Learning from Copenhagen

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Climate change is a topic that, unlike the polar ice caps, won’t be disappearing from the newspapers, televisions and websites that deliver our news. It’s no surprise then that the Copenhagen Climate Conference is the center of attention this week. As world leaders meet to debate the rate of climate change and the degree to which it should be controlled, design professionals continue to lead the way in implementing methods for reducing the effects of building construction and operation on our planet’s resources.

Every day, more clients are mandating (and paying for) more sustainable and energy-saving features in new and renovated buildings. But not every project can afford to be LEED certified. For every case study like the Hocking College Energy Institute, there are many more single-family homes, retail shopping centers, and office buildings that are constructed with traditional methods on shoestring budgets.

So, what can design professionals do when the client isn’t as concerned about ‘saving the planet’ as they are about maximizing a tight budget?

Here are my ideas for a smarter approach:

Plan with LEED – even if a client isn’t interested in LEED certification, at least review the standards with the client and develop a plan to incorporate as many as possible in the project. The idea of operational savings is an easy sell to almost any client, and there are many standards that don’t require larger budgets but will produce basic cost-savings in the long term.

Build smaller – consider more flexible spaces that can be utilized for different activities at different times. The Grange Insurance Audubon Center demonstrates a clever way to do this with corners that open the classrooms to expand the central lobby and exhibit space for larger events. Multi-purpose spaces also offer an opportunity for innovative design of built-in features that may be accessible for a certain activity but hidden for others. And a smaller footprint usually means less materials and cost.

Focus on the envelope – it goes without saying that the biggest concern in design is enclosure, the building system that keeps the interior warm and dry. A building that minimizes the transfer of heat will use far fewer energy resources over time. This does not mean use thicker walls and more insulation, which generally costs more. Rather, a careful focus on the overall enclosural system's thermal performance, including the integration of new methods and products, can improve efficiency without additional costs.

Use available resources – natural resources such as the sun, wind, water, and even the constant temperature of the earth can be utilized to provide light, ventilation, irrigation and thermal control in basic ways. And building materials produced from ‘local’ natural resources can minimize transportation effects and add a regional vernacular aesthetic to a project.

Share with us your methods for integrating environmentally responsive practices with affordable budgets.

Ryan Carpico

Ryan is a Registered Architect who earned a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Kentucky in 1998. His experience in a broad spectrum of architectural projects includes design and project management in multi-family residential, general commercial, and institutional projects. This architectural experience is balanced with a background in general contracting of residential and light commercial construction projects. Ryan’s knowledge and ability as both architect and builder enable him to address both the technical and practical sides of the comprehensive body of construction knowledge.

Website: carpicodesign.com/
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