Sustainability Performance

Urgent ! … Next Generation Architectural Design Concepts

2013-05-30:  Further to the recent post here, dated 2013-04-02 … and this Page on our Corporate WebSite …

Pausing … and stepping back … to consider conventional architectural practice, how architects are educated, and whether or not the professional institutes are helping, or handicapping, the forward progress of Architecture for a Better, More Sustainable World … I am deeply concerned about the future …

1.  Should it be ‘Multi-Disciplinary’ or ‘Trans-Disciplinary’ ?

The word ‘trans-disciplinary’ is confusing to a lot of people … surprisingly, to many at senior levels in construction-related industries, research sectors, and academia … not just in Ireland, but internationally.  The more senior the level, it seems the higher are the walls of that proverbial ‘box’.  But, let me reassure you, thinking outside the ‘box’ is not confined to people in their early 20’s !!

Looking over just the initial list of Consultant Specialists in a complex architectural project … it is the task of the Architect to transform a widely ‘multi-disciplinary’ input into a coherent ‘trans-disciplinary’ output.  These two concepts are very different.

Next Generation Architectural Processes and Procedures are urgently required …

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2.  EU Climate & Energy Policies – Key Driving Forces for Sustainability !

Recently, the European Commission issued this Green Paper … (which, by the way, has absolutely nothing to say about Climate Change Adaptation !) …

European Commission - COM(2013) 169 final Cover

Click to enlarge.

European Commission COM(2013) 169 final – Brussels, 2013-03-27

EU Green Paper – A 2030 Framework for Climate and Energy Policies

Click the Link Above to read and/or download PDF File (104 Kb)

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Concerning this Green Paper … Two Important Points …

(i)    Current European Union (EU) Climate and Energy Policies are not just a passing fad … they are here to stay.  With certainty, we also know that they will become more and more stringent … and that higher levels of performance will be mandated … not just on paper or a computer printout … but in reality, for example, in buildings which are constructed and actually occupied by ‘real’ building users.  Refer also to recent findings, in Europe, about the large and growing discrepancy between car fuel efficiencies claimed after testing in a laboratory, and when later monitored under ‘real’ driving conditions.

(ii)   It has now become obvious that the European Commission has lost the plot … big time !   Policies and Actions in closely related fields have been permitted to become fragmented, disjointed, and even counter-productive.  Written into the EU treaties is the term ‘sustainable development’ … an intricate, open, dynamic and continuously evolving concept.  However, senior levels (both political and bureaucratic) in the different Directorates-General of the European Commission have long ago forgotten, mislaid and/or lost the proper meaning of ‘sustainability’ … and the essential interdependency of its many aspects.

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… which brings me to the urgent necessity for Next Generation Architectural Design Concepts

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In Europe … the 1990’s and early 2000’s, taken together, was a period of construction experimentation and research.  We thought we could afford the resources and the lazy times … to try this, that and the other.  Little emphasis was placed on practical implementation in ‘real’ buildings.  However, the scale and immediacy of today’s Sustainable Development Challenges in the Built Environment have, within a few short years and much more quickly than expected, become unprecedented.

The Yanks (Gringos) are very strong on marketing … much stronger than Europe … so let’s examine a small model building … and see if its Architectural Design Concept is both coherent and comprehensive …

Mr. Amory Lovins, of the Rocky Mountain Institute in the USA ( www.rmi.org ) … has produced a very snazzy Visitor’s Guide to the sprawling complex that is ‘his home, bioshelter and office’ in Snowmass, Colorado … a Guide intended for wide public circulation.

Concerning this Building … Three Points of Interest(?) …

(i)    For a fleeting moment … let us imagine that a percentage – not even all – of the vast populations living in Africa, India and China wanted the same sort of lifestyle, including the house, that Amory Lovins possesses.  What would be the resource implications for this planet ??

RMI / Amory Lovins House, Colorado, USA - Exterior - Roof Photovoltaic (PV) Panels

Click to enlarge.

(ii)   In a first construction ‘try’ … separate solar and/or photovoltaic panels fixed in place on a roof … attached to the building, almost as an afterthought … were the norm.  Now, however, these building systems are no longer innovative … they must be properly shown to be ‘fit for their intended use’ (to comply with building regulations and codes) … and they should now be fully integrated into the architectural design concept for the building … which is not the case in the photograph above.  [ Car manufacturers face a similar design challenge today … how to successfully integrate new technologies, e.g. satellite navigation screens, smartphone docking stations, usb sockets, bluetooth, etc., etc., into the front dashboard.]

RMI / Amory Lovins House, Colorado, USA - Exterior - Tracking Photovoltaic (PV) Panel

Anyway … how reproducible is this model building in urban and suburban contexts … in the USA … or elsewhere in the world ??   How many people would have access to sufficient land outside a building to ‘plant’ one, or a series of photovoltaic panels ?   Tracking photovoltaic panels, as shown above ??   And as seen in Italy, with those ridiculous photovoltaic fields (in a post, dated 2011-11-07 ) … good agricultural lands should not be used for this purpose … not now, not ever, never !

RMI / Amory Lovins House, Colorado, USA - Interior - Building Services

Photograph taken by Judy Hill Lovins. Click to enlarge.

(iii)  Sustainable Buildings are ‘high-tech’ … and a very large amount and variety of electronic and mechanical equipment is necessary in order to reliably monitor and tightly control their performance … in other words, to operate a building in accordance with its design specification.  Again … these services should be fully integrated into the architectural design concept for what is, no longer, just a simple dwelling.  Do similar houses without basements, for example, now need a central well-ventilated service room, complete with compact workstation ?

RMI / Amory Lovins House, Colorado, USA - Interior - Battery Array

Photograph taken by Judy Hill Lovins. Click to enlarge.

In my opinion … the Architectural Design Concept for this building is not coherent.  The overall architectural impression is one of a large sprawling house, on a very large plot of land … with many different ‘environmental/energy’-related appendages, or add-ons.  Can you see any coherence ?

It is the task of the Architect to consider all facets of building performance at the earliest stages of design … whether a small building, or a very large complex building … and to integrate those many diverse, but interdependent, facets into a coherent architectural statement … having a conceptual single crystalline shape … while also bearing in mind ‘person-centredness’‘flexibility’, ‘adaptability’, ‘accessibility for all’, and a ‘long and useful life cycle’.

[ An aside … closer to home … we are now witnessing the rise of the ‘Passive House Designer’.  This person, who is able to use a specific computer software package … no less, and no more … need not necessarily be an architect, or have any architectural education/training.  Is it possible to refer to the realized output from this software as ‘architecture’ … or are they merely drab, boring boxes ?? ]

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3.  Sustainable Buildings, Fire Safety & Fire Engineering ?

In the elaborate Amory Lovins Visitor’s Guide above … there is only one mention of fire hazard in the building … and that is in relation to a Passive Clothes Dryer (Page 40).  End of story with regard to the Fire Safety Issues for its Users … and the Fire Engineering Implications arising from a chosen architectural design and chosen construction materials and methods.

When I was referring to a centrally located service room in # 2(iii) above … that room should also be structurally hardened, and fire and smoke ‘separated’ from other spaces in the house.  Or … if the service equipment is located in a roof space, there are implications for roof structural reliability in a fire situation, and the fire resistance of the ceiling construction beneath.  Or … if the equipment is located in a basement, a simple intermediate timber floor construction overhead is inadequate.

Furthermore … an intelligent fire detection and warning system … and a suitable domestic fire suppression system … are no longer luxuries or optional extras, but essential requirements !   Who would want to lose such a valuable investment ??

And insofar as fire safety issues are not being considered … it seems, at all … in the case of most ‘high-tech’, sustainable buildings … and certainly not in the case of the Lovins House … the Architectural Design Concepts for these buildings ‘suffer’ from a gaping hole … an enormous void … they are incomplete and, therefore, entirely inadequate.

Fire Engineering involves much, much more than mere compliance with building regulations and codes … whose fire safety objectives are limited, and whose performance requirements are sometimes inadequate and always minimal.

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Unfortunately … there is a fundamental conflict between Sustainable Building Design Strategies and the current state-of-the-art in Fire Engineering Design.  As an example … for cooling, heating and/or ventilation purposes in a sustainable building, it is necessary to take advantage of natural patterns of air movement in that building.  On the other hand, fire consultants in private practice, and fire prevention officers in Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s), will demand that building spaces be strictly compartmented in order to limit the spread of fire and smoke … thereby dramatically interfering with those natural patterns of air movement.

In everyday practice, there is a vast chasm in understanding and communication between these two very different design disciplines.  As a result, serious compromises are being enforced on Sustainability Performance.  If, on the other hand, adequate independent technical control is absent on the site of a Sustainable Building … it is the fire safety and protection which is being seriously compromised.

A range of critical fire safety issues (fatal, in the case of firefighters) are also arising from the Innovative Building Products and Systems being installed in Sustainable Buildings.

And because the emphasis is on pre-construction design ‘intent’ rather than the ‘real’ performance of the completed and occupied building … all of these problems are being conveniently sidestepped or ignored … and they remain hidden from everybody’s view.

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Sustainable Fire Engineering Design, on the other hand, is the creative response to Sustainable Design … and the powerful drivers of Climate Change Adaptation, and Energy Conservation/Efficiency in Buildings.

Sustainable Fire Engineering Design Solutions are …

  • Adapted to Local Conditions … Geography, Climate (change, variability and severity swings), Social Need, Culture, and Economy, etc., etc ;
  • ‘Reliability-Based’ … the design process is based on competence, practical experience, and an examination of ‘real’ extreme events, e.g. 2001 WTC 9-11 & 2008 Mumbai Attacks, and 2011 Fukushima Nuclear Incident … rather than on theory alone ;
  • ‘Person-Centred’ … ‘real’ people are placed at the centre of creative endeavours and proper consideration is given to their responsible needs … and their health, safety and welfare … and security … in the Human Environment.

Sustainability continues to fundamentally transform our Fire Engineering, Architectural and Consultancy Practice at Sustainable Design International Ltd (SDI) !

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Sustainable Human & Social Development ?

2009-03-31:  ‘Sustainable’ … ‘Sustainability’ … ‘Sustainable Development’ … what’s all this about ? … and where to begin ?

 

Words much abused … not only in English … but definitely in French !

 

Words much confused … for example, in the USA … where ‘Sustainable’ and ‘Green’ can be interchanged in the same conversation without apparent rhyme or reason.  Is there a difference between the two ?  Some people don’t want to admit that there is … those working in the Green Building Council … or those peddling the LEED Environmental Building Rating System around the more economically advanced developing countries in the world.  In India … you can find a ‘LEED’ Building, minimally adapted to local conditions and having used many imported products and systems in its construction (from you-know-where !) … sitting prettily in the neighbourhood of a slum.

 

In Ireland … remember the good old days, 12-18 months ago … when Economists could afford (?!?) to talk about ‘Sustainable Economic Development’ … did they really mean economic development which is compatible with sustainable development ?   No, they didn’t !

 

Is there any level of awareness amongst our Politicians ?   In the National Development Plan (2007-2013), Mr. Brian Cowan T.D., then Minister for Finance, wrote in a January 2007 Foreword to the Plan …

 

” This National Development Plan is about the future of those young people, their parents, and their grandparents.  It establishes a blueprint for the economic and social development of this island for future generations.

 

In this Plan, we have a unique window of opportunity to get it right: in terms of spatial planning, support infrastructure, environmental sustainability and economic growth.”

 

… an unusual limitation on the use and context for the word ‘sustainability’ … which should now also be exhibited in the National Gallery of Art !?!

 

Some Organizations openly state that they are dealing with … or they will only be dealing with … environmental aspects of sustainable development.  That is a silly waste of time … and counterproductive !

 

 

 

Properly Defining Sustainable Development

 

Let us quickly re-wind back to the end of the 20th Century …

 

… not as far back as the Stockholm Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, which met in Sweden, from 5-16th June 1972 … which, for us, was a very interesting exercise …

 

… but to the 1987 Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), which was chaired by Gro Harlem Brundtland (Norway).  Mansour Khalid (Sudan) was Vice-Chair of the Commission.

 

The definition of ‘Sustainable Development’ appears at the beginning of Chapter 2 …

 

” Sustainable Development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  It contains within it two key concepts:

         the concept of ‘needs’, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given ;   and

         the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.”

 

Many readers may only be familiar with the first sentence above but, in isolation, that leaves the definition of ‘sustainable development’ so vague that it is almost meaningless.  And let us be clear in our own minds … an ambiguous definition will continue to be rejected by the Developing and Least Developed Regions of the World … the concept being viewed as an unaffordable luxury and/or a means of continued domination and control by the ‘North’.

 

Other readers may be surprised by the second, and more important, half of the WCED/Brundtland Definition.  It is clear, however, that it was always intended that there would be more than 3 Aspects of Sustainable Development … Environmental, Social and Economic … to be identified and examined.  How, on this Earth, was it possible for anybody to ever bring into existence that clumsy 3-Circle Diagram ???

 

 

The 1987 WCED/Brundtland Report continues a little further on …

 

” The satisfaction of human needs and aspirations is the major objective of development.  The essential needs of vast numbers of people in developing countries – for food, clothing, shelter, jobs – are not being met, and beyond their basic needs these people have legitimate aspirations for an improved quality of life.  A world in which poverty and inequity are endemic will always be prone to ecological and other crises.  Sustainable Development requires meeting the basic needs of all and extending to all the opportunity to satisfy their aspirations for a better life.

 

 

Sustainable Development is the greatest challenge ahead of us in this 21st Century.  It remains very much an intricate, open, dynamic and evolving concept …

 

… and a clear choice must be made: decide to pursue the detailed elaboration of this concept … either with the aim of practical implementation … or of intellectual masturbation.

 

We made that choice many years ago … back in the mid-1990’s.

 

 

 

Practical Implementation of Sustainable Human & Social Development

 

In order to make any ‘real’ progress … how can we establish, agree upon and achieve a wide international consensus on what the ‘basic needs of all’ are … and with some precision ?

 

Is there an internationally recognized document, already long in existence, where these ‘basic needs’ are not only specified for all people, but are protected and guaranteed ?

 

Yes, indeed there is … the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN OHCHR) … and these needs, therefore, can also be described as being ‘responsible’.

 

 

Reading through the 1948 UDHR, it might be helpful if a distinction is made between human rights and social rights …

 

Social Rights:

Rights to which an individual person is legally entitled, e.g. the right to free elementary education (Art.26(1), UDHR), but which are only exercised in a social context with other people, and with the active support of a competent legal authority, e.g. a Nation State.

 

Commentary: In contrast to Human Rights, it is not protection from the State which is desired or achieved, but freedom with the State’s help.

 

Social Rights, as distinguished here, include and extend beyond current understandings of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

 

 

 

This is why, almost a generation after the 1987 WCED/Brundtland Definition of  Sustainable Development …

 

… Sustainable Design International, has defined Sustainable Human & Social Development as follows …

 

Development which meets the responsible needs, i.e. the Human & Social Rights*, of this generation – without stealing the life and living resources from future generations, especially our children … and their children.

 

* As defined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN OHCHR).

 

 

Furthermore … for a sizeable group of people in all of our societies, the sole route of access to the human and social rights set down in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights … is the 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities … which became an International Legal Instrument on 3rd May 2008 … just short of 60 Years after the UDHR was adopted on 10th December 1948 !

 

 

A 3rd International Instrument to be placed at the top of this Framework of Basic & Responsible Needs, i.e. Rights … is the 2001 Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (UNESCO) … adopted in Paris, on 2nd November 2001 … and which came into being shortly after the World Trade Center (9-11) Incident in New York, on 11th September 2001.

 

The Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity raises cultural diversity to the level of the common heritage of humanity … as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature … and makes its defence an ethical imperative which is robustly linked to, and cannot be separated from, respect for the dignity of each individual person.

 

Paris, at the end of 2001, presented the world with a valuable opportunity …

         to reaffirm the unshakable conviction that intercultural dialogue is the best guarantee of peace ;   and

         to reject outright the theory of the inevitable clash of cultures and civilizations.

 

 

So … once it is possible to construct an initial, robust framework of International Human & Social Rights Instruments … specifying the ‘basic needs of all’ … which underpins and cuts down to the core of a far more elaborate and hard-edged, 2nd Generation Definition of Sustainable Human & Social Development …

 

 

Colour image showing an extract from CJ Walsh's Presentation: 'Sustainable Fire Engineering', at a Building Seminar in Dubayy(UAE) towards the end of October 2008. The Initial Framework of International Human & Social Rights Instruments underpinning Sustainable Human & Social Development. Click to enlarge.

Colour image showing an extract from CJ Walsh’s Presentation: ‘Sustainable Fire Engineering’, at a Building Seminar in Dubayy(UAE) towards the end of October 2008. The Initial Framework of International Human & Social Rights Instruments underpinning Sustainable Human & Social Development. Click to enlarge.

 

… we can roll out the ‘Sustainability’ Agenda … and begin the serious task of transforming our Human Environment (see a previous post) by gradually improving and monitoring ‘real’ Sustainability Performance … using …

 

         Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA) … see a previous post ;

 

and

 

         Performance Indicators ;

         Target Setting ;

         Benchmarking ;

         Performance Evaluation & Independent Verification ;

         Etc.

 

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