Make it Sustainable

What does it mean to have a truly sustainable building?  Can we ever really be sustainable?  As expressed by some of my professors in my Applications of Sustainability class, there is no pure sustainability.  As long as we, humans, are living and using the resources of the world, we are going to create pollution.  Well, doesn’t that just sound dreadful?  So do we just throw the idea of sustainability out of the door?  We’ll never be able to be “green,” why bother?  I say no to that argument.  Yes, we will create pollutants; that is just part of the life process.  But that does not mean that we should not try to create as few as possible.  One professor posed what seemed to be a simple question to my class recently.  “What does it take and how much does it cost to produce a single pencil?”

Drafting pencils.  The heart which pumps blood to the drawings of every freshman architecture student.

Drafting pencils. The heart which pumps blood to the drawings of every freshman architecture student.

He pointed out how cheap it is to purchase a singular pencil, but he also brought to the light the reality of the process behind the making of a pencil.  And it ain’t magic, y’all.  It is something we never think about:  what kinds of trees are used to produce this pencil, how many trees are cut down to make it, how much water is used in the production process, how much energy is needed to run the production plant, how much fossil fuel is burned in the transportation along every step of the great pencil making process?  The truth of the matter is that it is EXPENSIVE to produce pencils, and all other items that we use every day, but never think about.  It is not only expensive as far as money is concerned, but also expensive in the effects that production causes on the environment.Now let’s take this concept from one tiny pencil, and apply it to a building.  There are so many different materials that go into making a house.  Just to break down a fraction of it – fuel, machines and manpower to clear and level the land, cement and water to create concrete, wood and nails or steel frames and welders plus welding machinery (energy), insulation, glass, gypsum board, paint (lets hope it has low VOC emissions).. *Charlie Brown teacher voice* woomp womp womp wompwompwomp.  You get the point?  There are so many little aspects that go into creating even the smallest of buildings.

How can a building be sustainable when it requires so many different parts from so many different places in the world???  There are organizations that have made it their goal to define and reward buildings that are “green.”  The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) has the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program to determine the “green status of a building, but it still has some growing to do.  Designers have written several books to encourage people to educate themselves on building and producing with the future in mind and to be concious of the decisions that are made when constructing a new building.  A few titles include:
1. “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way we make things” – William McDonough and Michael Braungart

2. “Historic Preservation: The Curatorial Management of the Built World” – James Marston Fitch

3. “Reshaping the Built Environment: Ecology, Ethics, and Economics” – edited by Charles J. Kibert

I believe these are all good ways to make a difference in the way architecture is perceived.  I also believe notes could be taken from the Modern architecture movement in America, when architects designed with the site in mind.  Instead of just destroying a site to get the effect they wanted with their building, they designed their building to be incorporated into the site.  A great example of this is the Case Study House #22 (Stahl House) by architect Pierre Koenig.  It sits atop a ledge overlooking Los Angeles, California, and is integrated into its site.

Stahl House / Case Study House #22.  Architect: Pierre Koenig.  Photographer: Julius Shulman.

Stahl House / Case Study House #22. Architect: Pierre Koenig. Photographer: Julius Shulman.

Now here is my point of view.  I love old things, and I especially love old buildings.  This has influenced me greatly, and has lead me to pursue educating myself, with the guidance of some awesome professors, on how the preservation of existing buildings can be used as sustainable architectural method.  With so many buildings abandoned across the US, I believe it is high time that the architectural community take responsibility for the acts of designers before us, and instead of constantly tearing down and building anew, transform the legacy they left behind into more useful sustainable buildings.  Instead of building from the ground up, we should take advantage of the embodied energy that existing buildings possess.  The buildings should then be brought up to a high standard of sustainable operations because many of the buildings built in the past 50 years were not built in the most sustainable manner.  While every building that is still in existence cannot be salvaged, I believe that a true effort and investment to restore and adapt existing buildings can make a huge difference in the building industry by cutting down the pollution created by the myriad of production processes that go into it.  But, as always, every system is connected.  This type of approach to building could be seen as a threat to the jobs that people have in producing these products, or constructing new buildings.  I do not have the answers for problems like these, but I know they will be important to consider and address in my studies and in the theories I produce.   I plan to continue to blog about my discovery on this path as I research, conduct a case study, and create a capstone project based on the preservation of a local building.  I hope you stay tuned in!

University of Arkansas Fay Jones School of Architecture's Vol Walker building.  It is currently under construction, and the new building will be integrated into the original building.

University of Arkansas Fay Jones School of Architecture’s Vol Walker building. It is currently under construction, and the new building will be integrated into the original building.

This was installment 2 of my final 3 Green Blogger competition (GreenBloggin’) posts.  Stay tuned tonight for a totally different type of post, you will love it! =)

Until next time, Ci Vediamo!!!
OWNG

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