In past columns, we’ve touched on a number of different strategies for greener architecture, from solar panels to energy-efficient structural elements to landscaping. Interior lighting design is yet another area in which sustainability initiatives can come into play. As noted in a recent piece for Design Build Source, natural lighting is both a necessity and a hindrance when it comes to energy-saving architecture, challenging designers to strike a balance between light allowance and solar shading. With the right innovations, however, it is possible to achieve this balance – and to create stunning, contemporary and sustainable spaces built to last.
As mayoral candidates Bob Filner and Carl DeMaio tread the campaign trail leading up to November’s election, both have made San Diego solar panels a prominent issue for citywide debate. According to the Voice of San Diego, Filner and DeMaio each have their own plans to boost solar panel use: Filner proposes to power all public buildings through solar power within five years of taking office, while DeMaio suggests eliminating solar panel permitting fees for residents and small businesses.
When it comes to improving our city’s sustainability, architecture plays a key role both in the smart utilization and conservation of natural energy. As a local architect, it seems to me that, the more we incorporate green designs into our work, the more intelligent and impressive our buildings become. Our homes are getting smarter all the time. Green architecture has brought with it the innovations that make for some wonderful improvements to the way we live, and more importantly to the quality of the design. In fact, I am constantly amazed at the ways that a decision made primarily to conserve energy can lead to innovations in the quality of the daylight, window selection and the supplemental lighting for a space.
Green design architecture is all the rage these days, especially as scarce resources, rising temperatures and exorbitant energy costs inspire communities to find alternative heating and cooling solutions. However, as noted in a recent business piece for The Guardian, not all sustainable architecture necessarily requires the latest in smart grid and solar technology. Faced with the need to build smart, sustainable and temperature-controlled structures for centuries, some cultures draw on traditional architecture for contemporary green ideas – with wonderfully effective, low-tech and aesthetically stunning results.
April is California Earthquake Preparedness Month; and as we take time over the next few weeks to consider our state’s earthquake history, it can be hard to imagine how anything has survived to the present. The infamous 1906 San Francisco earthquake did a tremendous amount of damage, due to both the collapse of buildings and the fires that followed. Just as the Chicago Fire of 1871 led to zoning and fire separation practices in that city, the San Francisco quake awoke Californians to the possibility of another major catastrophe – and forever raised the need for greater earthquake preparedness. As we go about our daily lives, we may forget about earthquakes now and then. But every so often, we get a very strong reminder from Mother Nature: and as a result, most native Californians can immediately tell the difference between a “6.5” and a “7.2”.
In previous columns, we have discussed the climate control benefits one can attain through the simple use of smart landscaping principles. Now that spring is upon us, it seems like a good time to revisit the notion of urban garden design and landscaping strategies to enhance existing properties and improve the overall efficiency and beauty of new architectural projects here in San Diego. Gardens and greenery have the power to beautify nearly any structure: but they can also impart myriad advantages ranging from lighting and temperature improvements to an overall increase in property value and market desirability. When architects, landscapers and gardeners work hand in hand to create spaces that focus equally on exterior and interior design elements, the result is a holistic approach to urban architecture that unites nature with our built environment.
Earlier this month, the research and advocacy group known as Architecture 2030 released a report indicating that the implementation of green building and energy saving techniques stands to save the U.S. building sector trillions of dollars in energy costs while conserving significant resources nationwide. The report, which was created using data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) in association with the U.S. Department of Energy, indicates that Americans will save $3.7 trillion on energy costs between now and the year 2030 thanks to drastically decreased usage and emissions projections — a result, at least in part, of greener building practices. Edward Mazria, founder and CEO of Architecture 2030, explains in a piece for Inside Climate News that successful green architects are committing to a higher standard when it comes to building design, efficient technology and sustainable practice. And by working with the Green Building Council to balance top quality production with the latest in energy-saving technology, architects can continue to play a vital role in conservation and cost savings far into our nation’s future.
As noted in previous columns, coastal architecture poses a host of challenges; and as modern technology and industry regulations become ever more complicated, so too does the approach to architecture project management. When developing along California’s stunning yet environmentally sensitive and oftentimes controversial coastline, architects and contractors are required to cooperate with the state’s Coastal Commission – the result of which often creates a veritable project within a project. Therefore, it has become essential for architects to design a project twice: once for the Coastal Commission and the community standards, taking into account issues related to height, view access, parking and building area, and then again for the building codes, with a heightened focus on landscaping and irrigation, water conservation, disabled access, air conditioning and energy use. Finally, there are the conventional considerations involving structural support, fire safety, drainage and utility connections – all of which contribute to a complex web that can nevertheless pose surprising opportunities in the hands of a skilled architect and development professional.
At any time of year – and especially during the holiday season – public spaces like Balboa Park provide a wonderful setting for locals and tourists alike to meet, gather, and take in the beauty of our unique San Diego architecture and art history. The gracious Prado creates a promenade that is perfect for walking, with majestic buildings at both sides, two plazas with fountains and the dramatic crossing at the bridge. Balboa Park recalls a time when only a fraction of the population owned cars – and when a day at the park was an opportunity to linger and explore these wonderful shared spaces on foot. Of course, over the years, traffic has increased dramatically; and now, opportunities to enjoy pedestrianized public spaces have become increasingly special, as they also have grown fewer and further between. As modernity threatens to compromise the Prado promenade, city officials face a difficult decision: whether or not return the space to pedestrian use, and to limit driver access in exchange for greater pedestrian access and aesthetic charm. San Diego architects and the community are presently in a lively discussion about what would be the best solution to this new concept.
Last month, we discussed the artistic influence exerted by California’s historic architecture as it relates to the Pacific Standard Time festival in celebration of Southern California’s creative legacy. And in some cases, historic renovations achieve a goal similar to that advanced by Pacific Standard Time: namely, the preservation and arrangement of artistic artifacts in a manner that teaches us about our past, present and future. However, historic renovation can also serve another purpose: to not only preserve, but also modify and modernize treasured structures in order to assimilate them into the contemporary mainstream. For example, the San Diego Union Tribune recently reported plans on the part of the NTC Foundation to restore eight buildings – seven barracks and one former officer’s residence dating back to the 1920s — into retail shops and nonprofit organization offices. While no major structural changes are required for the project, the fundamental shift in purpose from Naval housing to contemporary retail and office use demands a parallel shift in the architects’ approach to the renovation – and a modern take on historic spaces to make them suitable for 21st century life, work and commerce.