Pliny Fisk is out there, so much so that his recent entry into a recent International Living Future Institute design competition was rejected because, Fisk was told, it was too futuristic. “I thought that was strange,” says the architect and co-director of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems in Austin, Texas. “Wasn’t that the point of the competition?”
But Fisk is no stranger to being at or usually beyond the cutting edge of achieving sustainable environments for the built world. CMPBS is a nonprofit education, research, and demonstration organization he co-founded with his wife Gail Vittori in 1975 to specialize in life-cycle planning and design. The organization is believed to be the oldest entity of its kind in the U.S.
The center’s client list spans the globe and its website boasts a hefty library of position papers and presentations about sustainable design and building--authored primarily by Fisk--dating back to the early 1970s, when much of what is now considered mainstream green was a primordial soup of concepts and theories.
One of those is the BaslineGreen project Fisk conceived in 1994 to identify, label, and rank the impact of various building products, materials, and systems on the environment and employment. “We needed a roadmap, not guesswork,” Fisk says of the database he developed to input and analyze life-cycle information and overlay it with the U.S. economy. “It was designed to create a hierarchy that the industry could follow strategically instead of chasing ads or articles touting the latest and greatest solutions.”
The ambitious project was sustained through the turn of the new century thanks to financial support from DOE and EPA, among others, but has since languished as funding dried up. That being said, current efforts to produce and distribute similar data, such as environmental product declarations (EPDs) that may soon form the backbone of building design decisions, have their roots in Fisk’s forward-thinking approach. “It’s an approach that obviously becomes more meaningful with more participants,” he says.
More recently, Fisk presented protoScope, a takeoff on Buckminster Fuller’s GeoScope approach to define and solve problems collectively that “provides an easily accessible, fully integrated, and comprehensive methodology and toolset for sharing of information and development of realistic solutions,” according to one of Fisk’s papers on the concept.
The goal is to consolidate, integrate, and build upon GeoScope and other global databases of its ilk and make it available for easy public use, discussion, and prototyping. primarily through the Internet. The approach encourages and enables a global “crowdsourcing” model in which physical and digital building system prototypes are created and tested in ecologically similar locations to derive working solutions.
Closer to home, Fisk and his CMPBS cohorts are working on their own prototypes for housing and other living and working environments, namely a ceramic-based, basalt-infused carbon material bonded to a foam base in a monolithic curved form that is stronger and more resistant to natural forces than any other building system to date. “There are no straight lines or 90-degree angles, no energy bridging, and stresses are dissipated throughout the structure,” says Fisk. “It goes beyond a SIPs panel because there are no connections to hinder its strength,” among other sustainable benefits.
That system could be the basis for what Fisk calls “pay as you grow” housing, a modular approach that is designed to fully enable homeowners to easily and affordably add living space as their budget and needs allow. “Eventually, the whole housing supply chain becomes a plug-and-play environment that is more responsive to regional differences and conditions and less reliant on the existing utility grid.”