Making Sustainable Architecture That Works

Has LEED reached the tipping point? Flipping through the magazines that come into our office we noticed that everyone is claiming to somehow be related to LEED. It’s used as a selling feature for homes and offices alike. From what we see it has become synonymous with “good.” In our human ability to short-phrase complex subjects, we’ve distilled the essence of LEED to equate it with the mitigation of the guilt of urban living.

Urbanites don’t get to be self-reliant. We need the rural dwellers to support our way of life. Here’s the thing though: we have to live somewhere. LEED helps us make it somewhere that makes us feel a little less guilty for our inherent carbon footprint. And if we can live or work in a building that achieves the higher-value LEED certifications all the better.

These levels of attainment within the standard become synonymous with levels of goodness. Living inside one of them must make us, through osmosis, good too. There are buildings that now exceed the platinum level. Does that mean they need to invent a new elite? I can see LEED Black, like the credit cards. It would match the stereotype architect’s wardrobe.

All joking aside, once we’ve gone as far as we can with this standard, those who like to push the envelope will be looking for a new challenge. So what’s out there?

We’ve seen “net zero” and “passive house” concepts gaining momentum. These seem to focus on the consumer energy use. They seem to target making homes better consumers. This is great. Looking at the science of the impact on our ability as consumers to make change is inspiring.

Homes though, are not the biggest consumers of electricity. Net zero is applicable to office buildings. It’s achievable in retrofit projects too. Great way to go if energy use is your target design objective. But maybe it shouldn’t be the only target? Maybe liveability should also be an important target for the places in which people live.

We saw a short but awesome presentation the other day about Active House, and are familiar with the One Planet Living concept. Now we wonder if that is where we go next. The focus of these movements, and we’re simplifying wildly, is on making shelter comfortable for those sheltering while working towards a design that is measurably sustainable. I’m looking forward to seeing where this philosophy takes us.

These last seem to be the beginning of a movement that goes beyond what we’ve done to date: it strives to make beautiful, sustainable architecture that works and works to elevate the human spirit. That’s a trend worth following!

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