Wednesday, May 25, 2011

BETC in Peril

Below is a call to arms by Glenn Montgomery, executive director of the Oregon Solar Energy Industries Association (OSEIA). He urges all of us to contact our state legislators and forcefully lobby for continuation of strong public investment in the Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) and Residential Energy Tax Credit (RETC). The programs are in peril of being drastically reduced and effectively terminated.

BETC has enabled Oregon’s “green economy” to flourish. The tax credit—worth up to 35 percent of the incremental costs of the systems or equipment that are beyond standard practice—has incentivized an impressive range of renewable resource and energy conservation projects. These projects have been good for the economy, good for the environment, and good for the health of Oregon communities.

The proposed reductions on the table risk turning back the clock and erasing the gains made by Oregon’s still nascent private investment in sustainability. The penurious cutbacks would be a radical change in course leading to disastrous results. Read on:

I am typically not an alarmist, but we have a crisis on our hands for both renewable energy and conservation projects in Oregon. Though still work in progress, the co-chairs' state budget for the 2011-13 biennium includes $10 million for ALL tax credit programs, and word has it that it breaks down as follows:
  • Biomass collector credit: $4 million
  • Film & Video: $3 milllion
  • Business Energy Tax Credit (renewables & conservation, not manufacturing): $2 million
  • Residential Energy Tax Credit (renewables & conservation): $1 million
To put this into perspective:
  • BETC for renewables alone (2009-11 biennium): $300 million
  • BETC for renewables and conservation (2011-13 biennium): $2 million
  • RETC expenditures ('09 and '10): $34 million (solar accounted for $7 million last year alone)
  • RETC budget (2011-13 biennium): $1 million
Given the current budget proposal, the RETC will be gone by July of this year, and we'll have nothing for the next 23 months. The BETC faces the same fate—one project could account for the proposed allocation. How will ODOE even begin to pick winners and losers?

The potential impact on both businesses and residents is staggering. It's unconscionable, in my mind, to effectively shut down public support for renewable energy production and conservation across the state at a time when our economy is in recovery and extremely fragile. Adding insult to injury, the Film & Video program budget, though small in relative terms, has been doubled in the current budget. Does our leadership care more about attracting non-local companies to the state for 60 days to make a few movies than it does the residents and businesses that work, pay taxes, and support their local economies year-round?

The time to act is NOW! Make your voice heard. There are several things that come to mind:
  • Join us for the solar rally scheduled Wednesday June 1, 2011 at 11:30 on the Capitol steps (we'll also be in the Galleria all day)
  • Contact your state legislators by writing a letter and following up with a phone call
  • Contact the Governor's office, share your story, and express your dismay that leadership is turning its back on Oregon's green economy
  • Keep current by following OSEIA on Twitter and "Liking" our Facebook page
  • Join OSEIA! Your financial support and personal engagement creates a stronger voice for the solar industry in Oregon.
I will have a sample letter available on OSEIA's website in the next day, so feel free to use it as a guide in telling your story. In addition, I'll provide further details on the rally that is a little more than one week away. You can become a "Friend" on the Go Solar Oregon Facebook page by clicking here.

Please forward this note to your network of colleagues and friends.

Thank you for your support!

My best,

Glenn Montgomery, OSEIA Executive Director

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Design|Spring at Ninkasi

Mark your calendars for Thursday, May 26: It’s finally here, the next beer:30 for Design|Spring! This edition will be an educational experience, not just a social. Project architect (and AIA-SWO President-Elect) Kurt Albrecht, AIA will lead a tour of Ninkasi Brewery, a 2010 AIA-SWO People’s Choice Award winner. A Ninkasi representative will also be on hand to answer any brewing questions you might have as well.

If the weather is nice everybody can hang out on Ninkasi's patio and enjoy the weather. If it rains, people can still hang out on the patio and enjoy their beer.

The tour will begin at 6:30, but feel free to show up earlier to hoist a pint or two to keep your strength up.
  • Date/Time: Thursday, May 26 at 6:30 PM
  • Location: Ninkasi Brewery 272 Van Buren Street, Eugene

Design|Spring is a group of peers dedicated to fostering continued professional development amongst its membership. It serves as a bridge between the completion of professional education and full membership and participation with the various design and construction-related organizations (such as AIA, ASLA, ASID, and CSI). The group also functions as an interdisciplinary forum for the exchange of ideas and experiences among all emerging design professionals in Eugene.

Friday, May 20, 2011

My Green Palette

My Green Palette is a green-themed online architecture & design info center produced for Pratt & Lambert Paints. In addition to featuring links to the company’s green products, the website is an information center where architects can showcase their green projects and get the latest green news from industry leaders.

Representatives for the social marketing company WOMfire persuaded me to join the stable of “influencers” that regularly contributes to the Green Blog found on the My Green Palette site. WOMfire helps brands capitalize on the millions of conversations and word-of-mouth opinions posted online. It created My Green Palette for Pratt & Lambert because P & L wanted to increase its profile within the online community and simultaneously burnish its green luster.

I was apprehensive at first about writing posts for an overtly commercial enterprise. Would my contributions be viewed by readers as an endorsement of Pratt & Lambert’s products? Would some think of me as beholden to P & L?

The folks at WOMfire reassured me the contents of my posts would be completely my own. I would be under no obligation to promote Pratt & Lambert Paints. Their only stipulation was that the subject matter of my posts be of interest to the intended audience: sustainability-minded architects and interior designers.

The upshot is you’ll now find me both here on SW Oregon Architect and at Green Blog. I’ve committed to writing about a post a month for Green Blog. Check out my premiere appearance, which is a repost of my LEED-ership Beyond the Tipping Point piece.

I’m going green and branching out in the architectural blogosphere!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

LEED-ership Beyond the Tipping Point

Like most architects, I try to stay informed about significant trends that affect our profession. Even so, I’ve been astonished by how quickly sustainability has become a watchword for the construction industry. Seemingly overnight, a quixotic pursuit by a small community of dedicated environmentalists has become a societal imperative. It’s as if we have passed a “tipping point.” More people than ever before understand that truly being sustainable—meeting society’s present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own—is a responsibility we all share.

In a previous post for Green Blog, Penny Bonda commented how “mainstream” the green building industry has become. Specifically, she reported about the U.S. Green Building Council and the media-savvy branding of its primary product, the Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) green building rating system. There’s no doubt that my profession, the building trades, manufacturers, and developers have taken notice: The up-to-the-minute count of LEED-certified projects is 20,278 buildings totaling 1,348,939,491 square feet. The USGBC reports that billions of more square feet of construction are in the pipeline. My home state, Oregon, ranks among the highest for LEED-certified commercial and institutional green buildings per capita. The number of USGBC member companies across North America now exceeds16,000. There are also more than 157,000 LEED professional credential holders.

I’m not yet one of these LEED accredited professionals. Should I pursue LEED accreditation or status as a LEED Green Associate? Yes. Accreditation is validation of one’s breadth of knowledge and expertise about the fundamental principles of sustainable design. Just as structures that are LEED certified are virtually synonymous with green buildings, LEED accreditation has become de rigueur for design professionals who want to declare their green pedigree. My 13-employee firm is a USGBC member; three of my colleagues are LEED-accredited. We’re pursuing LEED certification for several current projects.

The science of climate change has become unassailable, so a cognitive hurdle is largely behind us. On the flip side, hurdles to even greater acceptance of sustainability principles do remain: global warming deniers illogically persist, factions within the green movement are divided, and “green fatigue” is mounting. Some bemoan the costs of the LEED certification processes (failing to recognize the probability of significant returns on their investment generated by savings in operational costs).

Penny Bonda cited one of her favorite LEED-isms, which is that LEED is a triumph of good over perfect. Solutions shaped by complex systems and codification are always compromises, and LEED is no exception. For instance, I believe the rating system fails to adequately take into account locally specific environmental conditions. Moreover, I think the Green Building Certification Institute too readily grants LEED status to bloated, wasteful projects that are superficially “green.” Is the massive CityCenter project in Las Vegas (the least sustainable city in America) really deserving of LEED Gold certification?

What will it take for the USGBC to capitalize on the construction industry’s increased awareness and aspiration toward sustainability to further advance its suite of LEED rating systems? How can we make the most of this opportunity to reform the construction paradigm? The USGBC and the structure of its certification program only provide a framework. In demand are new visionaries for a sustainable future. What we need is a coupling of LEED-ership with leadership.

Leadership will be crucial to the issue of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Ed Mazria and his Architecture 2030 organization point out that buildings are responsible for almost half (48%) of all greenhouse gas emissions annually. According to Mazria, immediate action in the building sector is necessary if we are to avoid truly catastrophic climate change. Global heating caused by greenhouse gas emissions will undoubtedly be looked at in retrospect as the single most important issue of the 21st century. If we do not successfully deal with the manmade causes of climate change, all other issues—the economy, wars, health care, education, ecosystem health—will be even more challenging or nearly moot.

Leadership will also be vital to developing strategies for adapting to climate change. These plans would address water shortages, agricultural challenges, energy conservation, and security. Mitigation alone will not be enough; we must prepare for the changes to come.

If you’re an architect and have not already adopted sustainability as a fundamental precept of your work, do so now. Don’t wait to act. The tipping point has passed. This is our time. Exhibit the leadership necessary to advance the changes that will secure a livable future for generations to come. Reducing the environmental impact of buildings may be the single most important contribution architects can make. The actions of a few can impact the lives of so many.

LEED accreditation does not supplant the credentialing and broader suite of education and skills required to achieve professional status as an architect. Then again, accreditation would endow me with greater authority on matters related to sustainable design. I should take the leap. I want to be a leader and make a difference through the projects I work on. If becoming a LEED-AP enhances my prospects in this regard, the expense, time, and effort will have been worth it.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

StructureOregon 2011

Chris Knowles, Assistant Professor in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, brought to my attention the upcoming StructureOregon 2011 conference, which will be held at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland on June 1. The conference’s focus is the utilization of local wood products in sustainable design. It will feature an impressive lineup of speakers that will address a wide range of topics including advanced wood framing technologies, the properties and applications of native Oregon wood species, and barriers to using wood in sustainable design.

StructureOregon 2011 is an opportunity for the design community to:
  • Better understand how to communicate with wood products companies
  • Learn about the challenges and opportunities for designing with local wood products
  • Become familiar with local wood products sources
  • Be in the know about innovative new wood products
  • Be alerted to current and future trends for wood use
Conversely, the conference will offer participants from the forest products industry the occasion to:
  • Discover new markets for wood products
  • Become better equipped to communicate with designers
  • Spend the day with design professionals responsible for selecting and specifying wood products and systems
The all-day conference is a production of Oregon State University Conference Services. The event’s sponsors include OSU, the Oregon Wood Innovation Center, Business Oregon, Umpqua Training & Employment, the Oregon Consortium & Oregon Workforce Alliance, and Worksource Oregon.

You can acquire 5 CEU/CLUs by attending a full slate of educational sessions. The conference will include a vendor show featuring locally sourced and manufactured wood products.

If you want to learn more about how a key industry and engine for Oregon’s economy is evolving toward a sustainable future, don’t miss StructureOregon 2011!

What: StructureOregon 2011

When: June 1, 2011

Where: Oregon Convention Center, 777 NE MLK, Jr. Boulevard, Portland, OR 97232

Click here to register for the conference online.
Early Registration: Regular Registrants: $150, Students: $75, Exhibitors: $200

Registration rates will increase on May 16, 2011 for Regular Registrants only

Late Registration: Regular Registrants: $195, Students: $75, Exhibitors: $200

Attendees have an option to register on-site. Regular registrants have an increased fee for on-site registration

On-Site Registration: Regular Registrants: $225, Students: $75, Exhibitors: $200

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Greenest Building

Over the next 20 years, Americans will demolish one third of this country’s existing building stock (over 82 billion square feet) to replace seemingly inefficient buildings with energy efficient “green” structures. Is demolition in the name of sustainability really the best use of natural, social, and economic resources? Or, like the urban renewal programs of the 1960s, is this well-intentioned planning with devastating environmental and cultural consequences?

On Thursday, May 12, the Bijou Art Cinemas in Eugene will present The Greenest Building, a new hour-long documentary by local film producer and University of Oregon graduate Jane Turville. The film presents a compelling overview of the important role building reuse plays in creating sustainable communities. Narrated by David Ogden Stiers, The Greenest Building delves into the myth that a “green” building is necessarily a new building. It demonstrates how renovation and adaptive reuse of existing structures fully contributes to the triple bottom line of economic, social, and ecological balance.

Turville’s film reveals:
  • How reuse and reinvestment in the existing built environment leads to stronger local economies that can compete on a global scale
  • That sense of place and collective memory, while intangible, are critical components of strong sustainable communities
  • The direct correlation between reuse of existing buildings and a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, degradation of the natural environment and overuse of precious natural resources.
PBS stations around the country, including Oregon Public Broadcasting, have already broadcast The Greenest Building. Unfortunately, I missed the opportunity to see it on TV last month, so I’m planning on attending this special screening at the Bijou. If you are interested in our planet’s future, community development, sustainable communities, or just plain want to find out if existing buildings really are worth keeping, I hope to see you there. Find out if our greenest buildings are indeed the ones that already exist.

Here are the details:

What: A special screening of the documentary The Greenest Building, by producer Jan Turville

When: Thursday, May 12, 2011 – Doors open: 7:00 PM – Film begins: 7:30 PM; Q&A session with Jane Turville follows

Where: The Bijou Art Cinemas, 492 East 13th Avenue, Eugene, OR

Cost: $10 at the door; $8 online at

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Monarchy and Architecture

Kate Middleton and Prince William at the altar in Westminster Abbey, April 29, 2011 (photo: PA)

Great Britain, that bastion of pomp, pageantry, and tradition, knows how to turn out in grand fashion when the occasion warrants. Such was the case with the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton this past Friday. Prince William will one day ascend to the throne of England and at the same time the monarchy of Canada, my home and native land. As a loyal subject of the Crown, I felt duty-bound to acknowledge the event.

HRH Charles, Prince of Wales

Specifically, the royal nuptials got me thinking about the father of the groom, HRH Prince Charles, and his notorious disdain for contemporary architecture. He delivered an infamous speech in 1984 to the Royal Institute of British Architects likening a modernist expansion for the National Gallery in London by architects Ahrends Burton and Koralek to “a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend.”(1) Since then, the Prince of Wales has campaigned vigorously for architecture that harmonizes with its location, uses local materials, and is respectful of history. He favors architecture that serves the aesthetic and practical needs of the average citizen. He also has been highly critical of the fashionable designs produced by the self-appointed architectural intelligentsia, work he characterizes as often more about the architects themselves than the communities they serve.

The rejected “carbuncle” scheme for an addition to the National Gallery, by Ahrends Burton and Koralek (RIBA pix)

The prince wrote a book, A Vision of Britain: A Personal View of Architecture, in which he advocated preservation of the unique character and tradition of towns and cities. He also founded the now defunct Institute of Civil Architecture, the short-lived magazine Perspectives, and established The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment. The central tenet of the Foundation is to heed the lessons of traditional place-making in new architecture and planning.

A prime example of this traditional place-making is Poundbury, a new-urbanist development on the edge of Dorchester, master-planned by Leon Krier and underwritten by the Duchy of Cornwall. As the Duke of Cornwall, Prince Charles is the developer, though he brings with him no state funding to pay for infrastructure. Poundbury evolved without a preconceived program of buildings and uses. Instead, the master plan consists of a set of development principles and is open to any market demand. The varied geometry of the public spaces is such that they are shaped by the buildings around them or focus upon the surrounding landscape. It allows each building its own response without detracting from the harmony of the whole. The vocabulary is neo-Georgian and vernacular, not surprising given Prince Charles’ preference for traditional architecture, but it is the product of many hands, among them architects Demetri Porphyrios, John Simpson, and Quinlan & Francis Terry.


To its detractors, Poundbury is a contrived exercise in nostalgia— “fake, heartless, authoritarian, and grimly cute” in the words of British design critic Stephen Bayley. However, place-making is more than simply a matter of style to Prince Charles. As Planetizen managing editor Tim Halbur observed, the debate is “less about two different approaches to architecture, and more about how buildings work on the ground and how they relate to the environment around them.” Sustainable development, quality, and thoughtfulness are his real concerns, not a debate pitting traditional versus modern. Style is a convenient straw man for his critics, but substance transcends style. It is the insensitivity of poorly planned developments and their related ills that are at the core of the prince’s misgivings about architecture today.

This has not stopped the prince’s critics from portraying him as "aesthetically timorous" and "culturally backward." They accuse him of being a “philistine,” someone disinclined to truly educating himself about architecture and urban design, possessed of a “mindless admiration for antiquity.” They suggest that he is out of touch and does not understand modern society. Disingenuously, Charles characterizes himself as being an “ignorant amateur.” This is hardly the case, as he has devoted much of his adult life to the study and promotion of what he regards to be timeless principles of traditional urban design.

What galls his opponents most is his use of his privileged position to intervene in, sway public opinion about, and ordain the shape of prominent projects. The National Gallery in London is a case in point. Another is Paternoster Square, for which the Prince of Wales roundly criticized a scheme by Richard Rogers.(2) In 2009 he targeted another design by Lord Rogers, this time for a massive development on the site of the former Chelsea Barracks. Rogers was commissioned by the developer, whose major shareholder is the Qatari royal family. Prince Charles wrote directly to the emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, advising him to can Rogers in favor of architects HRH believed to be more sympathetic to the historical context. Despite the fact Rogers’ design was well-advanced and had progressed through a gauntlet of planning commission reviews, the emir heeded the advice of the Prince of Wales. Rogers’ participation in the development ended abruptly.

The architectural glitterati came to Rogers’ defense. David Adjaye, Norman Foster, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Renzo Piano, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, and Jean Nouvel, among others, together penned a letter denouncing Prince Charles’ actions as an affront to the established planning process and a failure to engage in open and transparent debate. The inference to be drawn from the letter is that a member of the royal family should not be allowed to act so publicly on matters of politics or business. Why not? The prince has the right to express his opinions and lobby on behalf of his beliefs. He did not circumvent the process anymore than any other citizen who opposed the proposed design. The emir did not have to agree to remove Lord Rogers from the Chelsea Barracks project. Prince Charles may only be guilty of breaching royal decorum and restraint by so openly expressing his viewpoints on architecture. Should he be muzzled for holding opinions?

 Chelsea Barracks scheme by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

The problem for the decorated defenders of Rogers’s Chelsea Barracks design is that collectively they have largely failed to offer an alternative model for development at this scale. A key point in the Chelsea Barracks case is that validation of contemporary architecture styles will not be found through “density” and “newness” alone. I personally am averse to the reactionary application of historic pastiche but am equally disinclined toward willfully eccentric displays of architectural bravado that fail to elevate the context of which they must be a part. Like the prince, I believe the challenges are more than skin-deep.

Current scheme for Chelsea Barracks by Dixon Jones Architects, Squire and Partners, and Kim Wilkie Associates

Some paint a picture of the Prince of Wales as a dilettante, one alternately dabbling in architecture, organic farming, homeopathy, education—whatever topic he currently fancies—and engaging these interests at the shallowest of levels. In fact, he has learned that all of these subjects are completely interrelated and that we must look at the whole picture to understand the vast scope of the problems we face. He recognizes the complexities of our existence and the role architecture plays in the full breadth of that context. If anything, it may be that the narrow focus of too many of today’s architects precludes them from fully grasping the challenges that confront not only our profession but civilization as well.

The latest book by the Prince of Wales is entitled Harmony: A New Way of Looking at the World. It may prove to be his magnum opus, a clarion call for a global sustainability revolution. He opens the book by describing principles of harmony as found in the natural world and how these principles were embedded in the outlook, arts, and architecture of traditional and classical civilizations. The book further traces how these principles were abandoned as a result of a shift to reductionist and mechanistic ways of perceiving the world during the Age of Enlightenment. Ultimately, the book provides examples of how the principles of harmony may be reintroduced into modern life, from agriculture to town planning, education to health care. Harmony is a blueprint for a more balanced, sustainable world that the human race must create to survive.

Prince Charles is not an architect, which is reason enough for his views to be rejected out of hand by many in our profession. By being pointedly sarcastic in expressing his opinions about architecture, he certainly has not endeared himself to those whose work he has skewered. Nevertheless, by virtue of his position he has the power to influence the production of architecture around the world. As he proclaimed in a 1999 speech, “we should build legacies, not blots, on our landscape.” Architects would be well-served to listen to what he has to say.

(1) Ultimately, the National Gallery executed a post-modern design by American architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown and favored by the prince for its new addition. Some regard the Sainsbury Wing as a tongue-in-cheek exercise in camp.

(2) Rogers’ firm was dismissed from the Paternoster Square project in 1987 as a reaction to Prince Charles’ public comments. The project was handed to John Simpson, a classicist endorsed by HRH, but it was shelved as the economy fell into recession. Years later, the Paternoster Square development was finally realized by an assortment of architects (including John Simpson) in accordance with a master plan authored by William Whitfield.