The fourth-annual Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design is fast approaching, and the topics of discussion centering around this concept are endless. We narrowed the playing field and asked a handful of the leaders on this topic in the United States some select questions to provide their viewpoints on today’s state of sustainability.

The fourth-annual Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design is fast approaching, and the topics of discussion centering around this concept are endless. We narrowed the playing field and asked a handful of the leaders on this topic in the United States some select questions to provide their viewpoints on today’s state of sustainability.

Five experts in the field of sustainability and green design were asked a number of important questions on the state of these issues and provided advice and suggestions so prospective architects can continue these practices well into the future. The expert panel is comprised of: Peter Ellis, SOM; David Gottfried, WorldBuild; Sharon Kuska, University of Nebraska; Sandra Mendler, HOK; and Stephen Senkowski, Armstrong World Industries.

Senkowski participated in a joint effort with several other members of his corporation, including Steven Bear, maintenance planner; Joann Davis-Brayman, v.p., commercial marketing, Americas; Anita Snader, associate marketing manager, customer segmentation; and Liesl Morell, architectural and contract sales manager.

DI: What do you consider to be trends in green and sustainable design, including specific “sub-trends,” such as recyclable design materials and alternate lighting sources?

Kuska: I see a growing public awareness of rating system checklists, such as LEED, Green Building, etc., as measurements of a project’s degree of sustainability. It is evident that a significant increase in the creation, marketing, availability, and usage of green products has occurred. It is impossible to open a design publication without coming across numerous ads for environmentally-sensitive products. Products have been technologically improved to lessen their impact on the natural environment, and techniques stressing energy efficiencies have advanced with technological changes.

Finally, a sub-trend with which I am personally involved is that of reducing construction and demolition waste through deconstructing and salvaging usable building materials from structures slated for demolition; in some cases, taking apart the entire structure. This provides whole-building conservation while significantly lowering the amount of waste being placed into the landfills.

What I hope to see develop more completely in the short term is a trend toward a more universal understanding of the definition and implications of green and sustainable design by architect, designer, client, builder, public official, etc.

Senkowski: The topic of recycling products is raised more today. Designers are interested in knowing what “ingredients” go into the manufacture of products and how they will be taken apart at the end of their useful lives as the various components can be reused. Products that can become something useful in their second life are appreciated, but whether they are purchased primarily because of these characteristics is a little harder to determine.

Sub-trends include the co-generation of electric power onsite and the use of indirect lighting with high light-reflectance ceilings to reduce glare on computer screens.

Ellis: Sustainable design is fast becoming a requirement for institutional and governmental clients, as well as enlightened corporations, and in the commercial office and residential worlds, it is often a marketing device. For those clients with a strong commitment to sustainability, there is a growing awareness of what it takes to achieve a high LEED rating, with understanding and support of the process.

Sub-trends that interest me are alternative energy sources, such as wind, solar, and geo-thermal options.

Mendler: I see a very exciting shift in focus toward “deep green” design solutions. Now that thousands of green buildings have been completed in the United States and internationally, there is a real hunger in the industry for buildings that go beyond the checklist. Basic green building “features” are being considered the norm rather than the exception.

Gottfried: There is more education on green building throughout most sectors of the industry and an increase in college education on sustainable design. There has been a 30-percent growth spurt in the green building industry, and many more major market players are entering the green field. Govern-ment and leading private-sector organizations are adopting green building standards.

Sub-trends include the use of materials with recycled content, lighting sensors for occupancy control, radiant floors for heating and cooling, and energy modeling. There has also been a growth of green building in China, and we are in the process of creating a China Green Building Council.

DI: Do you feel architects today have a good grasp on the concept of sustainable design and green architecture?

Kuska: The “green” knowledge base in the design professions is definitely improving, becoming more widespread in demand and respect, and professionals strive for the reputation of being able to create good design in concert with environmentally-responsible design. Graduate architects value the potential realized through a green design specialization.

There remains, however, a general deficiency of both practicing architects and academic studies to be holistic and comprehensive—seeking the connections and interdependencies of green design with all of the built and natural contexts for sustainability. There is still a long way to go before sustainable green design architecture is expected rather than selected.

Ellis: I regret that much sustainable design is secondary to a great design concept. A true sustainable approach requires a complete reevaluation of our design concepts, not a retooling of existing ideas.

For example, the German government demands that all residential units have flow-through ventilation, minimizing the need for air conditioning (sustainable). However, this precludes the use of a double-loaded corridor with kitchens and bathrooms backed up to the corridor wall, which is the typical (non-sustainable) US approach.

I do believe that the best architectural practices understand the issues and could achieve outstanding results given the right client.

Mendler: There has been a great leap forward in basic literacy. Professional education is high, as evidenced by the more than 20,000 people having completed the LEED-accredited professional exam. University programs are meeting some of this need by adding sustainable coursework.

Unfortunately, the depth of understanding is not very high, and the focus on figuring out how to get a good LEED rating has distracted some from the larger issues.

None of us designing the built environment are truly meeting the needs of future generations.

Senkowski: A certain percentage of them do, but it is not unanimous; it depends on the market, firm, and the type of work. An architectural firm that has decided to make its green philosophy part of its marketing program will encourage LEED accreditation for its associates, as well as the pursuit of environmental specifications, as much as possible.

For firms involved in public projects driven by the state’s green agenda, such as in California, they will be more conversant in the nuances of green architecture. Architects are getting a better grasp on this topic with the acceptance and awareness of LEED and the growth of USGBC.

Gottfried: Architects are the largest category of USGBC’s membership, and many are becoming more educated and active, but we still have a ways to go. Architects need to learn more about the other industry disciplines and their associated greening, and more finance knowledge is needed to make “green” happen.

DI: What has changed most in the last three years, and how much more of a rise in green building practices is on the horizon?

Ellis: In the last three years, sustainability has gone mainstream, but in-depth sustainable projects remain rare. I believe sustainability will move forward from being optional to mandatory, with a greater emphasis on energy and resource conservation.

Gottfried: We have seen growth of the USGBC and the World Green Building Council, and 10,000 people are expected to attend the November 2005 Greenbuild Conference. There has also been the emergence of some other green building rating systems.

We are just starting to get to early mainstream, having started with pioneers and early adopters. We have a long way to go, especially with greening existing buildings. The private sector is wide open as well.

Kuska: One of the most significant recent changes has been an increase in the client demand for more environmentally-responsible design as a logical element of aesthetic and functional design. Both the government and general public have become more knowledgeable of the short- and long-term benefits of green and sustainable design and, as a result, are requiring the design community to respond in an equally-conscious manner.

In the future, green building practices will become a standard within the construction community. Green building programs are being adopted and welcomed by governments, cities, and communities across the nation, and various sectors of society are gradually embracing sustainable principles and encouraging the protection of natural resources, which are being negatively affected by the built environment. Clients are increasingly more supportive of these green building practices based on changing values and proven benefits.

Senkowski: In the last three years, the acceptance of sustainable design and building operation has gained favor. The USGBC 2004 Greenbuild Exposition attracted more than 7,000 people, and many municipalities, federal agencies, school districts, and large private developers have adopted LEED Silver as their entry-level goal for new buildings. The use of Life Cycle Assessment to quantify the impact of environmental decisions is being considered for the next generation of LEED.

On the horizon, expect to see the adoption curve grow, and sustainability will not be a trend, but the standard for all design. We will see this through the increase in LEED buildings, commitment by major corporations, and an increased demand for green products and services.

Mendler: The LEED rating system has had a profound impact on the design and construction industry, enabling owners to request a high-performance green building, and certification with the USGBC provides confirmation that the goals have been met. This is important because it allows owners to engage in the process of creating a green building even if they do not fully understand what that means.

DI: What are the advantages and disadvantages of urban density?

Kuska: The primary advantage to urban density is a reduction in energy costs based on location efficiency. Having basic services within walking distance can aid in the reduction of auto ownership and promote a sense of community through interaction.

Disadvantages include the perceptions of low safety levels, few prospects for children, sanitation issues, and the inability to satisfy the desire to own rather than lease your living space. I believe that the positives of urban density can, with careful and considerate planning, prevail over the negatives, both perceived and real.

Senkowski: The major environmental benefit is the ability for employees to use public transportation systems rather than each using an individual car for commuting. The concept of the building serving as a power plant with its own green electric generating capability is being used in some urban settings, offsetting the need for remote power plants and the associated transmission losses.

On the down side, the heat-island effect of urban density disrupts the atmosphere, and water management challenges and solid waste disposal are issues.

Ellis: Urban density is an appropriate sustainable strategy with the economy of public transportation and land use conserving our natural resources.

However, it must be well planned to be sustainable. There must be an efficient public transportation network, an appropriate mix of uses to enable pedestrian access, sufficient green space for recreation to mitigate the “heat-island effect” of density, and buildings and infrastructure need to be designed according to green principles. In short, sustainability requires that we reexamine how we design our cities.

Gottfried: New York City residents drive less, have smaller square-footage homes, and use less energy. They also walk more and have easy access to most of their needs, and the many social, cultural, environmental, and physical advantages definitely outweigh the disadvantages.
Our cities need to go up to provide for a sustainable future. At the same time, they need to preserve our parks and open space.

Mendler: Urban centers are hubs of culture and social exchange; the revitalization of many US cities has been fueling a demographic shift. This is good news for sustainability, as per capita environmental burdens are generally less in urban areas.

However, cities pose significant environmental challenges due to concentrations of impermeable surfaces, limited habitat for wildlife, etc. Visionary leaders see that the greening of urban areas serves a dual purpose, addressing both environmental challenges and improving quality of life. For example, “living infrastructure” in the form of parks, street trees, and green roofs has an aesthetic benefit while also improving air and water quality and reducing the urban heat-island effect.

Waterfront restoration projects create urban amenities, while restoring the health of waterways and contributing to development of regional greenways and flyways for wildlife. Improvements in aging infrastructure can lead to dramatic efficiency gains, while also addressing issues of equity by eliminating sources of pollution in disadvantaged areas.

DI: What is your personal agenda in the context of green design and sustainable architecture?

Kuska: As professor of architecture at the University of Nebraska and v.p. of the Joslyn Castle Institute for Sustainable Communities, the greatest impact I can have right now is through the education of future designers and consumers. The opportunity exists for me to encourage the incorporation of sustainable principles as an integral aspect of the design process, taking a leadership role in mainstreaming concepts that promote green architecture and responsible design.

Gottfried: I’m building my firm into an integral green strategic planning firm—merging green building work with the greening of companies. I’m also chair to a task force at USGBC to form an advisory council of CEO-level participants. The greening of my own life occupies my mind often.

Ellis: I am very involved in deepening the sustainable culture within our firm and am constantly looking for common-sense, passive approaches in response to climate. These often refer back to time-tested, indigenous solutions that can often be the springboard for a new paradigm.

Mendler: My focus is on design. I believe strongly in the qualitative benefits of sustainable design—that it is not just the only responsible way to practice but that it also creates a more desirable result. Through design of projects that demonstrate this, I hope to inspire and challenge others to embrace sustainability. I am also fascinated by low-tech, passive design strategies, innovative use of materials, and the integration of living systems in design.

Senkowski: Armstrong’s position is as follows:

  • We are a fast responder to established environmental market trends

  • We monitor the driving environmental forces in the market

  • We are an educator on environmental topics for ceiling applications

  • We are the industry leader for recycling of ceilings for renovation projects

DI: What is your advice to architects of the future?

Gottfried: Jump into the movement with both feet—it is the future. Learn as much as you can about finance and the development process, and join ULI and read their development books. Learn to think like a CFO, and understand the control that you have over good design—start with what the earth gives us for free.

Ellis: Reinvent from the inside out. Create viable sustainable paradigms for buildings and cities.

Kuska: Challenge yourself to uphold your ecological responsibility as an essential and integral part of the design process, as well as your personal life. Be creative in thinking and in doing.

Senkowski: Recognize the long-term impact of the construction process on the environment. Recognize that the decisions you make TODAY will impact the environmental footprint for the life of the building. Architects have the opportunity to impact a building’s performance and benefits over its entire life cycle, and this extends to creating higher-performing and healthier buildings for its occupants.

Mendler: I encourage architects and planners to integrate sustainable thinking as the fundamental basis for design. They need to use common sense and logic to supplement good technical information, reach out to good partners for collaboration, and get to work.

While I respect the good work being done by many green building consultants, I encourage architects and planners to stay in the profession. The design decisions made by our generation will have vast consequences. We need creative sustainable design leaders to drive the process of design.

—DesignIntelligence