Friday, November 17, 2006

Goodbye GreenBuild

Finally, Thursday night, I decided at the last minute to head to the LEED Reviewers’ party at the Shelter nightclub to meet my friend Janet Stephenson, who coordinates sustainable efforts for the city of Seattle. The party turned into a reunion, of sorts, of USGBC members from my old Los Angeles home Chapter; I talked with Dave Stevens from the Gas Company’s Energy Resource Center in Downey, CA, and also caught up with Ben Cien, an architect at HKS. They were both having a lot of fun.

Then I saw Stuart Cooley, with the city of Santa Monica, who is chair of the host city organizing committee for GreenBuild 2007 in LA. His colleague in Santa Monica, Greg Reitz, told me they were going to crack the whip on the committee this coming Monday night.

GreenBuild winds down today (Friday), so I hope the LA chapter gets some sleep over the weekend. They have lots of work ahead of them. Good luck!

-Russell Fortmeyer

LEED Evolves

Each Greenbuild marks a milestone in the evolution of LEED. In 2005, the big news was the move away from the cumbersome project documentation binders toward an online submittal process. This year, USGBC leadership announced a series of proposed changes that echo the topic that seems to have emerged as the unofficial theme of this year’s conference: climate change.

Next month USGB members will vote on a series of refinements to LEED that would target greenhouse gas reduction. These include a requirement that all new commercial projects reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50 percent. As part of the initiative, projects will have to achieve at least two of LEED’s possible five energy and optimization credits. Council officials also announced that the organization’s operations would be carbon neutral by the end of 2007.

-Joann Gonchar

Mile-High Fun

Joann and I hopped in a cab out to Invesco Field (the “new” Mile-High Stadium) to visit the Siemens party. We both talked with Richard Walker, Siemens’ national environmental manager. I had talked to him on the convention floor about wireless control systems—this is going to be a big issue in 2007.

We ran into our friends Deb Snoonian (at Plenty magazine, at left) and Michele Russo (of McGraw-Hill Construction) and I forced them against their wills to pose in front of the stadium. I think it turned out good.

-Russell Fortmeyer

COTE Check

Joann Gonchar and I headed over to the AIA Committee on the Environment party last night at Lannie's under the clock tower on 16th Street. We hadn't expected to know anyone at the party, but we've been running into friends everywhere in Denver.

We talked with Martha Bennett (picture with Joann), who runs the firm Bennett Wagner & Grody here in Denver. She told us some stories about our editor, Bob Ivy, that won't be making it into the blog. She told us she was trying to make it to as many events at GreenBuild as she could, but the joys of having your office in the host city mean she had to focus on work, too (!).

Kira Gould, who wrote a piece on green developers for our forthcoming issue three of GreenSource, was there with Lance Hosey, her co-author on the book "Women in Green: Voices of Sustainable Design." It publishes this spring; they are both pictured. I've been running into Kira all over town--last I saw her I was breathlessly running around booths on the convention floor. She and Lance posed for a few party pictures that, because I like them so much, I won't be publishing on the blog. But they could always come in handy later...

Finally, as I was standing in line to get some water (do you believe that?), I started talking to a guy who turned out to be David Mount, an architect with Mahlum Architects in Seattle. It turns out Mahlum has been working with Record on our Schools for the 21st Century project--it's like six degrees of Kevin Bacon at this conference.

-Russell Fortmeyer

Pushing the Envelope

Thursday afternoon, I dropped into the seminar "Pushing the Envelope," which had presentations by Randy Sharp (landscape architect from Vancouver), Friedrich Sick (a professor from Berlin), and my friend Steven Strong (solar consultant from Cambridge).

Sharp (pictured) talked about living walls--such a beautiful concept; he showed us the Aquaquest Learning Centre in Vancouver, a LEED Gold building that had a gorgeous wall of ferns along its exterior. It used an innovative system of pre-packaged plant boxes that could be set into a simple structure on the facade. He said the amazing acoustical properties of the wall were totally unintended.

Dr. Sick talked about passive design strategies in Germany and the recent mandated code change that requires all buildings to post their energy consumption data where the public can see it in a simple, easily understood chart. Can you imagine if we did that in the United States?

Finally, Strong--who spoke at our Architectural Record Innovation Conference and who must stay on the road lecturing almost constantly--had the audience rolling in the aisles with his great presentation on photovoltaic design options. He loves to slip in little politically motivated slides that catch you totally off guard (my favorite is the picture of the donkey hauling a cart loaded down with too much cargo and the cart has fallen back and launched the donkey into the sky--his point is that we load our buildings up with too many energy-consuming pieces of equipment that it becomes impossible to create enough renewable power for them).

-Russell Fortmeyer

Thursday, November 16, 2006

There goes the "green" neighborhood...

Tom Hoyt has earned a solid reputation in Colorado as a sustainable home developer. One of their largest projects is at Stapleton, the old Denver airport brownfield I wrote about in Record’s July 2006 technology section. Hoyt’s team at McStain Neighborhoods ( talked Thursday morning about how the company’s culture inspires innovation in their homes. Based on a University of Colorado, McStain homes sell for 4 to 11 percent more (and roughly $10/SF more) than their Colorado competitors. For Hoyt, sustainability is paying off.

Caroline Hoyt, a founder and the designer for McStain, talked about xeriscaping, incorporating natural landscape to minimize grading, and creating usable wetlands for stormwater management. But I thought her comment about site orientation was the most surprising. Since Hoyt has been developing homes in Colorado since 1968, she says they’ve found that conventional north-south/east-west street orientations don’t make sense in the state. With a house oriented to the south, too much snow builds up on the north and will stay all winter; instead, McStain shifts the street grid 45 degrees and solves that problem. “Look at your land planning very critically and don’t just assume what someone tells you is always right,” Hoyt advises.

These sorts of nuanced considerations are what separates a great designer and developer from the rest of the pack.

-Russell Fortmeyer

Hits and misses

I went to the Wednesday afternoon session, "Higher Performance: Systems that Make a Difference." Dane Sanders, from Clanton and Associates, gave a great overview of high-tech lighting developments. It turns out the old carbon filament--from Edison's days--may hold the potential for a comeback. Sanders says research has shown a great deal of the waste heat from a filament--something like 95% of the total heat--could be tapped for light. He also said a new development--tungset photonic lattice--is projected to provide something like 240 lumens/watt; that's double the rating of a compact fluorescent.

Stan Mumma, a professor from Penn State University's Architectural Engineering department, talked about chilled slabs and radiant cooling. This is definitely a topic that we will hear more about (if not on the pages of GreenSource and Record in 2007!).

But like many sessions, some things don't quite work. Christopher Faust, from Fat Hause Designs out of North Carolina, talked about something called the "Passive Thermal Engine." After a rigorous discussion of what constitutes true sustainability (you're preaching to the choir on that one), he finally showed a box-like house he claimed was the most sustainable structure on the planet. Well, to say I'm a little skeptical is being generous. Plus, who would want to live in it? At least he offered that he had been told he "wasn't much of an architect."

Still, it was nice to see a standing-room only crowd of engineers totally engaged in GreenBuild.

-Russell Fortmeyer

Something in the Air

There is something in the air at this Greenbuild‹a certain confidence, optimism, or maturity. The sense of urgency--the need to turn the construction, design, and development industries toward more sustainable practices quickly--is just as palpable among attendees and presenters as at past conferences, perhaps even more pronounced.

What is new is that the arguments for building sustainably are more developed and compelling than ever before. And the barriers--the reasons many clients and owners typically cite for not building green--seem to be falling away.

Take the educational session I attended Wednesday afternoon about the economics of building green schools and hospitals. Lisa Fay Matthiessen, from Davis Langdon, presented her study showing that Green Guide for Healthcare certification should add little or no additional cost to projects.

Greg Kats, from Capital E, shared the results of a study that examined about 30 green schools. It found that green schools cost only 1.7 percent more than conventional facilities. The payback for energy-saving strategies alone was only four years, according to the study. And the payback for all of the green strategies, including energy- and water-saving measures, was only one year.

With the benefits to teachers and students long associated with improved daylighting, thermal comfort and indoor air quality, and such a minimal premium, "the question is no longer why build green schools," said Kats. "The question is why not build green schools."

-Joann Gonchar

Libeskind's atrium

During the party, you could get a ticket and explore the museum or go on a guided tour. The museum has been open until around 9 every night just to accommodate the demand of visitors--a sure sign of success.

The top of Libeskind's Art Museum building atrium: you can see an LED art installation built into the acres and acres of sloped, white drywall. I kept running into people I knew around each angled corner--it was definitely like a big maze for exploration. I'd love to know what the artists think of their work hanging off sloped walls?!?

-Russell Fortmeyer

A night at the art museum...

We had a swell turnout at our event at the Denver Art Museum, where I took a quick tour of Daniel Libeskind's new building. Lots of angles. Lots of great surfaces for skateboarding.

Bob Ivy, our editor, introduced the party and thanked HunterDouglas, our sponsor.

There were so many friends of Record and GreenSource--it was hard to make it around to see everyone. Stephen Selkowitz from the Lawrence Berkeley Labs was talking to Steven Strong of Solar Design Associates. I chatted up Gail Vittori about sustainable healthcare design--we have lots to discuss on that topic.

And Charles Linn, our deputy editor, caught up with his friend Nancy Clanton, the great lighting designer who is also serving on GreenSource's editorial advisory board.

What a night we had--I was up at 5:30AM and it's close to midnight now, but just another day at GreenBuild.

-Russell Fortmeyer

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Keeping track of carbon with Guy Battle...

Editors from Architectural Record and GreenSource met over lunch with Guy Battle from Battle McCarthy engineers (he's pictured with Record's Joann Gonchar). He's collaborated with Haworth--the big architecture and furnishings manufacturer--to kickstart a new carbon tracking system called "Planet Positive."

The news at GreenBuild 2006 is that carbon neutral is EVERYTHING. Battle told us if we don't implement a way to account for carbon in the entire supply chain of our buildings, we don't stand much chance to beat back global warming. He says he started the Planet Positive program, which is a non-profit organization separate from his practice, as a way to bring sustainability to more people's lives.

"As a designer, there's only so many buildings you can touch," Battle told me. "How many people will see your buildings--maybe a in the thousands or possibly millions. But CO(2) is the real issue."

I think I'm going to hear that a lot this week.

-Russell Fortmeyer

13,000 and counting!

Rick Fedrizzi said there are 13,000 people here in Denver--and it was standing room only in the morning plenary. The exhibits are mobbed and most seminars are packed to the rafters. It's so exciting to see everyone talking about sustainable design.

There's a bear at the door...

And it's GreenBuild 2006 in Denver!

The morning kicked off with a fiery pep-talk from Rick Fedrizzi, the president and CEO of the US Green Building Council. He introduced several new initiatives--schools, communities, education--that we will hopefully be reporting on in the near future. He was also joined by Phil Bernstein from AutoDesk, who announced a major commitment to developing more performance-based tools for architects and designers. Cool stuff.

The keynote was William McDonough, who gave a soft-spoken challenge to the audience to do better. More on that later.

We'll be posting throughout the day, so check back. And tonight's the big party at Daniel Libeskind's new art museum, so we'll have plenty of pics tomorrow.

-Russell Fortmeyer

Monday, November 13, 2006

Back to blogging...

Welcome to the GreenSource Magazine blog site!

The editors of GreenSource and Architectural Record are going to be posting their reports from the floor of the US Green Building Council's 2006 GreenBuild Conference in Denver.

Check back here to see interviews, musings, seminar recaps, and party pics from what promises to be the biggest GreenBuild ever.