Shortly before this issue of eco-structure went to press, a tremor shook the green building community. On Oct. 8, an attorney acting on behalf of Henry Gifford, president of New Yorkbased Gifford Fuel Saving, filed a class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against the USGBC, alleging fraud, unfair competition, and deceptive trade practices. In addition to naming the USGBC as a defendant, the suit also specifically named David Gottfried, founder and first president of the USGBC; USGBC founding chairman, and current president and CEO Richard Fedrizzi; and past USGBC founding chairman Robert Watson as defendants.
Gifford alleges that the USGBC is misleading consumers and misrepresenting the energy performance of LEED-certified buildings, among other charges. (View a PDF of the complaint at eco-structure.com .) If you ask me, while increased discussion on post-occupancy performance is needed in the industry, I am not sure that a courtroom is the most productive venue for it.
At ECO-STRUCTURE, we strive to provide a less-litigious environment in which to examine building performance and sustainable design. (Not that we’re casting aside the legal implications of going green: Less than one month prior to Gifford’s lawsuit, eco-structure explored the issue of green building ratingrelated litigation, dubbed “LEEDigation” in our September 2010 Deep Green column. Check it out here.)
Our November/December edition, which celebrates the 2010 Evergreen Awards, continues our focus on performance. In fact, it was a driving factor in the competition’s jury deliberations.
Judging a sustainable design competition is understandably a tough assignment (and one for which we owe great thanks to our jurors). After all, there is no set answer as to what constitutes excellence. Is it a certain level of LEED certification? Is it energy use that is, at minimum, a specific percentage below code? Is it reuse of existing infrastructure, rather than new construction? As we all know, depending on each of our personal filters, it can be a combination of the above and much more.
In reviewing nearly 200 entries in our building categories (Ecommercial, Greenhouse, and On the Boards), our jurors repeatedly came back to two questions: One, does the structure perform? And two, does it stand out from an architectural point of view? A “no” vote to either query helped filter out finalists for a more in-depth discussion.
What the jury sought most from each entry was performance data, something that still seems to fall to the wayside once a project is handed over to the client. “We’re all good with thinking in terms of design expressions,” noted one of our jurors. “It’s trying to get designers to think about energy that is the challenge.”
The yearning for performance data is a sentiment that I hear repeatedly, and the industry certainly is taking steps to be more diligent in its information collection. Before Gifford filed his lawsuit, the USGBC was already taking steps to better integrate performance-data collection and analysis into future versions of the LEED rating systems, and the International Living Building Institute requires at least 12 months of performance data for its Living Building Challenge. Read about the first official Living Buildings here.
Still, a vast amount of data is missing. What’s the holdup on measurement becoming a natural step in a project? Could it be blamed on the economy, or a lack of initiative and incentive? As our Perspective winner, Peter Busby of Busby Perkins+Will, notes in our Q&A, it’s not often that an architecture firm is paid to go back and measure building performance. One of the keys to acquiring more data, he thinks, is to establish better benchmarks and measurements that will not only hold the building industry accountable, but also will help filter the good design from the not-so-good (and certainly from the bad). As an example, he referenced energy labeling practices in Europe, where building owners must provide building performance data as part of the sale of a building.
As noted above, our Evergreen Awards jury also examined whether each entry stood out from an architectural point of viewwhich, in a way, adds a twist to the idea of building performance: Does it perform aesthetically?
In this case, the jury sought examples of gracefully integrated sustainable strategies. They took note of retrofits that successfully addressed the relationship between new and old, and questioned how urban projects acknowledged their surroundings. They looked at sustainable effortssolar, wind, geothermal, access to daylight and the outdoors, green roofs, and use of recycled and renewable materialswith an eye on how they were integrated into a project. Were these characteristics treated as a design element or were they more of a big “I’m green!” statement? (They preferred when it was the former.) As an example, they applauded the technologies employed in Twelve | West, our Ecommercial honorable mention, but wondered whether the wind turbines on the building’s roof could have been more subtly integrated into the structure.
While we will have to wait to see how Gifford’s lawsuit will be resolved, in the spirit of open-ended discussion, I invite you to browse all of our Evergreen coverage and send us your feedback.