Friday, August 13, 2010

AIA|LA & LADBS: Implementing CALGreen for the City of Los Angeles

On Thursday, August 12th AIA|LA members Stuart Magruder, Jim Dixon and Tracy Stone discussed ideas and opportunities for what it would take to encourage new construction projects to go 15% beyond TITLE-24 requirements.    Together with LADBS management and representatives from Turner Construction, Clark Construction, Gensler and AC Martin, AIA|LA is exploring ways to incentivize the use of sustainable building materials.  

What are your thoughts when it comes to 'rapidly renewable' materials like bamboo or cork?  Or engineered wood products created from recycled scraps?  Or bio-based or agricultural-based products as opposed to concrete and earth-materials like marble and slate?

We recognize that this discussion needs to be balanced with the greater argument of total life-cycle assessments, factoring in longevity and the life-span of the material, its embodied energy and its rate of deterioration.

For instance,  what is more sustainable:  A bamboo floor imported from thousands of mile away that needs to be replaced every ten years, or an oak floor that was harvested nearby and has a lifespan of a 100 years?  A densified concrete floor, which requires no stains or coverings? A slab of marble?  Linoleum?  Terrazzo?  Also, what is globally/holistically more sustainable?  Materials imported from another nation that may enable or foster an economic talisman, which in turn facilitates   other nations to live and flourish more sustainably?  Or materials that essentially travel less, and therefore impact the lives of less people?

Speaking of, I once heard in the defense of the massive amount of Cor-Ten steel used in a Richard Serra sculpture:  that it wasn't just the amount of embodied energy that went into constructing, transporting and displaying the art that mattered; the amount of embodied energy saved by the fact that that material wasn't being used elsewhere for other purposes and those other purposes, in turn, would have consumed a certain amount of resources, and thus, the saving (or denial) of that amount of energy consumption needed to be factored into the spirit of the calculation, as well.

So, in essence, when you measure the carbon footprint of a material the calculation can get quite complex.  Speaking of 'carbon footprint', what do you think the carbon footprint of a carbon tax would be?  It's like asking, what's the carbon footprint of a CEQA lawsuit?

What will a carbon tax do to our built environment?  Will we start seeing a proliferation of 'rapidly renewable' building materials, or will a carbon tax manifest itself into a built environment that sustains a life-cycle 100+ years?  And will the craftsmanship required for such installation return to our City, or will it require pre-assembly elsewhere?

Will a carbon tax warrant the construction of buildings that last 300 to 500 years, with modifiable programs geared to accommodate our inevitable cultural shifts?

Or, as I once heard Qingyun Ma and Thom Mayne discuss, perhaps soon will be the time when buildings are built in the fashion of the Aeron Chair - to have a very-limited life-span, but to be 100% recyclable for ease of disassembly.

1. Software for calculating life cycle costs for materials and assemblies may be found at the following websites:

a.  The Athena Institute.  

b.  The National Institute of Standards and Technology - BEES 4.0.

c.  International Organization for Standardization - ISO Standard 14044

2. More information on life cycle assessment may be found at the following links:

a.  The Sustainable Products Purchasers Coalition

b. The American Center for Life Cycle Assessment

c. U.S. EPA Life Cycle Assessment Research

3.  To watch the full video of  "Do Cities Have Expiration Dates?", please CLICK HERE.

-Will Wright
Director, Government & Public Affairs
AIA Los Angeles

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