of the building industry is an enormously complex and difficult undertaking, but one doesn’t have to look very hard to find clear examples of how it could be done. Take The Passive House movement for example. With over 25,000 certified projects as of 2010 and most of the completed projects in Europe showing measured 80-90% reduction in heating energy, compared to standard new construction (which is already better than US standards), the EU passed a resolution in 2008 requiring all new buildings to be constructed to Passive House or equivalent non-residential standards from 2011 onwards.

The popular USGBC LEED system, which is admittedly much broader in focus and only really began to tackle energy in LEED 2009, has 7,000 certified projects and 10,000 LEED for Homes certified projects that show better performance compared to baseline energy code as whole, but wide variance between individual buildings. The good news is, the two systems are incredibly complimentary. In fact, if LEED referenced Passive House as the energy standard to meet, then the goals that Mazria outlined would be well within reach for those projects that sought certification.

So I’ve made it clear what horse I’m hitching my buggy to, but I’m interested to hear from ArchDaily readers… how are you planning to meet the goals of The 2030 Challenge? Where are your projects now? What standards and best practices are your organizations adopting? What resources are you using? What technologies are you implementing (software or otherwise)? What information do you need, but cannot get?

Comments, please…


Practice 2.0 is a periodic column by our friends at CASE. CASE exists where building and technology intersect. We are a Virtual Design and Construction (VDC), Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Technology Management consultancy based in New York City. CASE provides strategic advising to building design professionals, contractors and owners seeking to supplant traditional project delivery methods through technology-driven process innovation.

Cite: CASE, CASE. "Practice 2.0: Are we ready for the Challenge?" 03 May 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 19 Apr 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=132324>

7 comments

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    3rd category: optimistically prepared (e.g. passivhaus designers). The technical will is there, the political will needs to come around but here in WA and in OR, there is momentum at higher levels. It’s really a matter of getting the right info in front of the right people. The biggest issue I see is passivhaus is not limited to houses, and this is difficult to overcome. The greatest increases in EUI efficiency is outside of the residential market – yet no one seems to be pushing this very hard.

    Also, there are over 25,000 (Wolfgang recently tweeted 30,000) PH projects, but the certified number is a very small fraction of that.
    USGBC has never really targeted energy (sure, there were energy points available, but they some of the least utilized points in the history of USGBC) and if anything, the number of points available decreased or stayed same while the performance required to achieve them went down. USGBC did the opposite of what they should be doing, they lowered the bar. That being said, PHIUS and USGBC (or LBC) are very compatible and there are (or were) ongoing discussions between the organizations. Passivhaus + renewables can easily get you to SOURCE net zero (which is much harder than SITE net zero). Harder still is the carbon neutral building – which again is easier to accomplish w/ Passivhaus + PV (and also would qualify as plusenergiehaus – producing more energy than used). In actuality, getting to this point isn’t very difficult, it’s being done in Freiburg and Austria – the work of Rolf Disch is a good model. Freiburg gets about the same insolation as Seattle… Which means I wish I lived on the east coast because all this carbon neutral/negative is a heck of a lot easier there, even with the colder climate.

    As far as information – a dynamic PHPP linked to a 3-d model (be it sketchup, Revit, etc) and could give real time updates would be phenomenal.

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    Hey Mike, thanks for the response.

    Your point about PH and non-res is well taken and one of my main interests in the standard. I’ve seen presentations from both Wolfgang and Ludwig Rongen that demonstrated some pretty amazing non-residential projects. The main issue that I see is that the PH standard works on these larger projects, but PHPP becomes pretty difficult to manage.

    The name is another issue, as I feel people always assume that the standard only applies to houses. The recent announcement about the alignment between USGBC and PH is huge (talk about timing): http://www.alliancees.org/2011/05/04/usgbc-and-passive-hous-alignment/, but it would be great to see USGBC adopt PH for all LEED projects, not just LEED for Homes.

    We (CASE) are also approaching it from the technology point of view, as we see it as one of the key barriers to adoption for any low-energy process and it’s particularly difficult with PHPP. We have a basic version of a series of custom families in Revit that automate the output of all of the schedules and material parameters. It’s pretty clunky at the moment, but with a little work with the API it could feed in much more directly. PHI is currently working on a new version of the PHPP spreadsheet that will hopefully make it easier to tie into.

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