June 8, 2007
What Is Next After Green?

by Pete Evans, AIA
Baldwin White Architecture

Summary: The 2007 AIA Convention this spring in San Antonio, themed "Growing Beyond Green," was described in an ad as encompassing the “Science, Practice, and the Challenge of Sustainability.” My first reaction, however, was, "What is next after Green?"

It is apparent that sustainable (or "green") architecture is not one of the many passing fads in the design and construction industry. We've spent the past few years immersed in the principles of green design and its time has come none too soon. Some examples: The number of LEED®-accredited professionals continues to grow. William McDonough, FAIA, presented the keynote address at the 2006 AIA Convention. 2002 Pritzker Prize Laureate Glenn Murcutt presented his environmentally responsive works to a capacity audience at Iowa State University in April 2006. Even the 2006 AIA Iowa conference theme, "Sustainability … It's Infinitely Possible," demanded that we do whatever we can to limit the use of our natural resources. So what is “beyond green?”

Linking technology and sustainability
Last September, I participated in (and won!) the 2006 AIA Iowa COTE Green Chair competition and the 2006 YAF Adobe Innovation contest. With these projects, I investigated the relationships between established goals of sustainability and technology-based tools, which I initially perceived as being in conflict. Reinforcing this belief was the observation that the other entries in the Green Chair competition did not use technology to any perceivable degree; nor did the YAF Adobe Innovation entries include much mention of sustainability. And one public review comment on the Web-based “people’s choice” design competition put this same dilemma in a different light: "Looks like something from a train wreck … back to the drawing board."

As a young architect, I was surprised by this blunt review, but I should have anticipated it. Further consideration shows the "train wreck" notion was actually pretty accurate from a certain point of view: The design did not rely on formal design conventions that might have garnered a better public review. Instead, the design deliberately forced these two perceived opposing ideas together: a design combining a digital heterodoxy with sustainable principles.

Why is it important to consider these digital tools and concepts at the same time with ideas of sustainable architecture? Two main reasons:

  • The infusion of technology into the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry is not a passing fad either
  • Sustainable principles and technology can support each other.

Change is now
The transformation to architecture practice is rapid, pervasive, and complex. The AIA Integrated Practice (IP) initiatives recognize this transformation and engender the AIA constituency's ability to work within it. The AIA Technology and Architectural Practice (TAP) Knowledge Community presented its third juried awards at the 2007 convention with project categories that include (among others) Building Information Modeling (BIM), Sustainable Design, and Fabrication. Both AIA IP and AIA TAP are integral in developing and advocating architecture's role in the AEC+ standards and methods being developed currently. In addition, the federal General Services Administration piloted BIM projects since 2003 and is now requiring BIM aspects for all major projects.

Last November, the Iowa AIA hosted a seminar called Integrated Technology and Architectural Practice, in which Norman Strong, FAIA; Kristine K Fallon, FAIA; and James Walbridge, AIA, discussed current issues surrounding IP, TAP, and BIM. They presented an architectural design/build practice as proof that these ideas in reality can generate one successful outcome. Resonating discussion points from that seminar include:

  • There is a growing gap between education and the professional protocols for interning and training architects. The changes are very rapid, and emerging professionals are expected to know much more about design, CAD systems, and the building information models they are creating
  • There are difficult and fundamental shifts—even with basic services models—for all stakeholders. These include contract and liability issues.

Sustainable principles and technology—together
Even a sustainable design process can be profoundly affected by technology, enabling a complex project to act efficiently and responsively with its environment. The Green Building Studio (a Web-based design analysis program) shows the real advantages using BIM for sustainable design. This program directly integrates with today’s BIM applications and engineering tools to provide immediate whole-building energy feedback. Multiple design schemes can be reviewed and compared simultaneously with the building performance and energy consumption information.

Modular and pre-fabricated design is another growing area in which combined technology and green strategies can benefit the project and environment. This process minimizes waste, impact, and construction time on the project site and often will provide a better performing design for less cost. Through my experience of the Green Chair competition, direct design methods, such as BIM and Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM), allowed for both an optimization of the design through virtual prototyping and an optimization of the material use. These design methods also enabled me to explore the potential direct relationship of architecture design and the manufacturing processes.

Considering the full life-cycle of a project—how it best operates with its environment for the long term and its total impact—operates likewise for using BIM. It gives project stakeholders the ability to have an integrated digital model working in parallel with the real project, not just during construction, but for the life of the project.

Toward an integrated practice
An integrated practice including green design and technology together will best move the industry toward evolution. In support of this, the AIA TAP Web site has some interesting links to the larger ecosystem. I found one of them particularly intriguing: Doors of Perception Magazine on Design of Information Technologies, by John Thackara, provides a very active blog on several related topics including art, place, business innovation, and sustainability, among additional topics. Additionally, Thackara’s book In the Bubble: Designing for a Complex World (2005) presents these ideas simply, saying "ethics and responsibility can inform design decisions without impeding social and technical innovation." Translation: Sustainable design and technical innovation can complement each other.

As change rapidly continues to move the design and construction industry forward, the complex issues of both sustainability and innovation will shape the core competencies of those responsible professionals. Young architects are uniquely positioned to be leaders on these issues of sustainable design and technological innovation in both the profession and the community, as they have the design knowledge of sustainability, integrated technology, and practice, as well as their relationships to each other. Look to young architects to help lead the profession “beyond green.”

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Pete Evans is a 1995 graduate from Iowa State University and has been a registered architect and member of the AIA since 2001. Evans practices at Baldwin White Architecture in Des Moines. He is not LEED AP... yet.