Friday, July 10, 2009

Building Dreams

The following commentary comes from the Pacific Northwest Inlander and is reprinted with permission by the Inlander and the author.

The green movement starts with bricks and mortar

By Paul K. Haeder

Reuse, retrofit, refurbish, reclaim, re-appropriate, readjust, realign, recycle. These verbs aren’t part of some Get Lit! alliteration contest.

They are the notes to multiple symphonies played at once — a grand, loud concert that sparks inspiration in the entire housing and building industry to renovate and design while reducing their fossil-fuel, greenhouse gas-emitting energy consumption by up to 75 percent below 2006 standards.

These verbs represent change and a new face of architecture, building, land use and urban development yet to come into fruition. However, these tools are now actively used in computer building and engineering design software, green construction and alternative and co-generated energy applications, as well as architecture and transportation design.

Getting buildings — homes, public and private buildings, factories and warehouses — to hit a carbon-neutral marker in the next two to five decades is the goal of many designers, engineers, municipal and state governments and sustainability experts.

Iceland, Sweden and Holland have been quick to embrace such ideas; Spokane’s response, in contrast, has been slow as molasses. But there’s hope in the collective forces of companies like PacifiCAD and the Northwest Eco-Building Guild. PacifiCAD is a vendor for Autodesk software that gives architects, engineers and designers tools to design, craft and build to save energy and increase efficiency and employ sustainable construction.

PacifiCAD’s CEO Ron Reed helps Spokane enlist businesses in the army against global warming by persuading them not just to think in terms of the immediate economic bottom line. Reed wants light rail for Spokane, to increase density and in-fill and to provide Spokanites with a clean alterative public transportation choice. He’d like to see the private business sector buy into green-collar jobs and reduce its own ecological footprint.

Now take what Reed does in his private-sector work and his public service outreach, as cofounder of the Northwest Climate Change Center, and ratchet up the torque wrench. Imagine a plan that would benefit citizens and the earth in perpetuity, which could save the U.S. alone over a five-year span $132 to $208 billion in energy costs and mortgage payments and help to reduce CO2 emissions by, get this, 504 million megatons.

The heartbeat inside this sustainability Pegasus is Edward Mazria, an internationally known architect, speaker, author and founder of Architecture 2030, a multidisciplinary organization focused on protecting the global environment. Mazria wants to transform the United States and global building sector from a major contributor of greenhouse gases into part of the solution by changing the way buildings and developments are constructed.

For Cascadia Green Building Council’s Jason McLennon and others, the greenest building is already built and is ready for retrofit. The fact is that 70 to 80 percent of our building needs for the next 50 years are already in existence.

We need trained people to work with retrofitting — insulating, solar-roofing, xeriscaping — existing residences and buildings. We need politicians to plan for our populations to live urban. (Australia’s population is already 80 percent urban.) We need transportation-oriented communities and agriculture-oriented developments.

The statistics are startling when it comes to global warming: The U.S. Energy Information Administration says that 48 percent of all energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions annually come from buildings; globally, the percentage is even greater. More telling: 76 percent of total hydrocarbon sparked power plant electricity is consumed by buildings.

“The road to energy independence, economic recovery and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions runs through the building sector,” Mazria says wherever he goes.

The sparsely attended once-a-month E-Squared documentaries and clumsy dialogues afterward at Spokane City Hall are nary a start for us. Not surprisingly, Richard Rush is the lone council member in attendance. From that Autodesk-produced series, we’ve seen Dutch examples of the “gray to green” movement with one firm, 2012 Architecten, looking at available materials first and then designing small- and large-scale projects around them. It’s about reusing I-beams, tires, washing machines, windmill blades, commercial textile mills and integrating them into the design and construction process.

Now go back 35 years, and beyond, and think of Spokane Expo ’74, that environmental-themed fair that lost its eco-traction soon after. The ideas behind the Expo’s green theme could have been taken to the hilt, and today we would be living in a different Spokane. We’d have mixed-use corridors and centers with efficient, green-powered trolleys; bike and walking boulevards rivaling Bogota’s; a vibrant, super-dense city core; truck farms and agricultural lands ringing a forested city.

Imagine a time when opposition existed side by side without a council president gaveling away free speech and pitting SWAT teams against citizens.

Then conjure up King Cole with his smoky stogie as Spokane’s businessman pit boss who got the rail yard turned into a “park.” His words about Expo ’74 are prophetic, albeit pedestrian.

“There had always been these railroad tracks cutting me off from the view of the north side of town and of the river and everything else. The day that I actually drove down the South Hill, and they weren’t there, I felt like: if nothing happens, if the fair didn’t happen, if I died, whatever happened, what I really wanted to do the most of all was to get rid of those damn tracks.”

Spokane could use those tracks now.

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