A holistic approach to the built environment emphasizes additive principles of design.
At the International Living Future Institute’s Tenth Annual unConference in Seattle, a program for design and building professionals highlighted keynote presentations, educational sessions, workshops, poetry readings, and qigong sessions centered around the theme “Truth + Transparency.” The Living Future Challenge, which encompasses building programs such as the Living Building Challenge, Declare, and the Net Zero Energy Building Certification strives to serve both the environment, and those who utilize built space, with a holistic approach that has been called not just an accreditation, but a philosophy. According to The Living Building Challenge: Roots & Rise of the Worlds Greenest Standard “It’s not about how we can minimize harm, but more about how we can maximize good.”
Natural Lighting—No, Not Daylighting
Though artificial lighting is essential in urban and suburban locations, we’ve destroyed the night sky in so many places. How can we do better with less? This was the theme that started off a session on circadian rhythms. Scary words accompanied by an even scarier image showing the amount of global light pollution that exists today set the scene for a celebration of light. But not just any light: Good light.
Judith Heerwagen took her audience through a multi-year study on circadian functioning in office buildings and shared how much the electric light age has altered the human circadian clock. According to her studies, daylight is the ideal source of light and employees who get more will have more positive outcomes. The session then continued with ways that we, as designers, can incorporate a “less is more” lighting philosophy to support natural circadian rhythms and base-zero lighting design. It gets tricky with computers. While essential to our daily tasks in a modern economy, they are also the key drivers of shade use and daylight reducing behaviors.
Through the lens of the Luci Light, Co-Founder and CEO of New Course Jamie Bechtel chronicled her story of passion and determination to involve women in the conservation conversation. When she learned 60 percent of the world’s poor rely on natural resources—a majority of whom are women—she approached her mission with a mindset of what she wanted to do for these women. However, she discovered that the path to actual change came by asking, not telling, and allowing others to design their own future.
When women in underdeveloped countries were asked directly what they needed most, Bechtel found lighting led the conversation. The use of kerosene lamps, the primary source of light, creates toxic conditions in the home, where fumes sicken an entire family. With the advent of the micro solar-powered Luci Lamp and a business platform through which the lamps could be distributed across impoverished regions, Bechtel and her team established a springboard for real change.
“It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it,” she told the audience. “Allow yourself to fail, but fail forward.”
Many times, enhancing the built environment to optimize performance is viewed as a luxury rather than a standard. The affordable housing market presents opportunities for equity in the built environment, particularly implementing the Energy, Water, Material, and Equity Petals of the Living Building criteria. Changes in technology, rebate/tax incentives from local governments, and revised energy codes make it more feasible for Living Buildings to become a reality in the affordable housing market. The use of passive water and energy systems reduces operation costs. Incorporating solar power and using gray water for landscape irrigation and toilets address the Petals of Energy and Water. Specifying materials that are Red List-free aids in achieving the Materials Petal, and creating a connection to nature, or biophilia, is a way to achieve the Equity Petal; as responsible design should be accessible to everyone.