Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Living Green: The case for Improving Within Authentic Environments

There are plenty of diverse opinions on the best ways to "live green." It's enough to make one think there is no right answer, especially when an exploration into the data supporting the varying opinions seem to check out. Who to believe?

Admittedly, Inside the Brackets is not going to be the source to end all debate; indeed, we think the debate is healthy. However, we would like to present our stance on this issue, in part by discussing and explaining our firm's motto, "Improving Within Authentic Environments."

Infill Architecture: Inherently Green
Presenting this motto describes [1016] Architecture's core belief that designing infill architecture is the most sustainable and responsible way to build: not only new construction, but also renovations and other improvements. Infill architecture, also referred to as "urban infill" or "infill development", refers broadly to working in existing cities and dealing with buildings, lots, and zoning limitations surrounding a site.

Do you see the opportunity in the image on the right?

Some see these preexisting conditions as constraints, but Inside the Brackets argues that these "constraints" are actually tremendous opportunities for high-performance architecture and sustainable design. In fact, the LEED(r) Rating system highly rewards buildings and developments in existing urban areas via the "Sustainable Sites" section of their rating systems. So, merely by selecting to develop within an urban area, a building is "greener."

Even developments with legitimate high-performance ("green") architecture fail to become the perfect "green living" solution when they are not appropriately integrated to existing infrastructure and transportation options. Within a given household, transportation represent a significant factor of overall energy consumed.

Inside the Brackets recently found a great article titled "Seeing Green through Rose Colored Glasses" by Chicago Life writer Joseph Valerio supporting this idea as well as outlining a good case for taking care of an existing building stock. See full text here.

The main shortcoming of progressive suburban developments is a lack of density, both within the development itself and in the immediate area. Thus, it is our conclusion that high-performance ("green") architecture, while superior to standard buildings, is not complete until it is deployed in an infill context.

Managing the Pitfalls of Infill Projects
Increasing density may be a perfect idea in theory, as illustrated well in this article published in Urban Land magazine, but is often difficult in practice. Local government and/or ordinances may be structured in just a way to make it difficult, and almost invariably, the most vocal neighborhood groups are made up of those in opposition of a project.

Unfortunately, success in this regard is more about managing public perception and satisfying the large number of groups which may have a stake in a project's progress; and less about good design or intentions. Working with an architect with experience in a given municipality is a good way to mitigate this problem, but without shareholder buy-in, your project will have a tough go.

Infill architecture is fraught with opportunity, and a savvy project team can make even the most onerous site green in more ways than one. That idea makes infill a good way to build, and[1016] Architecture is dedicated to it.

[1016] Architecture a U.S Green Building Council Member Firm
Improving Within Authentic Environments

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