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Are LEED Skyscrapers Our Biggest Energy Hogs?

In an excellent article for The New Republic, Sam Roudman brilliantly tackles many of the same, timely issues as Michael Mehaffy and Nikos Salingaros in "Why Green Architecture Hardly Ever Deserves the Name." Roudman unpacks the loop-holes of LEED, most notably how it ignores a building's intended use, which often make a building anything but sustainable at all. Read the whole article at The New Republic.

Why Green Architecture Hardly Ever Deserves the Name

7 World Trade Center / SOM. Image © Ruggero Vanni.
7 World Trade Center / SOM. Image © Ruggero Vanni.

The following article, by Michael Mehaffy & Nikos Salingaros, originally appeared in Metropolis Mag as "Why Green Often Isn't"

Something surprising has happened with many so-called “sustainable” buildings. When actually measured in post-occupancy assessments, they’ve proven far less sustainable than their proponents have claimed. In some cases they’ve actually performed worse than much older buildings, with no such claims. A 2009 New York Times article, “Some buildings not living up to green label,” documented the extensive problems with many sustainability icons. Among other reasons for this failing, the Times pointed to the widespread use of expansive curtain-wall glass assemblies and large, “deep-plan” designs that put most usable space far from exterior walls, forcing greater reliance on artificial light and ventilation systems.

Partly in response to the bad press, the City of New York instituted a new law requiring disclosure of actual performance for many buildings. That led to reports of even more poor-performing sustainability icons. Another Times article, “City’s Law Tracking Energy Use Yields Some Surprises,” noted that the gleaming new 7 World Trade Center, LEED Gold-certified, scored just 74 on the Energy Star rating — one point below the minimum 75 for “high-efficiency buildings” under the national rating system. That modest rating doesn’t even factor in the significant embodied energy in the new materials of 7 World Trade Center. 

What's going on with these supposedly "sustainable" buildings? Read on, after the break...

Why Architects Must Lead on Sustainable Design

This article, which originally appeared on GreenBiz, is by Lance Hosey, the chief sustainability officer of the global design leader RTKL

Sustainability leader Hunter Lovins once called the building industry "dynamically conservative — it works hard to stay in the same place."

But old habits cannot fully address new challenges. According to 350.org, fossil fuel corporations currently have in their reserves five times the amount of carbon that, if burned too quickly, may raise atmospheric temperatures to a catastrophic level where Hurricane Sandy-scale storms could become the norm. Quicker, deeper progress is imperative.

Architecture is an essential arena for sustainable innovation. Buildings represent about half the annual energy and emissions in the U.S. and three-quarters of its electricity. With the built environment growing — the U.S. building stock increases by about 3 billion square feet every year — architects have a historic opportunity to transform its impact for the better.

Keep reading to find out the 6 Steps architects can take to transform the profession, after the break...

Urban Agri-puncture / Dylan Kwok

Urban Agri-puncture © Dylan Kwok
Urban Agri-puncture © Dylan Kwok

Journey to the Center of New York: Can Design "Cure" Our Cities?

Walk into the cafeteria at the Googleplex and you are nudged into the “right” choice. Sweets? Color-coded red and placed on the bottom shelf to make them just a bit harder to reach. “Instead of that chocolate bar, sir, wouldn’t you much rather consume this oh-so-conveniently-located apple? It’s good for you! Look, we labelled it green!” Like the Google cafeteria guides you to take responsibility of your health, Google wants to transform the construction industry to take responsibility of the “health” of its buildings. They have been leveraging for transparency in the content of building materials, so that, like consumers who read what’s in a Snickers bar before eating it, they’ll know the “ingredients” of materials to choose the greenest, what they call “healthiest,” options.[2] These examples illustrate the trend of “medicalization” in our increasingly health-obsessed society: when ordinary problems (such as construction, productivity, etc.) are defined and understood in medical terms. In their book Imperfect Health, Borasi and Zardini argue that through this process, architecture and design has been mistakenly burdened with the normalizing, moralistic function of “curing” the human body. [3] While I find the idea that design should “force” healthiness somewhat paternalistic and ultimately limited, I don’t think this “medicalized” language is all bad – especially if we can use it in new and revitalizing ways. Allow me to prescribe two examples: the most popular and the (potentially) most ambitious urban renewal projects in New York City today, the High Line and the Delancey Underground (or the Low Line). More on “curative” spaces after the break. (Trust me, it’s good for you.)

KA-CHING: New Thoughts on the Value of Green

Harpoon House, a simple efficient home in Portland that’s expected to achieve LEED Platinum certification.  The 28-foot tall home has one bedroom, one bathroom, a root cellar, and a roof garden. From www.idwellingdeisgn.com.
Harpoon House, a simple efficient home in Portland that’s expected to achieve LEED Platinum certification. The 28-foot tall home has one bedroom, one bathroom, a root cellar, and a roof garden. From www.idwellingdeisgn.com.

PORTLAND–A recent study by Portland-based Earth Advantage Institute reveals that Energy Star and LEED certification for new and existing homes not only saves money but might also raise resale value. The study, conducted over four years in the six-county Portland metropolitan area, found that newly constructed homes with third-party certifications for sustainability and energy efficiency sold for 8% more on average than non-certified homes, and existing homes with certifications sold for 30% more. A similar study was also conducted Seattle, showing 9.6% price premium with certification. While the results are inconclusive, they are compelling. From the Washington Post Writers Group VIA Los Angeles Times: http://articles.latimes.com/2011/aug/28/business/la-fi-harney-20110828