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Buildings are living beings, my friend

Marc Lefkowitz  |  10/03/12 @ 11:00am  |  Posted in Green buildings, Live, Building new

The world’s leading architects are moving beyond LEED and into Living Buildings, building places like the Vandusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre in Vancouver (pictured) which are responsive to their environment, meaning, they use almost no natural resources to fully operate and, in this case, regenerate the land, water, and air surrounding them.

Living Buildings<br />Give more than they take

The ideas espoused by architect / futurists like Bill McDonough and David Orr for the last twenty years are being brought in to the world.

“We build our buildings one step above breaking the law,” says Bill Reed an architect at Integrative Design, Inc. “We need to start broading our engagement with life.”

A broader cultural shift to thinking about buildings as living systems challenges the idea that resources are limited. “It’s not about limited resources when raw sewage is cleaned by waste water system on site.”

Reed was part of the creation of LEED and says of the now mainstream green building rating system, “LEED was meant to be used as a market transformation tool, never as a yardstick. It’s time to move on."

Living Building and the 2030 Challenge—which sets bold targets for zero energy buildings by 2030—is the path that will take us to true transformation, he said.

Reed talked about a food coop client in Bratelboro who he convinced to think beyond its building walls, and act as an agricultural extension working on soil issues in the urban area.

In Vancouver, the Vandusen achieved one of the first designations as a Living Building—producing half the energy it is consuming (with renewables); healing and meshing with the natural environment like a tree by capturing all of its stormwater for use as irrigation in the garden. The guiding principle starts by thinking of buildings as an extension of the natural world – and how does that serve the client’s mission. For a botanical garden and the thousands of ‘criters’ who live around its site – buildings are part of an ecosystem, rather than as inanimate objects dropped over the land.

“How do you understand a client’s goals and upsell them?” asked Blair McCarry of Perkins+Will who was the lead on the Vandusen project. “At first, we’re thinking LEED gold. Then we drew cartoons that showed the interaction of sun, rain and building systems. How it fit in to the space around it. Then we go in to design.

“The overall design of the roof is based on an open flower, an orchid. It also has rammed earth walls. All of the roof sections are prefabricated (to keep costs in line). Ground source heat pumps offset natural gas use. It retrieves all sewage on site.”

It succeeds because it’s a true expression born out of the mission of the organization. Its design flows from that and now attracts thousands of new visitors.

“You’re asking, ‘How can operation of the building make overall site more operable?’ You fit it in to the business of your clients, rather than getting another silly plaque on the wall.”

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