Nice piece in the NYT about the NREL research center in Colorado, especially on the architectural consequences of energy efficiency:
The $64 million Research Support building opened last year as a kind of physical assertion by the Energy Department, the lab’s parent agency, that office space can be driven down to zero net energy use through a combination of on-site energy production (rooftop solar) and fanatical attention to detail everywhere else in how the building saves and sips energy as a workplace for 800 engineers, managers and support staff members.
The resulting mix is meant to inspire builders and architects around the idea that net zero energy use is not only attainable but also affordable and even elegant. And that presents a new palette for architectural criticism.
How, for example, should one assess what seems at first to be an interesting sculpture in the building’s courtyard that in fact turns out to be a cleverly disguised fresh-air intake device for natural cooling of the basement data center? Extra points for form, or for function?
It’s getting to be a really weird thing to see vast new buildings, with square footage north of 100K, that leave these efficiencies on the table. They might use passive solar or have a giant cistern buried on site, but still have enormous shingled roofs that just sit there for decades without doing anything. It’s this expectation that needs ramping up. Instead the fossil dead-enders are looking to let the carrots rot and burn the sticks so as to finance for tax relief for the prosperous. We need to be asking more of architecture than just being structural remedies for various activities; double- and triple-purposing is the order of 2001… so you can, see we’re behind. And I would wager that architects generally would be willing and able… especially if hyper-efficiency came with built-in permission for the ugly buildings many seem to adore. Could be a decent trade (that we’re already making in exchange for bupkis).
But asking architects and engineers to fight clean energy battles against the folks who get elected is, well… probably too innovative.