In 1982 Mazria and the Nicholses designed the first passive solar townhouse development, in Santa Fe’s historic district. The 27-unit La Vereda Compound combined passive solar orientation and glazing elements with traditional New Mexican forms and materials in small blocks that cascade down the sloping site creating south-facing terraces and balconies for each residence.
One of Mazria’s most challenging projects was two glass conservatories for the Rio Grande Botanic Garden in Albuquerque in 1998. “The city asked us to create two distinct environments in these all-glass pavilions,” Mazria says, “one Sonoran Desert, one Mediterranean.” The resulting research, which would lead to each glass pavilion operating with minimal outside energy for heating or cooling, was revolutionary. “Working with Bob Jones, who was part of the original solar group at Los Alamos National Laboratory, we identified how, by changing the properties of the glass placed on different sides of the buildings, we could tune the design so that it matched the temperature profiles of each of the two environments.” This technique has evolved into a widely recommended approach to window specification and placement according to their orientation and glazing properties.
Rediscovering “The Limits”
For younger architects working in Mazria’s busy Santa Fe office, every project would bring a series of “desk crits,” when Mazria would stop by, look at their progress, suggest changes, and move on. The seeds of Architecture 2030 were planted in 2002 when they asked him to give an in-house seminar so they could better understand the underlying factors driving sustainable design and why he would suggest certain changes. “They wanted me to share the work I did back in the solar days,” Mazria explains. “I wanted to present it in a larger context, so I reread the books that influenced me back then to brush up on some of the most important background information.”
That’s when he rediscovered “The Limits To Growth,” the 1972 landmark report to The Club of Rome that stands alongside Silent Spring and A Sand County Almanac as the first calls to environmental concern. “Limits” presented the first alarming projections of the effects population would have on food, resources, and the environment, eerily predicting conditions and challenges we would face by 2000.
Seeing this data again, and the accuracy of some of its graphs, triggered in Mazria a renewed level of concern and activism that inspired him to found Architecture 2030, devoted to fighting climate change and convincing the building industry that it holds the key to slowing and reversing global warming—with the year 2030 as its urgent goal.
Like the rest of Mazria’s work, Architecture 2030’s mission is based on research. Taking a new look at the generally accepted data on energy use in the U.S., Mazria saw the traditional division of consumption: industry (35%), transportation (27%), residential buildings (21%), and commercial buildings (17%). Analysts have always targeted industry and transportation as the main culprits and prescribed reduction goals primarily in these two areas; but when Mazria combined commercial and residential data, added elements of building operation energy consumption from the industry sector, and calculated an embodied energy factor for the materials used in construction, he found that this single “building sector” consumes 50.1% of the energy consumed in the U.S. and contributes just below 50% of the greenhouse gas emissions. This revelation, combined with the fact that 93% of building sector activity is private, has become a cornerstone of Mazria’s message, the focus of his push to redirect federal stimulus package funds into the private building sector, and the basis of Architecture 2030’s timeline for increased energy efficiency as laid out in its 2030 Challenge.
“The road to energy independence, economic recovery, and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions runs through the building sector,” says Mazria. “The 2030 Challenge asks that any new building project, development, or renovation reduce its energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 50% of the regional average for that building type, and that at a minimum you renovate the same amount of building area that you build new, to perform at 50% the regional average for that type of building.”
The Challenge then lays out further thresholds and dates: 60% reductions in 2010, 70% in 2015, 80% in 2020, 90% in 2025, and carbon- and emission-neutral in 2030. The list of industry organizations, private companies, and government agencies—including the U.S. Conference of Mayors—that have adopted the 2030 Challenge is impressive and growing. Targets within the 2030 Challenge can now be found in codes and legislation stretching from California to Washington, D.C., and within the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 now before Congress, including new performance-based codes that Mazria advocates.
Architecture 2030 has other ambitious initiatives under way, including a campaign to end the use of coal for U.S. energy generation based on Architecture 2030’s projected reduced demand due to building performance improvements; an educational and design program centered on the effects of climate change, energy consumption, and sea level rise; and a critical effort to convince architectural educators to include sustainability and energy efficiency in their curricula.
This initiative experienced a historic launch in 2007 when Architecture 2030 and AmericaSpeaks held the 2010 Imperative Global Emergency Teach-In, a live Webcast that drew 250,000 professionals, architecture educators, and students from around the world to learn about climate change, energy efficiency, and sustainability. “If we can get educators to add just one sentence to the projects they assign their students, we can completely change design education,” Mazria says. That sentence: “Design your project to engage the environment in a way that dramatically reduces or eliminates the need for fossil fuel.”
Most recently, Architecture 2030 has embarked on “The One-Year, 4.5 Million Jobs Investment Plan,” which Mazria, 2030 director Kristina Kershner, and their team are convinced will finally leverage the interconnection between environment, energy, and economy. The plan starts with a $30 billion government investment in the private building sector to provide a “housing mortgage interest rate buy-down for homes that meet or exceed the reduction targets of the 2030 Challenge.” According to Architecture 2030, the energy improvements, mostly to existing homes, would generate 4.5 million jobs and $296 billion in spending, and open up a new $47.6 billion renovation market that could grow to more than $1 trillion by 2030. The tax base from new job creation and from sales related to the new homes and renovations would pay back double the initial investment to the government. “The best thing about this plan is that it creates a new tax base from the jobs it creates, saves energy, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and pays for itself.”
Only an optimist could generate the variety of creative solutions and work so hard for so long to bring them into view. And it is with this optimism that Mazria sees opportunity in the midst of crisis: “By 2039 three-quarters of our built environment will be either new or renovated buildings. There’s a tremendous opportunity for the building sector to slow down and reverse the destructive trend of global warming.”
Does he see progress? “We’re getting through,” he says. “We’re so close. Green building is going to explode.”
Rick Schwolsky is Editor in Chief of EcoHome.