Everyone who plays a role in designing and building or maintaining and operating cooperatives and condominiums, from architects and construction contractors to developers and owners, property managers and board members, is well familiar with the terminology that permeates our lexicon today: High performance. Energy efficiency. Net-zero. Smart buildings. Passive solutions. Carbon neutral. All terms fall under the green design umbrella.
Recouping the ROI
Yet resistance, or at least reluctance, to embracing the approach remains. To an extent, there is still a discrepancy between immediate and long-term ROI. Though initial outlays will be eventually recouped, steps that see immediate savings—as well as, of course, those that don’t require added funds or even cost less at the onset—are more popular than those requiring a longer wait. Yet there is an obstacle that transcends finances. There remains a human disconnect, a sense that ‘green’ is abstract, ideological, conceptual. The point rating certifications for achieving levels of green as well as the stricter building codes which lead to more energy efficient buildings are all well-intentioned, but they can appear as just that: codes, numbers, bureaucratic encumbrances. In order to have sustainability fully embraced into every building’s design or redesign all involved need to see the meaningful and positive impact the changes will make on the quality of life of the building’s residents.
Moreover, the design community needs to find a way to make sustainability seem to evolve organically, effortlessly. Opening a door or a window is an action we take without dissecting the how-to: hinges hold up the door and allow it to swing open in the direction we choose it to go. The act is second nature, as natural as breathing. Only when technology becomes second nature to us will we have architecture that speaks for itself. The good news is that awareness is increasing and steps are being taken to integrate sustainable design into new construction and retrofits.
Harmony with the Environment
We experience the buildings we inhabit through our senses. We see an interesting space or form. We become aware of how we feel in the space. Does it stir up memories of a past experience, does it feel familiar yet different? We all emit energy and buildings do the same. When human beings and buildings function on the highest level together there will be harmony and buildings will have a greater effect on us and for us.
Energy efficiency is screaming for attention—fortunately its cries are heeded more than in the past, but we have a ways to go. Improved indoor air quality is critical. Do we need to see the dust on an air grille to realize that this is what we are breathing in on a daily basis? The construction industry permits a certain level of leakage to exist in buildings and then compensates for this inefficiency with larger than needed mechanical systems. Buildings in the US are close to 50% culpable for energy inefficiency. Greater or new technology is not the issue, the solutions are already here. We need to adopt them.