Design News

Challenges of Building Green: Material Selection

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Sustainability is quickly becoming a mainstay of the building industry. Although a builder’s motivation for embracing sustainable practices may vary from personal values, to code adherence, to marketing strategy, to owner expectations, there’s no doubt that sustainability is having a major impact on the way we build. The selection of sustainable materials has become one the most challenging aspects of building green, due to the overwhelming availability of product options, negative connotations and misunderstandings related to green terminology, and the industry-wide need for education on sustainable technologies. If you are attempting to cut through the clutter when it comes to material selection, consider these suggestions from some of the industry’s leading sustainability professionals.

2011 Solar Decathlon: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Re_home

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When disaster-prone states come to mind, California, Florida, and Louisiana likely top the list. Surprisingly, an average of eight strong-to-violent tornadoes hit Illinois each year, and because the damage to homes is often random, many homeowners don't qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding. Students of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign participating in the 2011 Solar Decathlon competition identified an opportunity to create a disaster housing solution that is much more comfortable and attractive than the typical trailer. The design of Re_home features flexible spaces to accommodate the diverse needs of families while fostering community recovery.

Adaptive Reuse: Green Space as a Tool for Neighborhood Revitalization

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For many reasons, adaptive reuse projects are great for the environment. Using already existing buildings instead of building new reduces waste, requires less energy, and scales down the general consumption of materials. This green space has farther reaching effects, particularly fostering a greater sense of community and neighborhood revitalization. We talked with Alan Pullman of architectural firm Studio One Eleven about a recent adaptive reuse project located in an emerging Long Beach, California, neighborhood.

Adaptive Reuse: Borrowing from the Past

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The design and construction of a building is always an arduous undertaking, even under the best circumstances. But when a project calls for the adaptive reuse of an existing structure, the challenges quickly multiply. Designers must bring older structures up to code, follow ADA guidelines and preservation standards, and work within the confines of outdated structural systems. Additionally, existing structures have already experienced the effects of time and decay, so extensive repair work is often in order. Considering all of these factors, design professionals who specialize in adaptive reuse often see their profession as somewhat of a labor of love. “The amount of work is out of proportion to the [architect’s] fee,” summarizes Carmi Bee, architect and president of RKT&B Architecture and Urban Design. Nevertheless, recent decades have seen a steady increase in the popularity of adaptive reuse.

2011 Solar Decathlon: Team New Jersey’s eNJoy House

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Concrete doesn't typically top lists of sustainable materials, but Team New Jersey, a competitor in the 2011 Solar Decathlon, proves that it is possible to create a precast concrete net zero home. Comprised of students from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), the team is the first in the competition's history to utilize concrete as their primary building material. The design of the eNJoy House exploits precast concrete's unique advantages, including modular assembly, energy efficiency, and a sculptural aesthetic.

Contractors Look to BIM to Streamline Construction

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The building industry is moving inevitably away from 2D paper drawings and toward 3D virtual modeling. When a new technology offers people a better way of doing something, they will eventually use it, even if it means overcoming old habits and facing a sometimes steep learning curve. The use of Building Information Modeling (BIM) has increased dramatically over the past few years, not just in architecture firms, but industry-wide. Construction firms that were early adopters of BIM now have the hard data to justify their choice: projects are taking less time and costing less money, and demonstrated mastery of state-of-the-art technology is winning these firms more jobs.

Financing Renewable Energies

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Perhaps the only thing that traditional, fossil fuel-based electricity generation still has going for it is the ease of “turning on” a new account. Calling the local utility company… easy. Researching, installing, and financing renewable energies and alternative solutions… difficult. More and more, however, government entities and private companies are finding ways to help people to adopt newer technologies.

Madrid’s Eco-Boulevard

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Much to the chagrin of many Spanish bar owners and restaurateurs, 2011 rang in the New Year with strict (and controversial) anti-smoking laws on January 2. For Spain and its “live and let live” attitude, these new regulations mark the end of an era for the country and its strong café culture of tapas, beer, and smoke. While the country is dedicated to eliminating smoke-filled spaces, Madrid is taking it one step further by actually creating healthy air one neighborhood at a time – starting with the Vallecas neighborhood south of the city. After years of ongoing development and poor city planning, the city council of Vallecas realized that the area was severely lacking in green areas. The city of Madrid (along with the European Union) launched a competition looking for architects that could create a viable social design that reflected the community’s environment-friendly goals.

Architecture for Humanity

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Nonprofit Helps Communities to Rebuild After Disasters

During the Kosovo refugee crisis in 1999, the husband and wife team of architect Cameron Sinclair and journalist Kate Stohr realized that not many architects were involved in rebuilding after the war. So the couple formed Architecture for Humanity, a not-for-profit design services firm originally located in New York City that helps communities to rebuild infrastructure devastated by human or natural catastrophes.

2011 Solar Decathlon: Flexible Living in Florida

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FleX House by Team Florida

Although Florida is known for its picturesque, sandy beaches, it is also a heavily populated state, and it's growing. Finding a sustainable model for living in this hot, humid climate is a priority for students of four universities who comprise Team Florida, an entrant in the 2011 Solar Decathlon. Like other Solar Decathlon teams, it is a multi-disciplinary one, and each school brings specialties to the table: University of South Florida brings architecture, engineering, and clean energy research and communications; the University of Florida brings interior design and construction; Florida State University brings engineering and net zero expertise; and the University of Central Florida brings solar energy research.

The Ever Evolving Meaning of Green

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Environmentally friendly. Eco-conscious. Green. These terms have become increasingly important for the building products industry. Yet, because no standard definition exists and regulations surrounding environmental claims continue to evolve, many industry leaders find themselves blazing new ground in the green realm. In an effort to capture a moment-in-time synopsis of where the industry stands on environmental practices and products, I asked representatives from various segments of the building products industry to respond to one seemingly simple question: “What does green mean to you?” One simple question yielded diverse and complex responses.

2011 Solar Decathlon: Middlebury College

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Self-Reliance Is a Modern Twist on New England Vernacular

Middlebury College makes sustainability a priority: "it's a hot talking point around campus," shares Solar Decathlon Team Manager Melissa Segil. Middlebury is also the first small liberal arts college and one of the few schools without a professional architecture program to compete in the Solar Decathlon. Although some might view it as a disadvantage, Segil, who studies International Politics and Economics with a minor in Environmental Studies, points out that this interdisciplinary approach brings innovative ideas to the table, resulting in "a practical home for the 21st century."

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