Last week, Rhys MacPherson (MSR), Billy Weber (University of Minnesota), and I gave a presentation at the Greenbuild EuroMed conference in Verona, Italy, entitled “Cold Climate, High-Performance Affordable Housing.” We focused our talk on The Rose, a new 90 dwelling unit building in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that MSR designed to cut building energy use by 72% without compromising tenant comfort, infiltrate 75% of rainwater onsite, and renew a polluted part of the city through the use of healthy materials and a high performance air filtration system. The Rose also works within the inconvenient truths of affordability and social equity often glossed over in idealized sustainable design. Creating design strategies within a modest construction budget ($148/sf), we created replicable, ecologically responsible housing that can serve as a model for future sustainably designed multi-family housing projects. We used the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge as a framework to design a sustainable, equitable, healthy, and beautiful project that benefits residents and the greater neighborhood.
During Greenbuild EuroMed, we talked with European designers and product reps about their accomplishments and sustainable design efforts. Although many European governments may have more rigid code standards than the United States, we found that the state of the art and level of commitment to more sustainably designed buildings is equally fervent on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. For example:
- At the companion Smart Energy Expo, we learned about an intriguing home management system by Lucis. The NuBryte system interfaces like an iPad with a security system, calendar with alarm clock, intercom, weather station, whole house lighting controls, and monitor of energy usage. And it’s wireless. Slick is an understatement!
- Engineer Thomas Hoinka gave a presentation focused on the fact that the building industry accounts for 40% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and solid waste generation. It is critical for the architectural design community to embrace energy reducing design strategies to reduce the impact going forward.
- Google and one of its consultants presented the process they use to find healthy building materials and the robust database of such materials they have accumulated. They won’t share the database, however, saying it is proprietary information. Kind of cruel teasing us that way.
- Another presentation by the building owner and the developers focused on a high-rise building in Italy that has reduced energy use by 45% partly by turning off the ventilation fans at night. An interesting conversation ensued about whether that counts as a design strategy.
We toured buildings designed by Palladio, Scarpa, and many other great Italian architects while in the Veneto region. For me, the highlight was visiting Villa Rotonda and the Brion Cemetery. I was reminded of the power of design—intentional design and accretive design (that happens over time from use and accommodation). We live in a time when we can control so much of the built world. Watching Terminator Genisys on the plane home, I was reminded that control comes with responsibility to create buildings that share the goods of society equitably, use resources sparingly (or even are net generators of resources), and are beautiful.
It was a great trip. I learned a lot.