Ed Mazria’s Equation for Fixing Global Warming

A veteran of green design has studied global warming and sees its cause—and possible solution—coming from the same unlikely source: architects.

Architect Ed Mazria has come up with a strategy to use architecture to attack the problem of global warming. He looks at the five billion square feet of building space that goes up each year in this country, along with the additional five billion square feet of renovation, as a place where remarkable energy savings could be achieved. His concrete proposals are as follows:

Incorporate information regarding the embodied energy in building materials into a federally sponsored, nationwide, AIA continuing-education program with the specific goal of reducing the embodied energy of building designs by 15 percent in the next five years.

Require that state and federal government renovation projects reduce the existing building’s energy use to meet an energy-consumption performance standard of one-half the U.S. regional average for that building type.

Require that all government building projects be designed to meet an energy-consumption performance standard of one-half the U.S. regional average for that building type. “This is a no-brainer,” Mazria says. “It doesn’t tax the economy, it doesn’t cost anything, nobody loses a job because of it. If the states and the federal government do that, I guarantee every architect who does government work will know how to do it within a year. And if you start with state and federal governments then everybody else will follow.” Mazria adds, “Initially architects’ fees could be increased by a small percentage to cover the cost of compliance.”

Begin a federally funded program “to refine and transform building-simulation programs so they are user friendly, graphic in format, and seamlessly integrated with the CAD programs used currently by architecture firms.” Fully developed to mesh with existing computer-modeling design programs, such software would revolutionize sustainable architecture, according to Mazria. “For example, you’d be designing a room and there’d be a flashing warning saying, There’s not enough daylighting there. And you’d make a change, and as soon as you got enough daylighting the program would tell you graphically.”

Include in every “design studio” a requirement in the problems issued to students that architecture be designed to engage the environment in a way that significantly reduces or eliminates the need for fossil fuels. Offer computer-simulation and living systems courses to augment the design studio and provide students with a deep understanding of the principles involved in natural processes. Center a segment of state professional licensing exams on the design principles necessary to effect significant reductions in building energy consumption.

If implemented along with one nonarchitectural change—that 20 percent of the country’s energy be produced by renewable sources within 20 years—Mazria believes such changes would eventually flatten out and even reverse the energy-use and greenhouse-gas curves.

In all cases Mazria suggests that his targets should generally be met not through prescription (“Thou shalt use insulation at least ten inches thick and low-energy coated windows”) or proscription (“Thou shalt never use redwood”) but through pure design: siting, materials, and other strategies based in architecture more than a reliance on technology. When design cannot meet the targets, then renewable energies (i.e., solar, wind, geo-thermal) should be employed to make up the difference.

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