It’s good to do this on a daily basis because so much of what is presented at a multi-day conference starts to blend together. You come away with a feeling that there were some worthwhile nuggets of information, but it is hard to sort who said what.
In any case, day three (Friday, Dec. 11th) was an improvement over day two. The keynote speakers were not as inspirational but the workshop content was enlightening, sometimes in a way not intended by the speakers.
Workshop 1 was on Green Building Codes. Now, don’t get me wrong, I support green building principals and have for many years, and it’s past the time when we should require better efficiencies from the built environment, but when politics gets involved, what started out as a good idea becomes….. well, less good. At present we already have the voluntary Green Building Standards Code. There is something odd about a “voluntary” building code. It’s like getting an optional parking ticket. Clearly the goal is to transition from voluntary to mandatory. Mandatory compliance of the Tier 1 requirements are currently scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2011, but this feels tentative. Unfortunately, the perception is that in this economic climate, it is not the right time to add regulations, especially ones that may be perceived as adding cost to the construction process. I would argue the exact opposite, this is the best time to increase energy efficiency, for example. In any case, mandatory green building codes are coming and one notable inclusion in those requirements is “commissioning”. You might as well embrace the concept because it’s coming to a school near you. And it’s a good thing. Commissioning is the single most cost effective thing you can do to either an existing or new building. I believe the average payback for commissioning is two years. It just blows away any other green measure that you can think of.
At the same time as the California Building Standards Commission is issuing the Green Building Standards (see above), DSA is rolling out their own “DSA Green Code”. This applies to new schools on new sites or new schools on existing sites (like a complete tear down and rebuild project) It’s a small window of projects and that is probably a political decision also. It will be published in three weeks (Jan. 1st) and becomes effective on Jan. 1, 2011. (Just like the Green Building Standards Code) Then David Thorman, the State Architect, added…. “but anything that costs money will be voluntary.” Oh, and by the way, gird neutral is coming with the new DSA code as well. Check out the Grid Neutral brochure on the DSA website.
Break for a two hour lunch. (I wander the streets of Pasadena and end up getting a huge chocolate chip cookie for lunch)
Eric Cory Freed, aka organicarchitect.com, had a great slide show on why we need greener schools (and all types of buildings). It was the type of inspirational talk that you see at keynote speeches. He also co-authored a book with Lisa Gelfand, which will be out in March, called Sustainable School Architecture. I admit that I am in stage 4 of the 5 stages of green grief. Stage 4 is depression, when you think the problem is too big to be solved. Stage 5, however, is acceptance when you realize that everything will be ok. I’m ready for that stage. In any case, his entire slide show can be seen in pdf form by going to: organicarchitect.com/downloads/schools.pdf. Check it out.
The last workshop of any conference is always tough. We all have been sitting in windowless conference rooms for three days and it’s get away day. I stuck it out primarily because my flight was at 7:45 pm and what else was I going to do? This workshop was a mixed bag of three completely unrelated topics. First, Leslie Miles from WMA architects spoke on the benefits of Insulated Concrete Forms (IFC) and a project that she did with them. Yes, it was DSA approved, even by the Oakland office no less. And yes, it looks kind of interesting…. Next. Rick Torres from AMS spoke on the green benefits of their Gen 7 modular building. AMS was the major sponsor of this conference and came with a real live modular building in the front court space of the Conference Center. At $280 per sq. ft. it’s the cutting edge of greenness for a modular building, or any building for that matter. The not so obvious truth is that this is an example of spending a super premium for the ultimate green building, while USGBC, for example says that it costs very little to build sustainably. At $280/sq. ft. it feels like a 50% bump for all the green stuff. It’s a cool building, but it comes at a cost. I admit, it feels more polished and well thought out than the second generation of Project Frog.
The very last presenter was Andrea Cabalo from HMC architects, talking about the living “green” roof that they did on Malibu High School. I am always skeptical of projects in ultra rich communities. I mean it’s great, but how often do the rest of us get clients with that much money and in this case with the extreme environmental priorities? The educational part of her presentation was learning the terminology. Intensive green roofs have over 6 inches of soil and you can walk on them. Extensive green roofs have less than 6 inches of soil and you don’t walk on them. Or maybe it was the other way around? Anyway, they are different.
So that completes my blog from the 2009 Green Schools Conference in Pasadena. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them here. I hope this was somewhat educational.