What’s beyond green?

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Despite the advancements in energy-efficient construction technologies and products during the past decade, buildings still aren’t green enough, according to many architects at the AIA 2007 National Convention and Design Exposition May 3-5 in San Antonio. The American Institute of Architects of Washington, D.C., hosted the event, themed: growing beyond green.

During four days of educational seminars and three days of an expo, members of the design building community discussed topics such as greener technologies, sustainability through integration and reusing existing structures.

Solar heats up
Steven Strong, president of Solar Design Associates Inc. in Boston, was among the presenters who kicked off the conference seminars May 2, focusing on one of the more talked about green building products: photovoltaics.

“PV shows us there is a technological path toward a better future,” Strong said. ”This industry is growing so fast that the manufacturers can’t keep up.”

Photovoltaics used for rooftop arrays, in canopies over parking lots, on exterior sunshades or in sloped glazing applications can generate a lot of power and provide huge energy savings for a building. However, photovoltaics only benefit a building when it features other sustainable elements, Strong said.

“Solar is the last thing you should be doing. … Focus on efficiency first, then conservation, then solar,” Strong said.

The green team

Sustainable building can’t be solved by individual project players, said Paul Armstrong, associate professor of design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Armstrong presented the session, “An investigative study of the integration of physical systems in sustainable tall buildings.”

Owners, architects, engineers and suppliers should work together early on in a project to ensure that the structural systems and mechanical systems interact, rather than operating as separate entities. If the mechanical engineers know the efficiency of the curtain wall, they can specify fewer ducts and a smaller HVAC system, he said as an example.

“While the initial cost of integration may be higher, the operating costs will go down, and your energy costs will be substantially lower,” Armstrong said.

Find new savings in old buildings

Despite the wave of new high-profile sustainable structures that use the latest energy-efficient technologies, the greenest thing architects can do is retrofit existing buildings with energy-saving technologies and products, said Jean Carroon, principal architect at Goody Clancy in Boston. Carroon participated in a panel on the topic of “Green historic buildings: old and new learn from each other.”

“The greenest building is the one that already exists,” she said. “New construction creates 1.5 times the amount of greenhouse gases than renovation.”

Many historic buildings were designed for efficiency, with large windows to maximize daylight and ventilation. With the advent of air conditioning and fluorescent strip lights, owners brought ceilings down and sealed once-operable windows, creating inefficient spaces.

In such buildings, architects should go back to the times of light and air while using new green technologies such as low-E glass, light shelves or sun shades, Carroon said.

Two projects that followed these guidelines included the Denver Dry Goods facility and the Philadelphia Forensic Science Center.

Read next week’s e-glass weekly for more AIA Convention coverage.

—By Katy Devlin, e-Newsletter editor, e-glass weekly